We are going to Aswan today, but before I get into that, I want to tell you about our last night in Luxor.
Do you remember my comment about how the people of Luxor seemed desperate, not living, but, just trying to exist? I wished I could see people in their more natural settings. Well I did. This last night in Luxor we went to the square outside of the Luxor Temple and it was filled with families. There were Mothers and Fathers with their babies and little ones; teen age boys exuberantly playing soccer; toddler boys trying to kick a soccer ball that came up to their knees; vendors selling refreshments and balloons. It was such a relaxed, pleasant time.
Then there were horns honking as a large group of motorcyclists noisily drove down the street. They rode with two to three guys on a bike and no helmets. I could tell they were celebrating something. Later as I walked, alone, back to my hotel, I saw them all parked outside of a photo shop. I stopped to talk with them and found that their friends were getting married. The wedding party was inside to get the pictures done.
The evening was fun, it was alive, and I was happy to be able to share in it. That night, I received an email from my friend, Nadia, who works in the same hospital I work in. She is from Luxor and had given me her family’s contact info for emergencies. Now she said her family would like to meet me. I would have loved that too, but, it was too late. I am grateful for this insightful night in Luxor.
Okay, back to today! We are taking a train from Luxor to Aswan. Aswan was the ancient Egyptian’s gateway to Africa. Now, it lies just below the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser. It is the smallest of the three major cities along the Nile and has a large population of Nubian people who were relocated when building of the dam flooded their homelands. The High Dam was built in the 1960 -70’s because the Low Dam was not high enough. There is a lot of political history with the building of the High Dam which I am not going into here. Aswan is also home to many of the granite quarries from which most of the Obelisks were built. There is a lot to see here and I know we will only be seeing a fraction of it.
The hotel we had planned on staying at didn’t exist anymore. Our ever resourceful Alexei scoured the travel guide during the train ride then while we waited at the train station in Aswan, he found a hotel for us. Here is our view:
Yes, it still had the tiny bathroom, but what the hey, it was clean. Yes the lobby was on the second floor, but by this time, I was strong enough to carry my luggage up the first stairs myself. Yes, it had one of those tiny elevators that began at lobby level, but at least it was there and it worked. I loved it!
We all agreed that the first thing we wanted to do was to rent a felucca and go sail on the Nile.
I don’t know, maybe it was this sail ride as my introduction to Aswan, but, I felt so much more relaxed in this city. We would only be here a couple of days, yet, I wished we could stay longer to see the entire city and to visit the surrounding areas.
That evening we headed out to have sheesha and tea at the market. Noelle and I actually smoked a little that night to the delight of three men sitting next to us. One was in the honey bee business, one was a banker and one was a history professor. The beekeeper spoke just a minimum amount of English, but somehow, we were able to communicate. They took pictures of us with them. I know they were delighted with Noelle and her girls.
The next day, we went touring. First up was the Unfinished Obelisk which is the largest known ancient obelisk. If finished it would have been about 137 feet and weighed about 1200 tons. It was found in the quarry in 2005. The cool thing about seeing this is how you can get an insight into ancient Egyptian stone working techniques. You can see the marks from the worker’s tools and the line markings that they followed. They were carving this stone right out of the bedrock, but cracks appeared in the granite and the project was abandoned. I am neither a stone mason nor an engineer, but, when I look at this, I don’t see how there wouldn’t be cracks. The length and angle of the obelisk just looks like there would be too much stress on it.
(Picture from Wikipedia)
(Picture from Wikipedia)
You can also find rock carvings and remains in this open air museum and archeological site where most of the famous obelisks were worked. Before the tour we watched an interesting video of the site.
We left the obelisks and headed to the Temple of Philae. Philae is actually a plural word that refers to two small islands in the Nile – Philae and Agilkia. These islands were centers of commerce between Egypt and Nubia (Ethiopia), but, their main feature was their architect. Monuments and temples from the late Egyptian Pharonic periods through the Greek Ptolemaic to the Roman times of the Caesars’ can be found here. The principal deity here was Isis. It was the last pagan temple to exist in the Mediterranean world when it was closed in the 6th century and Philae became the seat of the Christian religion. The temple was made into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary until Muslim invaders closed it in the 7th century.
In 1902 the Low Dam was completed on the Nile River. Its height was increased twice. Many of the ancient landmarks including the temple complex at Philae were getting flooded. So, in 1960, Egypt and UNESCO began a massive project to save the buildings. First they built two rows of steel plates that held sand to block the water; residual water was pumped away from the buildings. Then they cleaned and measured the monuments with photogammetry, a method that enables the exact reconstruction of the original size of the building blocks used by the ancient builders. Then they dismantled the buildings, transported them to the higher ground on Agilkia Island and reconstructed the monuments. Awesome!
When we arrived at the dock on the mainland there were MANY small boats vying to ferry us to the island. Alexei made a deal with one and we found ourselves on a very small, twitchy motor boat, hoping we wouldn’t end up swimming.
I could see a small island ahead of us and I could see beautiful golden light radiating into the sky like a huge halo. It was coming from something behind the island. I heard a voice saying, “I love your intention to love. I love the love you are bringing to my island.” I was filled with Love and Joy.
I turned to Alexei and asked, “Do you see that beautiful light?”
Of course he just grinned and shook his head no.
“Whose island is this? Who are we going to see? What temple?”
“Mainly it is Isis.”
“Isis was the first daughter of the god of the Earth and the goddess of the sky. She was married to her brother, Osiris who was killed by his jealous brother, Set. One version of the myth is where Set, along with the Queen of Ethiopia, conspired with 72 accomplices to plot the assassination of Osiris. Set fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which Set then shut, sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile. Isis, searched for his remains until she finally found him embedded in a tree trunk, which was holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos on the Phoenician coast. She managed to remove the coffin and open it, but Osiris was already dead. She used a spell learned from her father and brought him back to life so he could impregnate her. Afterwards, he died again and she hid his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to Horus. While she raised Horus, Set was hunting one night and came across the body of Osiris. Enraged, he tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the land. Isis gathered up all the parts of the body, less the phallus (which was eaten by a catfish) and bandaged them together for a proper burial. The gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and resurrected Osiris as the god of the underworld. Because of his death and resurrection, Osiris is associated with the flooding and retreating of the Nile and thus with the crops along the Nile valley. Osiris is the god of the underworld, a merciful judge of the dead and the grantor of life, re-birth and regeneration. Isis is the goddess of love.”
Hmmm, well I am feeling a whole lot of love right now. As we motored toward the island, I had an image of a woman placing her forehead against mine. She wanted to give me her knowledge and experience. I wanted it, but, I wouldn’t take it in like this. I insisted she give it to Love and I would receive it all from there. You know, that is what I trust. She was cool with that and the image faded away.
Since I have been home, I don’t feel any more knowledgeable or experienced which is kind of a bummer. When I googled “Isis”, I found this comment: “Isis was a goddess in ancient Egypt whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the ideal mother, wife, matron of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden; she also listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers. Isis worship was concerned about the acquisition of knowledge since knowledge could only be attained from the gifts of the gods. Worship of Isis did not include a messianic view but it did provide a relationship with the divine that was not stopped by death.”
“Hey, Isis love, if you are listening, I did not refuse your gift, I just need it to come through Love.”
Isis is still worshipped in our times. Apparently there is a Temple of Isis in Los Angeles, in northern California, in Ireland and a whole Federation of Isis. They say that Isis asks only that our “spark of divinity within” be allowed to thrive, to grow, to become strong, and that we become more purely an expression of our own divine spirit.
Hey, I’m down with that! No wonder I like Isis!
Our boat came to the dock and, as I stepped onto the island, I felt an immense sense of peace and love. O my gosh, I really love it here.
The grand entrance to Nubian Temple of Isis is where we began walking. Below is a drawing of the same area done by David Roberts in the 1800’s:
(Picture from David Roberts)
Here is a view looking out from an opening in the colonnade area back to the little island :
I was feeling so good here. Alexei found a carving of Isis:
Here is a drawing of the inside of the temple from the 1800’s Description de L’Egypte:
(Picture from Wikipedia)
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Suddenly, I heard a voice yelling, “Noelle, Noelle!!” I knew this was not in my head. We turned around and there, in his black full length robes was the professor from the sheesha place. He excitedly came running up to us and gave us hugs. Behind him were a couple of other men and a whole bunch of teen age boys…his students! Immediately, everyone wanted pictures…mostly with Noelle and her girls:).
It was fun for awhile, but, Noelle was getting a bit irritated because it was very distracting from our tour of the temple complex. I enjoyed it, but, she was right, I found it took me out of my wonderful, loving, spiritual connection and brought me back into present time teenage, male hormones. We did continue to tour and the Island was beautiful, but, I don’t remember it all anymore partially due to the boys constantly coming up to have pictures taken with us.
This is Trajan’s Kiosk, built by Roman Emperor Trajan:
I know we went inside of other temples, but I don’t remember much cuz the boys were there too.
Our visit to Philae had come to an end. I would love to visit it again.
At the dock, the boys were there to send us off with a lot of yelling and smiles.
They were very cute. I told Noelle that she and her girls did a lot for international relations. I don’t think she thought it was funny.
After a quick stop at our hotel, we took a long, peaceful, lazy felucca sail on the Nile again. Ahhhh!
This time, we went down past Elephantine Island then came back to it and stopped at the back end of a Nubian village near a hostel like hotel:
We were not in the tourist area and that was too bad because all we did was walk in between the houses and couldn’t find our way to the main streets. We did meet a bunch of little children who squealed with delight when they asked Alexei his name and he replied, “Ismi, MacMoud.” I don’t get why that just kills everyone. Back at the hostel hotel, Noelle and I received our first henna tattoos:
Would you believe it? Our time in Aswan has come to an end. Now, I know it was much too short a time to spend here. Tonight, we are taking an overnight train to Cairo.