South of Luxor to Aswan

The main road follows the Nile along its east bank from Luxor, past Edfu (115 km) on the west bank, before continuing via Kom Ombo (176 km) to Aswan (216 km). There is an alternative, less crowded and less scenic route along the west bank from the Valley of the Kings to Esna (55 km) and Edfu before having to cross the river to continue the journey along the east bank to Aswan. Most visitors make this journey by river in one of the many floating hotels that moor at the sites along the way
. Egyptian village life, often obscured from the road and not easily appreciated from the window of a speeding car, can be seen on this relaxing journey that many have deemed the highlight of their trip though Egypt.

Ins and outs

Getting there

For public transport from Luxor via train or bus, convoys are not necessary. If travelling in a private taxi, tourist bus or car, you must travel with a police escorted convoy. At present, there are three convoys per day. As these times change with the season, inquire at the tourist office or your hotel for any changes.

Mo'alla Cemetery

There are rock-cut tombs in the cemetery of Mo'alla on the east bank 40 km south of Luxor dating from the First Intermediate period. Four tombs are located here, cut into the cliffs. All entrances face the west and the Nile
.

The tomb of Ankhtifi

Ankhtifi was one time governor of the area between Edfu and Armant. He was a very important man in his time and noted for feeding the people in neighbouring areas during a time of famine. The tomb is of slightly irregular shape and cut directly into the rock, shaped to fit in with the harder veins in the rock strata. On entry there is a rectangular chamber that originally had 30 pillars in three rows of 10, some round and others hexagonal in form. Most pillars are decorated with fine plasterwork and those pillars near the doors carry the best examples of coloured hieroglyphs. An amusing scene on the wall immediately to the right of the entrance door shows a huge fish being caught by spear, and there is a small picture of the deceased and his beautiful wife in very good condition, about 50 cm sq. Other interesting scenes of daily life include lines of animals carrying food to relieve a local famine and a row of spotted cattle to indicate Ankhtifi's wealth. The burial chamber lies at a lower level at the rear of the main hall.

Tombs 2 and 3

These comprise small chapels cut into the rock, but very little decoration remains - mind your head as you go down into the chambers.

The tomb/chapel of Sobekhotep

This monument to another regional governor lies a short way to the north in the cemetery. It is entered (or seen into) via a metal door. There are vestiges of decoration on the door jamb but the best known decoration is on the back wall where there are representations of trees and a man taking animals as offerings. The three pits inside the grill have over them a picture of the owner in full size carrying a staff and on the right a scene with eight ladies.

Esna

This small market town lies about 55 km south of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile. Besides its Temple of Khnum, it's mainly known for the sandstone dam across the river, built in 1906 at about the same time as the first Aswan dam. Cruise ships and barges usually have to queue a while for their turn to pass through the barrages, though waiting time has been considerably reduced by the building of a second lock. It's a typical dusty town, not geared towards tourists save for the souvenir-sellers, and there is nothing to keep you here once you've finished at the temple. You can be in and out in under two hours, which will keep the local police force happy. If you do stop off to see the temple after a
felucca
trip (most of which finish 30 km south of Esna), you'll find stalls serving simple food in the
souk
.

The
Temple of Khnum
 lies partially exposed in a deep depression in the centre of town. The excavation began in the 1860s but could not continue because the area above was covered in houses. Also, over the centuries since its construction, the annual Nile flood has deposited 10 m of silt over the temple site so that in fact all that is visible today is the
Hypostyle Hall
. This definitely comes as a disappointment to some visitors, and consequently many tours no longer include Esna on their itineraries. The only part of the temple that can be seen is Ptolemaic/Roman, built on the foundations of a much older shrine was also dedicated to the ram-headed deity Khnum. He was believed to have created man by moulding him from River Nile clay on a potter's wheel. Later, when Amun became the principal deity, Khnum had an image change and, in conjunction with Hapy, came to be regarded as the guardian of the source of the Nile. Service taxis and buses stop about 10 mins' walk from the temple, which is in the centre of town, walk to the river and then south along the Corniche to the ticket kiosk.

The hypostyle hall's
Outer Faade
is decorated from left to right with the cartouches of the emperors Claudius, Titus and Vespasian Inside the lofty hall 18 columns with capitals of varying floral designs support the
Astronomical Ceiling
which, although once a beautiful and complex spectacle, is barely visible today because it was blackened by the wood fires of a Coptic village once housed within the temple. In places various deities and animals, including winged dogs, two-headed snakes and the pregnant hippo-goddess Taweret can be seen intermingled with signs of the zodiac. The hall's columns are inscribed with texts detailing the temple's various festivals. On the lighter side, look out for the cross-legged pharaoh, frogs on top of a capital representing the goddess Heqet and a column engraved with countless crocodiles. Around the northern outer walls at the back of the temple are texts to Marcus Aurelius while Titus, Domitian and Trajan slay their Egyptian enemies on the eastern and western outer walls.

Edfu and the Temple of Horus

Edfu, 60 km south along the west bank almost equidistant from Luxor (115 km) and Aswan (106 km), is the site of the huge, well-preserved Ptolemaic cult Temple of Horus - the most complete in the whole of Egypt. The almost-intact ceilings and wealth of colours make it more immediately impressive than many older pharaonic cult temples and, as it replicates their architectural design in any case, gives a strong hint of what they would have looked like in their prime. Edfu Temple (as it is generally known) was the focus of the ancient city of Djeba. It was begun in August 237 BC by Ptolemy III and took 25 years, and several Ptolemies, to complete. The decoration took another five years and then a revolt in Upper Egypt meant it was not until February 176 BC that the opening ceremony actually took place under Ptolemy VII. Further additions were still being made into Ptolemy XIII's reign. Like Esna's Temple of Khnum, it was completely buried (except for its huge pylons) under silt and sand and its top was covered with houses until the 1860s but, unlike Esna, the whole site has been excavated. It had been severely damaged by the town's inhabitants and it was not until 1903 that the excavation work was finally completed.

The complex is entered from the ticket office in the northwest corner at the rear of the main temple, which one walks along to reach the entrance at its south end. Just to the southwest is the small east-west axis birth house called the
Mammisi of Horus
, which was built by Ptolomy VII and VIII. The inner sanctuary is surrounded by a peristyle of foliage-capped columns, topped by pilaster capitals showing the grotesque figures of Bes, god of joy and birth. His frightening appearance was thought to dispel evil and to protect women in labour. Each year there is a performance of the miracle play that represents Horus' birth at the same time as the birth of the divine heir to the throne of Egypt. At the southwest corner of the birth house there are reliefs of Isis suckling Horus (in infancy) and an erect Amun. On the pillars of the colonnades in the forecourt Hathor beats a tambourine, plays the harp and suckles Horus (in adolescence).

The main temple is entered through a gateway in the huge
Grand Pylon
on either side of which are grey granite statues of the hawk-god Horus. A tiny Ptolemy stands in front of him. On the left outer wall of the pylon Ptolemy XIII (88-51 BC), who was also known as Neos Dionysus and had usurped the pylon from its original builder Ptolemy IX (170-116 BC), is shown killing his enemies before Horus and Hathor
. The right wall has the same illustration in mirror image.
The pylon also contains the usual guardians' quarters and stairs up to the roof.

The giant
Court of Offerings
is lined with 32 columns with paired capitals behind which, on the west side, Ptolemy IX makes offerings to Horus, Hathor and Ihy, their son
, and on the right (east) Ptolemy X appears before the same three
. At the north end of the court is the
First Hypostyle Hall
, built by Ptolemy VII (180-145 BC), with its 18 once brightly painted columns supporting the roof. There are three different types of capital, repeated on either side of the hall. Before the entrance of the Hall stands another large statue of Horus, in grey granite. At the entrance to the Hypostyle Hall is the small Chamber of Ungents to the left with reliefs of flowers and recipes for consecrations and a small library, where the names of the guests for the day's festival would be kept, to the right. Here many rolls of papyrus were found. The foundation ceremonies are illustrated on the walls of the hall.

Leading north from the hall is a smaller 12 slender columned hypostyle hall, known as the
Festival Hall
, the oldest part of the building dating back to Ptolemy III (246-222 BC) and completed by his son, where offerings entered the temple and were prepared. Recipes for offerings are found on the walls of the laboratory. These were then carried through into the
Hall of Offerings
where the daily offerings would have been made at the many altars and tables bearing incense, juices, fruit and meat. There are steps to the east that were used for the procession up to the roof where a
Chapel of the Disc
once stood. The stairs are illustrated with pictures of the priests carrying the statues of the gods to the roof to be revitalized. The roof offers an excellent view of the surrounding area, but the gates seem to be permanently locked.

The Offerings Hall leads to the inner vestibule called the
Sanctuary of Horus
, where engravings show Ptolemy IV making offerings to the deities while others show Horus and Hathor in their sacred vessels. Within is a low altar of dark syenite on which stood the sacred barque and behind is the large upright shrine of Aswan granite where the statue of the god was placed. The sanctuary is virtually a separate temple, surrounded by a series of 10 minor chambers, which are best examined with a torch. Horus' defeat of Seth, who is portrayed as a hippopotamus, is illustrated in the middle of the west wall of the ambulatory
. On the same side where the ambulatory narrows to the south the pharaoh helped by gods pulls close a clap net containing evil spirits portrayed as fish, birds and men
. There are some interesting water spouts jutting into this area, some in better repair than others, carved as lions' heads.

Silsila

In between Edfu and Kom Ombo as limestone gives way to sandstone and the river narrows, the ancient quarries of Silsila come into sight. In use from the 16th to the first century BC, the quarries were the source of tonnes of sandstone used in temple building. Convicts were used to cut the huge blocks from the cliffs then they were transported on the Nile to sacred sights around Egypt. You can still see holes carved into the rock where the ancient boats were moored. The cliffs are decorated with graffiti and stelae. Small temples and statues were also carved in the surrounding rock. The cliffs of Silsila are particularly beautiful around sunset. As the cruise boats cannot dock here,
felucca
travellers get the place to themselves. On the west bank you can visit the colourful
Temple of Horemheb
. If you're on a boat and
have the chance to stop, it's definitely worth exploring, even after hours. For a bit of baksheesh, the guard will show you around. Arriving by land is a bit more of a challenge, it's really only worth the trek if you have a lot of time and a lot of interest, the closest town is Faris, from there, you will need to take a ferry to west bank where you can hire a private taxi to bring you to the temple.

Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo was the ancient crossroads where the Forty Days Road caravan route from western Sudan met the route from the eastern desert gold mines. It was also the place where African war elephants were trained up for use in the Ptolemaic army. 66 km south of Edfu and only 40 km north of Aswan, today this small east bank town is known for its sugar refinery, which processes the cane grown in the surrounding area. It is also now home to many of the Nubians who were displaced by the flooding following the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Tourists stop here to visit the Temple of Sobek and Horus that stands directly on the banks of the Nile, 4 km south of the town. If you are staying overnight in Edfu, the temple is particularly attractive at dusk when it is floodlit and many of the beautiful reliefs are shown at their best, especially in the first and second hypostyle halls. Taking a torch with you at this time of day is wise.

Kom Ombo Temple
, is the more usual name given to the small but beautiful
Temple of Sobek and Horus
.
To reach the temple, leave the service taxi on the way to Aswan. In the town itself, buses and service taxis stop on the north-south Sharia 26th July, 300 m apart. Cheap pickups to the temple can be caught from behind the white mosque, one block away from the Luxor-Aswan road on Sharia El-Gomhoriyya. These days most visitors arrive by felucca or cruiser.

The temple faces the Nile at a bend in the river and is unusual because it is dedicated to two gods rather than a single deity. The left-hand side is devoted to a form of Horus the Elder or Haroeris known as the 'Good Doctor', his consort Ta-Sent-Nefer ('Good Sister') and his son Horus the Younger, who was known as Pa-Heb-Tawy ('Lord of the Two Lands'). The right-hand side of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile-god Sobek-Re (here identified with the sun), his wife in another form of Hathor, and their moon-god son Khonsu. Sobek was an appropriate choice, given the fact that the nearby sandbanks were a favourite basking ground for crocodiles until the construction of the Aswan Dam. A healing cult developed here and pilgrims who came to be cured would fast for a night in the temple precinct before participating in a complex ceremony with the priest of Horus in the heart of the temple.

The present temple, like many others along this stretch of the Nile, is a Graeco-Roman construction, built of sandstone. Ptolemy VI started the temple, Neo Dionysus oversaw most of the construction while Emperor Augustus added some of the finishing touches. Its proximity to the Nile was a mixed blessing because, while its silt assisted in preserving the building, the flood waters eroded the First Pylon and Forecourt. In front of the temple to the west on the riverbank itself is the
Mamissi of Ptolemy VII
, which has been virtually destroyed by flooding, and to the east is the
Gate of Neos Dionysus
, who was the father of Cleopatra, and the
Chapel of Hathor
, which is now used to display mummified crocodiles.

With the Pylon and much of the
Forecourt
now destroyed by water erosion, only the stumps of the colourful columns, with a high-water mark clearly visible at about 2.5 m, and a few pieces of its walls now remain. Continuing the theme from the rest of the temple the twin deities are divided so that the left-hand columns are dedicated to Horus the Elder and the right-hand ones to Sobek-Re.

The five entrance columns and the 10 columns inside the Hypostyle Hall and its wall reliefs are especially decorative and the curious mixture of the two deities continues. Part of the roof has survived on the east side of the Hall and flying vultures are clearly depicted on the ceiling
. The rear walls leading to the older
Inner Hypostyle Hall
, which has two entrances and 15 columns, show Ptolemy VII holding hymnal texts before the Nile gods. The most striking relief is adjacent on the left of the north wall where Horus the Elder presents the
Hps
, the curved sword of victory to Ptolemy VII, while Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III, his wife and sister respectively, stand behind him
.

This is followed by three double
Entrance Vestibules
, each progressively smaller and higher than the last, also built by Ptolemy VII. The outer vestibule shows the goddess of writing Sheshat measuring the layout of the temple's foundations
, while the middle chamber served as an
Offering Hall
to which only priests were allowed entrance. Look for the long list or calendar detailing the temple gods' various festivals, one for each day
. Two small side rooms served as the library for the sacred texts and the other as a vestry for the altar clothes and the priests' robes. As in Edfu, a staircase originally led to the now-destroyed Chapel of the Disk on the roof.

The inner vestibule has two doors leading to the two separate
Sanctuaries of Horus and Sobek
and between the doors the gods give a Macedonian cloaked Ptolemy a notched palm branch from which the Heb Sed, or jubilee sign displaying the number of years of his reign, is suspended
. Khonsu, who is wearing a blue crescent around a red disk, is followed by Horus in blue symbolizing the air, and Sobek in green representing the water. Beneath the sanctuary are the crypts, which are empty but, unusually, open to the public. Visible is a small
secret chamber
, from where the priests spoke to the gods. It lies between the two sanctuaries, in what would have appeared as a very thick wall.

On the inner wall of the
outer corridor
 is the first known illustration of medical instruments, including bone-saws, scalpels, suction caps and dental tools, which date from the second century AD. While your guide may tell you that complicated operations were carried out 1800 years ago, it is most probable that these were instruments used in the mummification process. Adjacent to the left is a repeated relief of Isis on a birthing stool. Nearby the temple corridor floor is marked with graffiti, drawn by patients and pilgrims who spent the night there before the next day's healing ceremonies. Also in the outer corridor, at the back of the temple
, Horus and Sebek stand either side of a small niche surrounded by mystic symbols of eyes, ears and animals and birds each sporting four pairs of wings. Around the corridor,
 the traditional killing of the enemies scene, much eroded, this time includes a lion.

In the northwest corner of the temple complex is a large circular well that has a stairway, cistern and rectangular basin that are believed to be connected in some ways with the worship of the crocodile god Sobek.

Daraw Camel Market (Souk El-Jamaal)

An easy stop if you're sailing a
felucca
up the Nile is the village of Daraw. Except for one of the most interesting and unforgettable camel markets in the world, there's not much to see in the dusty little town. Sudanese merchants and Bishari tribesmen wrangle and haggle with Nubian farmers and Egyptian peasants (
fellaheen
) over camels that have walked for weeks by caravan along the Forty Days Road to be showcased. When they reach Abu Simbel, trucks usually bring the camels to the veterinarian in Daraw where they receive the necessary inoculations to ensure good health before heading to the market. Once in the market, camels go for E£2000-5000 depending on their age, sex, and general well being. Strong healthy females tend to be worth the most, for their reproductive capabilities. Only the males are killed for their meat. After being sold in Daraw, many camels end up at the camel market in Birqash, about an hour north of Cairo. In addition to milk and meat, camels are used for working the fields and carrying tourists around.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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