Watery Lifeline of Ancient and Modern Civilizations
Although tamed by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the Nile has not changed much since the distant days when Ramses was a boy. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus described Egypt as “the gift of the Nile,” and to sail along the river’s ageless green shores is to understand why the ancient Egyptians worshipped it.
The river remains the lifeblood of Egyptian civilization, the heart and soul of its people. The languid tempo of huddled riverside While the Nile’s east bank, where the sun rises, holds the crowning achievements of ancient Egyptian architecture, Luxor’s fascination continues across the river on the west bank.
There Thebans built their City of the Dead, the largest and most famous necropolis of ancient Egypt. Of the many royal tombs excavated in the Valley of the Kings, only that of Tutankhamen was found intact. Visitors can only speculate sadly about what must have disappeared from the plundered tombs of more powerful pharaohs such as Ramses II.
The seven-chambered tomb of Ramses’ consort Nefertari— reopened in 1995—in the nearby Valley of the Queens, is believed by art historians to be the finest now on view to the public, a vividly and intricately painted labor of love by the pharaoh for the favorite of his forty wives.
Sightseeing in Luxor can be taxing: Wake-up calls at the crack of dawn will help you achieve some degree of solitude by the ruins before the hordes and the heat arrive. After a long, dusty day, repair to the Old Winter Palace.
Bypass the new wing and ask for a room in the original wing of the hotel (founded in 1886) for nostalgia’s sake. Its high ceilings, giant armoires, Oriental carpets, and ornate crystal chandeliers hark back to the early days of British imperialism. The garden at the Old Winter Palace, the largest and most beautiful in Luxor, has a dozen full-time gardeners who ensure that this is the coolest place in town for tea.