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The vast, isolated country of Egypt in the North Eastern corner of African is central to studies of the world’s oldest civilisations. Traveller Megan McCormick begins her journey in the sprawling city of Cairo where the most impressive monuments and fascinating sights and relics can be discovered in the old city.
The Bazaar of Khan al-Khalili is a huge market, which has been open for business since the middle ages. Megan learns about herbal medicine from a “doctor’s ” clinic and sees craftsmen in the workshops at the bazaar. From here she pays a visit to the mosque at Ibn Tulun: although the site has been Islamic since the mosque was built in the 9th century AD, according to legend this was the spot where Noah’s Arc came to rest and where Moses confronted Pharaoh’s magicians.
No one comes to Cairo without seeing it’s most famous landmark, the Great Pyramids at Giza, just outside the city. They were built as the tombs of three Pharaohs, the first in a string of pyramids running all the way down the Nile to the Sudanese border. Evidence suggests that the first pyramid took hundreds of thousands of workers thirty years to construct.
Egypt was one of the earliest places where Christianity took hold and the monastery at St Antony’s, three hours to the south east of Cairo, was reputedly the very first monastery. St Antony lived as a hermit in a nearby cave for twenty years. Father Lazarus, a former university lecturer who emulates St Antony’s way of life, tells Megan why he chose to live on this mountain saturated with prayer.
En route to Siwa in Egypt’s Western DesertMegan stops at the war cemetery at El Alamein, commemorating the soldiers who fought in World War Two. Tens of thousands of young men on both sides died in the Battle of El Alamein. When she arrives in the remote oasis town of Siwa, close to the Lybian border, Megan is invited to a Siwan stag celebration. The laid-back town is famous for its dates and olives and the town centre is dominated by the crumbling remains of the 13th century fortress of Shali.
From Siwa Megan embarks on a five day desert trek to Luxor. On the way she pays a visit to the oasis town of Bahariyya, where every traveller is greeted personally by the mayor. She joins a family celebrating sebuwa, a ceremony held a week after the birth of a new baby. The following day the group heads for the historic ruins of Bagawat. Here there are 263 Coptic tombs dating back 1800 years, some of which have biblical murals painted on the interior.
Megan is relieved to arrive in Luxor at last. The West Bank of Luxor is known as Monument Valley and its here that you’ll find the famous Valley of the Kings. The government has invested heavily in security at major sites since the Shi’ite massacre of fifty people at Luxor in November 1997 which cast a cloud over the Egyptian tourist trade. Nevertheless Megan finds an Egyptologist to guide her around the working archaeological site and to teach her about burial practice. The next morning she has an early a breathtaking view of the entire site – by hot-air balloon.
For the final leg of her trip Megan takes a short flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel, the gateway to southern Egypt. It’s here that Ramses had his sun temple built over three thousand years ago. Four massive statues over sixty five feet tall impress upon the traveller the ruler’s strength and divinity. The temple was moved block by block to a man made mountain sixty five metres higher then its original site so as to prevent submersion by the newly created Lake Nasser.
Along the way:
- Discover the natural springs of Karlovy Vary, visited by Czech nobility and commoners for at least five hundred years
- Experience the madness of the rave, a gathering that was not allowed under Communist rule with a law that was enforced by the police
- Visit a Czech beer hall in Prague