A Unique Cruise to Awesome and Irreplaceable Monuments
More than 3,000 years ago, on the 34th anniversary of his reign, the never modest Pharaoh Ramses II ordered the colossal Sun Temple of Abu Simbel to be carved into the side of a cliff—with four 65-foot-high seated statues of himself as a young pharaoh on the exterior and an equally awesome interior.
The immense monument took an unknown number of men thirty-six years to complete. In the 1960s an ingenious UNESCO rescue operation saved this and twenty-two other temples from being submerged forever when a high dam was built at Aswan.
The $40 million effort entailed moving and rebuilding both the temple and the statues on higher ground. Engineers even aligned the relocated temple to reproduce a semiannual phenomenon on February 22 and October 22, thought to be the anniversaries of Ramses’s birth and coronation: When the first rays of the sun reach 180 feet deep into the temple’s sanctuary, they illuminate murals of the deified pharaoh and his fellow gods.
The result of the Aswan High Dam is Lake Nasser, or the “Nubian Sea”—the largest freshwater man-made lake in the world. Long unvisited and forgotten, it was a blind spot on the Egyptian map for decades. But the first cruise ship (and still without question the handsomest) parted the waters for tourists on this 300-mile-long lake in 1990: the fifty- four-cabin M.S. Eugenie, a faux steamboat appointed in homage to the opulent comfort enjoyed by wealthy, fin-de-siecle Egyptophiles.
While the majority of foreign cruise passengers today sail north on the Nile from Aswan to crowded Luxor and its legendary sites, travelers heading south to Lake Nasser on the M.S. Eugenie may feel they have the lake’s temple- dotted shores almost to themselves.
The empty desert beyond is like a moonscape, its wind-hewn natural pyramids and bluffs a quiet source of fascination. The steamboat was named after the French empress who opened the Suez Canal in 1869; the Eugenie’s piece de resistance is the Imperial Suite, six times the size of the average spacious cabin. It would have pleased Her Majesty, indeed.