13.04.2009 - 13.04.2009
Luxor was the capital of the Egyptian kingdom for centuries (and at the height of its power), and as such contains many sites with immense historical significance. It looks to be a really nice town, and is undergoing something of a facelift to make it more tourist friendly. Temperatures have soared from the comfortable Cairo - e.g. it was 33C at 8.30am and got hotter.
This afternoon we visited the Karnak temple - recently declared the world's largest open air museum by UNESCO. A mammoth complex, reached by 'Egyptian Ferrari' (horse and carriage) - our guide Ahsan explained the layout of an Egyptian temple and the significance of the obelisks and scenes carved into the walls.
NB: This is my understanding only - quote me at your own peril!
Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death and considered life to be simply a waiting room to the afterlife. People would spend their lives making preparations for after their death. Pharaohs (Egyptian kings) in particular would begin building their tombs as soon as they ascended the throne. Tombs were decorated with scenes from the afterlife and the pharaoh's judgement and passage to heaven, and filled with treasures and items the pharoah would need. They were also filled with items intended to allow the spirits to identify the pharaoh's body.
Tombs were designed to thwart any potential future tomb raiders from stealing the artefacts and the mummy. Initial tombs were built in the form of the Pyramids, but as they tended to draw attention (duh), later pharoahs were buried in tombs built into the mountains - the area known as 'the valley of the kings'. Tombs were equipped with secret chambers and narrow alleyways, deep shafts and gigantic heavy sarcophagi in order protect it - despite this, almost all tombs had been raided over the years through the middle ages and beyond. Many suspect the tomb builders themselves as they would have had the knowledge required to steal the riches (in ancient China, the workers were killed once the tomb was built!).
The only tomb found intact is that of Tutankhamun, found in the 1920s by archaeologist Howard Carter - and the contents now fill an entire floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.