Archive for November, 2011

About the Red Sea

Swimming in the Red Sea

Source: Visiting Egypt

To anyone standing on its shore and gazing out across its heavenly waters, the Red Sea may seem to be a mislabeling. Its blueness is eternal and anything less red cannot be fantasized. The Red Sea, where the desert meets the ocean, is truly one of the planet’s most exotic and fascinating natural seascape environments. The Red Sea is located between Asia and Africa. At its most northerly point forms the Sinai Peninsula and stretches over 1000 miles south to join the Indian Ocean, between Ethiopia and Yemen. In the north and west are desert plains, while in the south a mountainous region (2642 meters high), which is part of the mountain range stretching from deep in Saudi Arabia, across the Sinai and then into Nubia of the African continent. The Red Sea holds beneath its crystal blue surface an oasis of living creatures, reefs, and coral formation. Its use as a highway between East and West has attracted man since the beginning of time.


The Red Sea was created by the movement of plates in the Earth’s surface about 30 million years ago. In that time, the Arab peninsula started to part from Africa along a thin break line which was filled by the ocean’s water. However, “Mother Nature” did not stop there. Twenty million years ago another geological movement started. The Arab peninsula which parted from Africa, started to move to the north. That movement struck resistance in Turkey and swung to the east, and another break line was formed. This one stretching all the way from the northern part of Israel, through the Jordan valley to the Dead Sea, and finally through the Gulf of Eilat to Ras Mohamad at the southern point of the Sinai. The young age of the Gulf of Eilat is what makes it so deep, 100 meters in Dahab and 1800 meters north of the Straits of Tiran. On the other hand, the old Gulf of Suez is relatively shallow, with a 85 meters maximum depth. The Red Sea is still widening at about one-half inch per year, the rift is the youngest region of continental breakup on the planet, allowing geologists to learn about processes that occurred in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans hundreds of millions of years earlier.

Water temperatures in the Red Sea remain unusually constant year round, averaging 22^ C in the summer. Low pressure systems develop in the Sahara Desert and draw hot dry east winds from Asia which cause the temperature to rise frequently along with sand storms. At the same time, lows develop over the Red Sea, bringing moist cold air from the south and creating clouds, haze, and more often rain. The northern land mass is the primary influence over temperature in the gulf, but this decreases to the south the closer you get to open sea. The open sea’s cooling effect creates an interesting temperature pattern: maximum summer temperatures are lower in the south while minimum temperatures are higher in the north with the opposite occurring during the winter. In any case, the coldest moth of the year is January and the warmest months are July and August. The Red Sea is notorious among seafarers for its high speed surface winds and aggressively short irregular motion. It may be calm on the inward shore, but journeys to exposed sites like The Brothers islands, a remote off-shore site east of El Quseir, can be perilous and boats have been seen literally to fall apart under the force of the journey.

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Nile Valley and Luxor

This video is an advertisement by a UK tour operator, but it really shows you the sights of Luxor and the surrounding Nile Valley in an informative way. You can also find out about the different activities on the Nile and around Luxor as well as the different types of Nile Cruises available to tourists. Perhaps you’ll get inspired and find yourself booking a trip!
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Nile Cruising…

Nile cruises are a superb option for an Egypt holiday. With many of Egypt‘s fascinating sites close to the banks of the Nile, a Nile cruise holiday is one the most relaxing ways to experience the history and culture of Egypt. Check out this beautiful video; tempted yet?

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Castle Carter & Deir el-Bahri



This morning the air felt much cooler as we had our morning coffee on the roof terrace and I noticed the haze that has been around since we arrived in Luxor seems to have finally cleared. Sam and I decided to drive over to the West Bank again.

  Once more crossing the bridge and turning right along the pretty tree-lined road towards the Gezira cross-roads, I noticed again the activity involved with the sugar cane harvest. Trucks, tractors and donkey carts trundled along the road piled high with canes. One interesting development I’ve noticed this year is the arrival of a new type of vehicle in the form of a motorcycle with a pick-up back, like a motorised donkey cart but much faster. I guess this progress is inevitable and I wondered how long it will take before we no longer see donkeys on the roads. Is this a good or a bad omen for the donkeys who will become redundant?



We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon, the statues of Amenhotep III at the entrance to his Kom el-Hettan temple, because the sun was lighting them perfectly in the late morning. After mid-day the front of the statues are in shadow. A long screen has been erected in front of the excavation area so there was no chance of seeing any work in progress. We had a glimpse from the road of the statue of the king that has been re-erected in the temple area with its replica head. Knowing that visitors are quickly turned away, there was no point in stopping.

Sam drove along Monument Road again slowly so that we could see what has been going on excavation-wise. How lazy is that? But we were on our way to the Carter house, where the famous discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb had lived and worked.




I had expressed an interest in seeing the recently re-opened ‘Castle Carter’ last week.  I remember from my first excursions onto the West Bank years ago, several people told me that ‘Castle Carter’ was the domed building on the hill at the entrance to the road to the King’s Valley. I was even once taken inside part of this building, which was also a dig house. Later however, I learned that Carter’s house was at the foot of this hill and surrounded by overgrown trees that went a good way to hide it. The larger and more prominent house on the hill is in fact Stoppelaere House, built to a plan of Hasan Fathy in the 1950s as both a guest house for the Department of Antiquities and the headquarters and apartment of Dr. Alexander Stoppelaere who was the chief restorer of the Department at that time.


The real ‘Castle Carter’ was in fact Howard Carter’s second home on the West Bank, his first being near Medinet Habu. The one we visited today has been beautifully restored and we, the only visitors, were welcomed free of charge and shown around by a guide. A fantastic job has been done on the restoration of the house. It is an Egyptian traditional mudbrick house with a dome in the centre to keep it cool. Each room is furnished with lovely period pieces from the time when Carter lived there and even though I knew they were not original to the house they felt like they belonged there. It certainly captured my imagination. There are many copies of photographs and reproductions of some of Carter’s original handwritten notes and his drawings to add extra interest and the present Lady Carnarvon has done a beautiful job of designing posters and history boards with photographs of the two famous men.

 Howard Carter built this house shortly after beginning his association with his benefactor Lord Carnarvon of Highclere Castle in England, in 1910. He lived in Luxor for many years and it was his base while excavating in the Valley of the Kings and searching for Tutankhamun’s tomb. Carter’s story after his 1922 great discovery is well known and his last years are rather sad, but it was lovely to see the life this house must have had while he lived there.

The most interesting part for me was the darkroom, now lit with  the traditional red light and looking like Carter or his photographer Burton might step out at any moment. The walls were hung with black and white photographs and there is even a huge wooden plate camera on display. The restored house is surrounded by a newly-planted garden that will be very pretty when the plants grow and there are shady rest areas where visitors will be able to get refreshments. Outside there is a wonderful view of Thoth Hill, and with my long lens I was able to take a picture of the temple on it’s peak. I’ve never yet managed the two-hour trek to the top.



After leaving ‘Castle Carter’ Sam and I decided that Deir el-Bahri, where we were headed next, would still be too busy with the morning rush, so we went into the Ramesseum rest house for a drink to while away an hour or so. We finally arrived at Hatshepsut’s Temple around 2.00pm when most of the visitors had gone. Deir el-Bahri has also changed since my last visit and now has a big new visitor’s centre. We were told we were not allowed to walk up to the temple but had to go on the little taf-taf train. It’s becoming like Disneyland here. We bought our tickets (30 LE plus 2 LE for the taf-taf) and off we went.

 I visited each terrace in turn taking photographs of the walls. because many of the reliefs have been newly cleaned since I was last here. The right-hand second terrace is looking especially good and the shallow relief depicting the divine birth of Hatshepsut now shows up well. The Chapel of Anubis has also had a face-lift and the painted walls are now bright and colourful. I love to visit the little Chapel of Hathor with its lovely Hathor-headed columns and today with my zoom lens I got some good pictures of the adjacent Middle Kingdom Mentuhotep Temple from there. I also got some pictures of the old Metropolitan dig-house, a magnificent huge building to the south of the temple that for many years has been used by the Polish Mission working at Deir el-Bahri.

We left Deir el-Bahri when the temple closed at 5.00pm, making our way through the bazaar that is now the only exit. Sam had to park on the road because the enormous car park is now for coaches and taxis only. We drove back into Luxor in the crazy evening traffic, trying to work out why drivers mostly ignore the red traffic lights.





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Shopping and the Markets of Luxor



Luxor is not a place to go for large, glamorous shops. There aren’t any. There are, however, bargains to be had, as well as souvenirs.

Typical souvenir items include carvings and mouldings of gods, pharaohs and queens, papyrus illustrations and glass scent bottles. The bargains include egyptian cotton, leather, gold and silver (but in all cases be careful about manufacturing quality).

Prices in hotel shops will normally be beatable, but they are worth checking if only to give you a benchmark for when you go to town.

It is also worth visiting non-tourist shops in town, where prices are marked and where, as far as we can tell, the tourist pays the same as local people. Most of these shops are in and around Station Street and Television Street. Station Street is the wide road that leads from behind Luxor Temple towards the railway station. Here you will find shops selling shoes, clothing, small electrical items and an optician. Television Street is a long road that leads from behind the Old Winter palace and runs more-or-less east (away from the Nile).

It helps to have a note of Arabic numbers because although prices are often displayed, they are usually only written in Arabic.

arabic numbers

Haggling – the price you have to pay

You don’t have to haggle in normal shops, such as the ones along Television Street and Station Street.

Elsewhere, you haggle for most things, especially in the market and in the tourist shops. Once upon a time the general advice (which is still given by some tour reps) is that you start to haggle at half the price asked for by the merchant and meet somewhere in the middle. The shop and market people are wise to that, so they up the starting price. It is not at all unusual for a seller to start the haggling process six, eight or even ten times higher than the price they would accept.

The best bet is to become familiar with value of things by checking the price charged in the government shop, other fixed price shops, non-tourist shops used by local people and hotel shops. There is no magic formula. Do your homework and with that background information decide what you are prepared to pay, then barter. If you buy for that or a lower amount you have a bargain. If you want to know the lowest price, just show interest, barter a bit, then walk away. The price he shouts after you as you begin to disappear back into the crowd is probably as low as he will go.

Fruit & Veg shopping

There used to be plenty of fruit and veg stalls in the tourist market, but most of these have now gone. There is a new fruit and veg market just across the railway line, behind the station. This is where local people buy their fruit and veg, so look for one with the prices marked, go armed with the arabic number list (above) and shopping is easy!

There are also lots of fruit and veg shops and stalls in Medina Street, which turns off Television street at the Vodaphone shop and more scattered around town, especially close to the railway crossing near the station and between Station Street and Television Street.

Government Shop

There used to be a big and dusty Government Shop in the maze behind Luxor Temple. There is now a new Government shop at the southern end of town. To get to it, go down the road opposite the Lotus hotel, past Joan’s, Snobs, Casablanca etc to the end of the road. The Government shop is on the corner of that road and the busy main road. On the ground floor are clothing and linens, such as sheets, table cloths etc. Downstairs there are fabrics and domestic machines. This is not the same as a duty free shop. It is simply owned by a government company.

It helps to know the procedure for buying here. The shop is similar to a British corner draper from the 1950s. There are counters and each member of staff has their own territory and specialty. Prices are marked in arabic. Staff speak English. They will willingly show you what you want to see and tell you the price. Prices are fixed but seem to come with an automatic discount.

When you have chosen your purchase(s) you are given a chitty. Take the chitty to the cash kiosk opposite the main entrance. Give the chitty and your payment to the cashier. He will receipt the chitty and return it. Now take the receipted chitty to the dispatcher who has his own counter to the right of the cashier. If the goods have not already arrived at the dispatcher’s desk he will go to the place where you started, to collect your purchase. He then wraps it and gives it to you with your receipted chitty. If you buy things from more than one counter, collect your chitties as you go round and take them all to the cashier together.

Many of the people involved may ask for tips, but this is out of habit. Tips are not really expected or normally given.

Tourist shops

Tourist shops in town tend to be clustered and they all sell similar things, especially alabaster, resin mouldings, leather, t-shirts, other cotton and jewellery. The goods in tourist shops are rarely priced. Hassle and bartering are the order of the day. One cluster of tourist shops is along the main Corniche either side of the Winter Palace, extending into the Marhaba centre, to the left (as you face it) of the Winter Palace. There used to be more around the Horus hotel, between the market and Luxor Temple, but these have been cleared as part of the town improvements. For a while they were relocated along the main road on the town side of the El Luxor hotel. They are now in a new purpose-built shopping centre, called Savoy Market (see below). At the other end of town there are plenty of shops along the main road from the Nile Palace hotel (previously called the Meridien hotel), all the way through to the Sheraton and down some of the side streets along the way.

Savoy Market

The Savoy Market has replaced many of the tourist shops that used to be clustered close to the Luxor Temple. This is part of the thrust to improve facilities for tourists, but it was also necessary as part of the clearance of a tract of land between Luxor and Karnak temples to reintroduce the ancient avenue of sphinxes.

The Savoy Market is on the town side of the El Luxor (previously the Mercure) hotel. It has an arcade at ground level, which goes through to the road at the back, and two further floors. There are dozens of shops, selling the full range of tourist souvenir things. There are also several toilets, which were once quite acceptable by local public toilet standards but have not aged well, and an internet cafe. Some of the best known local low-cost restaurants have also been relocated to the Savoy market with the shops. Altogether there are three restaurants, El Hussien (yes, it is spelt that way outside) and Amoun are on the second level and King Tut is at the top.


Luxor Market

For atmosphere when shopping, a must-visit is the traditional market in Old Market Street. There are many access points into Old Market Street. For one, start at McDonald’s. With your back to McDonald’s, go right, past a few shops and to the junction with the main road. The main road is Station Road. Cross this road and look for the new sign “Le Souk”. This is the entrance to the market.

At this end of the market most of the shops sell jewellery, bags and leather goods, souvenirs, spices, scarves, T-shirts and other clothing, and other items aimed at the tourist. As you progress through the market, the emphasis changes, with fewer shops targeting the tourist. There used to be lots of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, household utensils, tools and other goods providing for the needs of local people. However, most of these, especially the fruit and veg, have now been moved to a new fruit and veg market on the other side of the railway line, not far from the station.

Some guides and occasional visitors to Luxor will advise against shopping in the market. Their reasons may include the inevitable hassle from shop or stall holders and the possibility that you will pay too much for your purchases.

As far as the hassle is concerned, certainly there will be plenty of local people keen to ‘help’ you and you will not progress far in Old Market Street without being ‘encouraged’ to go into shops or to look at wares on a market stall. That kind of hassle is hard to avoid anywhere in Luxor. A little tolerance and good humour will usually be enough to get you by.

What you pay for your purchases is largely up to you. Many of the stall holders work on commission. Everything has a minimum price that the owner will expect. If the seller can get more than the minimum then the difference will probably be his earnings so yes, many may maximise their earnings when they have a chance. Some guides will suggest that you offer half the starting price. The sellers are wise to that advice and so will often start much higher than twice what you need to pay – even ten times as much.

There is no magic formula. Do your homework in the hotel and local shops.

With that background decide what you are prepared to pay, then barter. If you buy for that or a lower amount you have a bargain. If you want to know the lowest price, just show interest, barter a bit, then walk away. The price he shouts after you as you begin to disappear back into the crowd is probably as low as he will go.


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“Great Experience” on Luxor’s Hot-Air Balloon Ride

Check out a visitor’s  from the UK experience in Luxor on a hot-air balloon ride.

“Very early start (5.30) from boat. Taken by boat to West Bank by boat then mini bus to balloon. We were given safety briefing prior to flight and felt safe throughout. Pilot was excellent with great commentary. Absolutely fabulous views not to be missed. Amazing experience all round with breathtaking views of Valley of The King. Visited April 2011″

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Oldest Rock Art Found In Egypt

An interdisciplinary team of Belgian scientists working with Yale University (New Haven, USA) has discovered the oldest petroglyphs in Egypt and the earliest rock art known so far in the whole of North Africa.

By dating the wind-blown sediment that covers the rock art using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), the team has been able to demonstrate that the petroglyphs are at least 15 000 years old. The dating results will be published in the December issue of Antiquity (Vol 85 Issue 330, pp. 1184–1193)

Belgian archaeologist Wouter Claes poses with a panel with wild bovids (Bos primigenius or aurochs) at the Qurta II site.

A Lost Discovery

The site of the rock art panels is near the modern village of Qurta, about 40km south of the Upper-Egyptian town of Edfu. First seen by Canadian archaeologists in the early 1960s, they were subsequently forgotten and relocated by the Belgian mission in 2005. The rediscovery was announced in the Project Gallery of Antiquity in 2007.

The rock art at Qurta is essentially characterised by hammered and incised naturalistic-style images of aurochs and other wild animals. On the basis of their intrinsic characteristics (subject matter, technique and style), their patination and degree of weathering, as well as the archaeological and geomorphological context, these petroglyphs have been attributed to the Late Pleistocene, specifically to the Late Palaeolithic Period (roughly 23 000 to 11 000 years ago). This interpretation has met with little criticism from the archaeological community, but proof in the form of indirect or direct science-based dating evidence has hitherto been lacking.


American archaeologist Elyssa Figari recording rock art at the Qurta I site. The panel contains 33 images, including 25 wild bovids and a stylized human figure.

A Remarkable Date

In 2008, a team directed by Dr Dirk Huyge of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (Belgium), discovered more rock art panels at one of the Qurta sites. The deposits covering the rock art, in part composed of wind-blown sediments, were dated at the Laboratory of Mineralogy and Petrology (Luminescence Research Group) of Ghent University (Belgium) using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. OSL dating can determine the time that has elapsed since the buried sediment grains were last exposed to sunlight.

The Qurta rock art is therefore more or less contemporaneous with European art from the last Ice Age, as known from such world-famous sites as the Lascaux and Altamira caves

Using the constituent mineral grains of the sediment itself, it offers a direct means for establishing the time of sediment deposition and accumulation. This resulted in a minimum age of about 15 000 calendar years, providing the first solid evidence for the Pleistocene age of the rock art at Qurta and making it the oldest graphic activity ever recorded in Egypt and the whole of North Africa. The Qurta rock art is therefore more or less contemporaneous with European art from the last Ice Age, as known from such world-famous sites as the Lascaux and Altamira caves.

Detail of a rock art panel at the Qurta II site, showing two drawings of wild bovids (Bos primigenius or aurochs) with forward pointing horns. The double belly line of the right specimen is typical of the Qurta II bovids.

An Artistic Tradition

The discovery of sophisticated ‘Ice Age’ rock art in North Africa is certainly new but not entirely unexpected, as elsewhere on the African landmass finds of even older art have been known for some time. Already in 1969 stone plaquettes with painted animal motifs dated to about 26 000 years ago were uncovered in a cave in Namibia. More recently, in 1999 and 2000, complex geometric engravings on ochre pieces were brought to light in a South-African coastal site that date back to no less than 75 000 to 100 000 years. But how can it be explained that the rock art of Qurta, executed in Egypt over about 15 000 years ago, is stylistically so similar to what we discern in Ice Age Europe at about the same time? Can one speak of direct influence or cultural exchange over such a long distance? It is not as improbable as it seems. Finds of Pleistocene rock art in southern Italy and Sicily bear analogies to the Egyptian rock art. In northern Libya, near the coast, a cave site is known with similar naturalistic images of aurochs. Considering the fact that the level of the Mediterranean Sea at the time of the last Ice Age was at least 100m lower than it is today, it cannot be excluded that Palaeolithic people established an intercontinental exchange of iconographic and symbolic concepts.

Source: Antiquity press release

Full article in Antiquity (Vol 85 Issue 330, pp. 1184–1193)

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For miles and Niles: Watching the sun rise while floating high above Egypt’s treasures


By Rosa Monckton

Egypt has always held a fascination for me. I have travelled all over the Middle East, and to parts of Africa, but for some reason had never made it to Egypt.

So when we were deciding where to go for a family holiday, it seemed an obvious choice.

Discover Egypt organised the trip for us and were efficient and helpful, particularly as at the last minute we had to split up, two of us flying to Luxor and the other two flying straight to the Red Sea.


Everything was re-organised with the minimum of hassle and I caught my first glimpse of the Nile with my youngest daughter Domenica when we arrived at the Maritim Jolie Ville Luxor Island hotel.

The hotel is in a superb position, on the shore of the Nile, with a beautiful infinity pool looking over the river. A new reception area was being completed and I hope that the next bit of updating will be to the rooms, which are pretty basic.

We had breakfast on the terrace before the heat of the day, watching life on the river, including vast boats passing serenely in front of us. From there we drove across the desert to El Gouna, on the Red Sea, where we stayed in the Movenpick Resort and Spa.



This is a vast complex with several restaurants, swimming pools and beaches. It is overwhelming until you have worked out where everything is.

Then it is like being a part of the computer game The Sims, a virtual world where the player is in control of the people and the buildings – you make it exactly as you would want it.

In Movenpick everything interconnects and works like clockwork and the rooms are comfortable and well-thought-out. The food was exceptionally good, particularly the buffet lunch and at the fish restaurant.

The Movenpick is one of a series of hotels built around the lagoons of El Gouna, an artificial construction on a vast scale.

It is a hugely ambitious project and we spent a morning going through the lagoons in a boat to get a sense of its size.

Satellite masts are hidden in fake palm trees and everything is pristine and spanking new, which reinforces that computer-game feeling.

That evening I went with my eldest daughter Savannah to a Bedouin dinner in a strip of desert outside the main compound.

There were camel rides, an ostrich to look at and food served while we sat cross-legged on cushions in the sand.

The Moon was full and it was a lovely, if somewhat touristy, night, complete with whirling dervishes and plaintive Arab music.

Water sports are a theme in El Gouna so I persuaded my husband Dominic and Savannah

to have a go at parasailing. We were driven to the Old Marina, which is an isolated spit of sand with a hut and an incongruously placed sofa on the beach.


Just seeing Dominic and Savannah’s faces as they were strapped into their double harness on the parachute before they had even taken off made the whole trip worthwhile.

Savannah has a certificate from her school on the kitchen wall at home for the dubious accolade of ‘probably attending the least number of PE lessons in her year group’.

And Dominic hates all ‘unnecessary’ movement. To see the two of them suspended high above us, attempting – as they told me later – to have a normal conversation to disguise their fear, was a sight to behold.

When they were reeled in they had a ceremonial dunking in the sea. I asked Dominic what it had been like and he replied that he would like a ‘gin and catatonic, please’.

One night we went to dinner by the harbour in El Gouna. It was a balmy night and the harbour was busy – one had a sense of being in some recently constructed Mediterranean port.

In a few years, when everything has mellowed, it will be a very different, vibrant place. As it stands, its very newness is somewhat disconcerting.


Savannah and I spent a morning snorkelling along the reef, seeing all manner of brightly coloured fishes, and then we set off across the desert plains to return to Luxor for our last two days.

Dominic and I got up at dawn, were driven to the Nile, crossed over in the dark, and emerged on the west bank to a surreal landscape of billowing hot-air balloons.

We clambered into a corner compartment of the basket of a huge balloon, and – very slowly – we rose majestically above the Nile to watch the sunrise.

It was stunningly beautiful, eerily quiet and one of those dawns and sunrises that one will never forget. There were muted colours and stirrings of life and then the sudden explosion of light shattering across the desert landscape and shafting on to the temples.

We landed abruptly in the middle of a smallholding, with ancient, inscrutable men in traditional robes rushing forward to help us alight. From there we went to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, built on three terraced levels.

She was one of the rare female pharaohs, and in order to legitimise her position, she depicted herself wearing a pharaoh’s kilt and a beard. This temple is an extraordinary monument to the first known reigning queen.


The advantage of going to the temple so early in the morning is that it was completely empty. By the time we got to the Valley of the Kings the crowds had appeared, and that, coupled with the intense heat, makes the viewing conditions of the tombs very difficult.


You feel as if you are on a conveyor belt and, just as you are beginning to understand a particular piece of wall painting, you are pushed forward. I would recommend going out of season if you are serious about Egyptology.


The scale of the tombs and the extraordinary sophistication and elaborate detail overwhelmed me. All this was achieved at a time when in Britain we were rushing around in loincloths and living in caves.


The following morning I went to the temple of Karnak, with an informative and charming guide, and from there went to the temple of Luxor.

There is work going on to uncover the sphinx road that connects the two, so in various places in the hustle of Luxor you come across destroyed buildings, and, emerging from the rubble, sphinxes that have somehow survived unscathed throughout the centuries.

The temple of Luxor has traces of so many different civilisations, from the ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Christians and the Muslims. The original temple was completely buried for hundreds of years and was re-discovered when a mosque was built on top of it.

The mosque is now an integral part of the site. We spent a last afternoon visiting the Winter Palace Hotel, which used to be the Winter Palace of King Farouk. I had a family interest in visiting this, as my grandfather had been King Farouk’s lawyer, and wrote his abdication speech.

It is now a very grand Sofitel, and requires a king’s ransom to stay there. From there, we took a boat meandering down the Nile back to the hotel to watch the sunset from the water. On one bank of the river, nothing appears to have changed since biblical times.

You see children playing in the water, women swaying through the fields as they carry their shopping home on their heads, and donkeys carrying their loads.

Yet, on the other bank is all the bustle of modern-day Luxor. It was a perfect end to the trip – a contrast between the ancient and the modern, with a glorious sunset to end it all.


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“I Love Egypt.”

On Friday the 30th of September and Saturday the 1st of October 2011, Londoners were surprised by two remarkable phenomena – the hottest autumn days ever recorded in Britain, and the sight of patchwork tents reminiscent of those in Tahrir Square sitting on the green expanse of Hyde Park. This was Egyptian-German artist Susan Hefuna’s contribution to The Edgware Road Project – an initiative developed by The Serpentine Gallery that links local and international artists with people who live and work around this bustling London neighbourhood.

In May 2011 in the wake of the Egyptian Revolution, Hefuna ran a workshop at The Townhouse Gallery in Cairo with 40 members of the public, including spectators and participants in the recent uprisings. The object was to decorate traditional Egyptian tents – like the ones some demonstrators had used in Tahrir Square during the Revolution – with their personal stories, slogans, messages about their reaction to recent events, and their hopes for Egypt’s future through embroidery, patchwork, painting and illustration on the exterior and internal panels. For example theKentucky Tahrir tent was inspired by its maker’s horror that the government said people were only going to Tahrir Square to demonstrate because the local Kentucky Fried Chicken was giving them free meals.

Inside each tent were small screens showing video interviews with the teams that made the tent, passers-by, and demonstrators of all ages and class; interviews that expressed the intimate feelings of Cairo’s young and old, rich and poor, street urchins and intellectuals. After being exhibited in Cairo, the tents were open to the public at a two-day event at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park – a significant and symbolic location, as this section of Hyde Park has been the site for public meetings, debate, and the exchange of ideas for centuries.

Activities over the two days were open to everyone, and visitors from the area, tourists, and people randomly crossing the park mixed with schoolchildren, students, musicians, and public figures to rest on giant cushions embroidered with inspirational proverbs and quotes; see the video interviews inside the tents; listen to the sound installation; watch dance performances by young students wearing costumes designed by Hefuna; and write a wish on a ribbon that they tied to qafasstructures (cages, baskets and boxes made of palm fronds) sent from Cairo to Alexandria and then by ship to London to be decorated with handwritten wishes on fabric ribbons. Smallerqafas served as seats and tables for visitors. As the sound of Egyptian popular music including Om Kalsoum and Amr Diab filled the air, many passer-bys even joined in some spontaneous dancing.

At the same time an educational camp was held for children, and there was a free raffle with all prizes handmade in Egypt, including miniature toy tents, traditional Aroussa dolls (or “little brides”), Egyptian flags, and T-shirts with Arabic and English “I Love Egypt” slogans. The atmosphere was wonderfully festive, the park a perfect backdrop for the traditional colours used by theKhayamiyyin (tentmakers and patchwork artists) during Egypt’s Mawlid – the annual festival that celebrates the birthdays of historical religious figures such as Sufi saints and holy men (which makes it less religious and more pagan, with music, dance, food and drink).

Hefuna dedicated the event to the Egyptian people and successfully connected the general public in London with those in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, as well as proving how enjoyable and moving such interaction between art and the general public can be. It was also a triumph for the Serpentine Gallery, which initiated The Edgware Road Project. The Serpentine is co-directed by two wonderfully open-minded curators, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, who embrace experimentation and the exchange of ideas with artists from all over the world. The Edgware Road Project is a branch of its research programme based in the Centre for Possible Studies, which hosts screenings, events, and an ongoing project archive.

Hefuna has worked with the Centre for almost three years on this project in different stages: the first was the Little Cairo Postcards series of her black and white photos of London, which were distributed all over and mailed between both cities: Cairo and London for two years. The next step was a display of four videos she took of life on Edgware Road itself. She made the videos from hidden cameras set in the windows of apartments along the Edgware Road, shooting 100 minutes unedited crossroads at the Al Arez restaurant, in front of Waitrose supermarket, at Edgware Road Tube Station and at Church Street market. A similar technique was used some years ago for her videosLife in the Delta and Cairo Crossroads. The Edgware Road videos were screened on monitors around the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo. Four video monitors were installed in Cairo on the street, in cafés, or shop windows and displayed day and night from beginning of December 2010- mid January 2011.

Was the event worth so much work over so many years, involving so many people for such a short period of time? Hefuna did not hesitate to say yes. What is interesting, she said, was the journey, the research, the encounters, the opportunity for collaborations, the joys and failures of a project – these are what make an artist grow. When I asked her about her “Plan B” in case it rained, which is usually the case in London, she said she never imagined a Plan B. What fantastic confidence, and how wonderful that not only Egypt but even the weather was on her side.

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Top 15 restaurants in Alexandria from Trip Advisor

Ollie#1of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
Cuisines: Egyptian, Grill, Halal
Good for: Business, Local cuisine, Outdoor seating
Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Takeout, Delivery
  •  the Barbeque reality  8 Nov 2011
  •  Overated!  5 Nov 2011
Ollie#2of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
Cuisines: Contemporary, Ice cream, Italian
Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch
  •  A Great Cup Of Coffee With A Comfortable Setting  12 Nov 2011
  •  great coffee, poor food  9 Nov 2011
Ollie#3of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
  •  Good food and nice place:)  16 Aug 2011
  •  Really best place for a family meal  30 Jul 2011
Ollie#4of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
  •  My favorite pizza!  16 Aug 2011
  •  Exceptional  31 Dec 2010
Ollie#5of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
  •  Excellent food and kind employees  22 Sep 2011
  •  Ausgezeichnetes Fisch-Restaurant  7 Aug 2011
Ollie#6of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
  •  wow wow wow  5 Sep 2011
  •  Authentic  2 Jul 2011
Ollie#7of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
Cuisines: Egyptian
Good for: Romantic, Business, Local cuisine
Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Takeout, Delivery
  •  If you find it, it’s worth it.  9 Nov 2011
  •  Best grill and egyption food  5 Nov 2011
Ollie#8of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
Cuisines: Café, Dessert, French, Greek, Mediterranean
  •  Delices since 1922 must not miss for their desserts  30 Oct 2011
  •  Elegant meals with a sophisticated atmosphere  12 Mar 2010
Ollie#9of 63 restaurants in Alexandria
Good for: Romantic
  •  Good food, good location  4 Oct 2011
  •  nice place located at Alexandria Cournich  30 Jul 2011
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Go Shopping Alexandria Style!



Shopping in Alexandria

If you are thinking about the various things to do in Alexandria in Egypt, then we can assure you that you will be spoilt with plenty of options. Shopping in Alexandria is a delightful experience. Alexandria is dotted with several colorful shops. The shops offer you everything under the sun from fruits to vegetables, desserts, food, gold and jewelry. These goods and products come in unbeatable prices.

If you are seeking to shop your heart out, then SOUQ is the place to be in. This market place offers you everything you need, from old watches to fresh fruits and groceries. This multi-storied shopping center makes for an excellent shopping experience. Alexandria is home to antique malls, art centers, cigar shops, children’s stores, ladies’ boutiques, spa centers, gift shops, souvenir shops and florists.

The antique malls offer a gamut of shopping options. You can collect excellent antique furniture, glassware, silver, art, jewelry, lamps and other decorative items. The best English, French, and American antiques are exhibited at these beautifully decorated antique stores. The malls also have fine boutique items and gourmet items on offer.

If you are seeking for fine art pieces in Alexandria, you won’t be disappointed. A sophisticated array of bisque pottery, different paint colors, design templates, brushes, stamps, and stencils are all available at the stores. A variety of cigar shops are also found in the city. The cigar shops offer cigars, humidors, cigar gifts and cigar accessories.

You will find the choicest variety of children’s clothing at the various specialty stores dotting the city. The specialty stores offer baby furnishings, clothing, rugs, and accessories. Several boutiques offer a fine selection of ladies clothing, lingerie, jewelry, accessories, and unique gifts.

If you want to revive your mind, body and soul, day Spas are the ultimate place for you. The packages offering therapeutic massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, and body treatments make for holistic healing. The florists offer gifts, lamps and accessories. If you are looking for gourmet foods and coffees, candles, canisters, lotions, throws, books, home decor items and gift baskets, the gift and souvenir shops will offer you the same. You can also collect some fine and exquisite jewelry at Pattons Fine Jewelry.


Markets in Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria in Egypt is rich in history and culture. The historic sites, churches, businesses and museums are major attractions for tourists and locals alike. Apart from visiting the major historic and cultural sites in the city, you can also indulge in a delightful shopping experience. Alexandria is dotted with several shopping malls and markets. Markets in Alexandria, Egypt are bustling with life and color.

Features of Markets in Alexandria, Egypt:

The local markets exemplify an animated look. The markets are popular with the local people. Men sitting outside the cafes with their hubbly bubblies dominate the local market scenario. The best bargains from the local markets would be fruits, vegetables, desserts, food and animals. The markets sell everything from old watches to fresh fruits and groceries.

Shopkeepers try to draw in visitors with a wide variety of goods. You can return home glad after some successful bargaining. If you are seeking to buy food to gold and jewelry, Markets in Alexandria, Egypt offer you the same. The local markets embody the true Egyptian way of living. Popular with the Egyptians, the markets offer them everything under the sun at unbeatable prices.

The items found in the markets cater to the needs of the young and the old alike.

Zaharan mall, imperial mall and other major malls of the city offer everything from expensive gift items to local goods.

The stores offer attractive holiday items.

Supermarkets in Alexandria sell most of the common food items like cheeses, meats and cakes. Clothes, shoes Pizzas and donut shops and more traditional kebab shops are found in the markets of Alexandria.

The Green Plaza is a shopper’s paradise dazzling with cinemas, restaurants and outdoor cafes.


San Stefano Grand Plaza Mall in Alexandria

Shopping in Alexandria is a memorable experience. The major shopping malls in Alexandria are Deeb Mall, Mina Mall, San Stefano Grand Plaza Mall, Zahran Mall, Kirosez Mall and Imperial Mall. San Stefano Grand Plaza Mall in Alexandria in Egypt befits the taste of the contemporary and international visitors. Pulsating in the center of San Stefano area, looking down upon the Mediterranean, San Stefano Grand Mall offers a delightful shopping experience. Strategically located, San Stefano has some of the best districts in Alexandria nearby like Gleem, Zizinia, Roushdy and Lauren. The mall was designed by one of the premier consultants, Canadian “D.I. Design & Development Consultants Ltd. An extensive research and survey ensued in order to estimate the improvements that were to be made. What followed was what the world sees now. San Stefano Grand Plaza Mall boasts of being one of the best shopping malls across Europe, the United States, Canada and Egypt.

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The Abu Al Abbas Al Mursi Mosque in Alexandria

Mihrab flanked with columns and minbar on the right. Photo  Travis S

Source: Sacred Destinations

The Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque has a single minaret and four domes


The Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque is the most historic and most beautiful mosque in Alexandria. It was built primarily in 1775 over the tomb of a Spanish scholar and saint, Abu El Abbas El Mursi (1219-86), and stands on Mosque Square overlooking the eastern harbor.


Minaret and exterior detail. Photo Emily & Michael Dziedzic.


Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi (whose full name is much longer) was born to a wealthy family in the Andalusia region of Spain in 1219. In the wake of increasing Christian control of Spain, he and his family left for Tunisia in 1242. He later went on to Alexandria, a popular destination of many Muslim scholars at the time.

Abu al-Abbas lived in Alexandria for 43 years as a scholar and teacher until his death in 1286. He was buried in a small building near the eastern harbor in Alexandria.

In 1307, El Sheikh Zein El Din Ibn El Qattan, one of the richest traders of Alexandria, visited the tomb. He funded a mausoleum and dome for the tomb, along with a small mosque. The tomb of Abu al-Abbas became a place of pilgrimage for many Muslims from Egypt and Morocco who passed through Alexandria on their way to and from Mecca.


Side view. Photo Emily & Michael Dziedzic.

The mosque was periodically restored over the centuries by rulers who built themselves tombs next to the saint. Most of the present structure dates from 1775, when the Algerian Sheikh Abu el Hassan El Maghreby built a much larger mosque on the site. It was fully renovated in 1863, and an annual festival was established to celebrate the birth of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi.

The mosque was again beautified in 1943 under King Farouq I (r.1937-1952), who built the Midan el Masaged, or “Mosque Square.” The square covers some 43,200 square meters and includes five other mosques centered around the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque. The mosque was renovated in the Arabian style that was popular when the saint came to Alexandria in the 13th century, at a total cost of about 140,000 LE.



Side view of the mosque's domes. Photo Aaron Wenner

What to See

The cream-colored Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque stands 23 m high and dressed in artificial stone, with a minaret on the southern side rising to 73 m. Situated near the shore of the eastern harbor, the mosque and its neighbors can be clearly seen from the sea. The minaret has an Ayoubids design, with four sections of different shapes. The mosque has an entrance on the north and one on the east, both of which overlook the square. The main part of the mosque is an octagon, with internal walls are dressed in artificial stone except for a 5.6 m-high mosaic.

The high ceiling is decorated with arabesque and contains a great octagonal skylight known as a Shokhsheikha. Each side of the skylight has three windows of colored glass in arabesque designs set into aluminum frames. This skylight is surrounded by four domes, placed over the four mausoleums within the complex.

The floors are paved in white marble. The doors, minbar and windows are made of joined and finely carved teak, citronia and walnut. The minbar (pulpit) is capped by a dome and has verses from the Qur’an written at the top in French gold. The mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) stands at the base of the mosque’s minaret and is flanked by the creed, ”There is no god except Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah” in Arabic script. Also on either side of the mihrab are two columns of Egyptian granite, with the name of Muhammad written in Kufic Arabic calligraphy at each end.


Midan el Masaged, "Mosque Square." Photo © Torie Partridge.

The mayda, an absolution area, along with the lavatories, are on the western side of the mosque with their own entrance overlooking the square. According to a royal order, the necessary alterations were made to reserve a special worship area for women with a private entrance.



Mihrab flanked with columns and minbar on the right. Photo Travis S


Quick Facts

View of the chandelier and central skylight. Photo Antonio Perezrio

Names: Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque; Abul Abbas al Mursi Mosque; al Mursi Mosque

Location: Alexandria, Egypt

Faith: Islam

Date: Founded 1307; rebuilt many times; present building dates from 1775; substantially renovated 1943

Features: Famous Grave

Address: Midan el Masaged (Mosque Square), Alexandria, Egypt

Status: Active



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What is Coptic Christianity?

Father Ruwais of St Antony's Monastery

Extracted from BBC

Coptic Orthodox Church

Pope Shenouda III during a 2007 visit to New York. Photo: Michael Sleman ©


The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian Church in Egypt, where it has between 6 and 11 million members.

While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has around a million members outside Egypt; there are over 100 churches in the USA and a cathedral in the UK.

Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.

Firsts for the Coptic Church include the first specifically Christian educational establishment in the School of Alexandria and the start of Christian monasticism.


The Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a theological dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. This dispute has been reassessed in modern times, and the differences between Churches are much less severe.

The Coptic Church is led by the Pope of Alexandria, who is based in Cairo. The current Pope, Shenouda III, is 117th in succession to Mark.

St Antony's Monastery, Eastern Desert, Egypt

Coptic services take place in the very ancient Coptic language (which is based on the language used in the time of the Pharaohs), together with local languages. The liturgy and hymns remain similar to those of the early Church.

The Church is ecumenical in outlook, and was a founder member of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The word ‘Copt’ comes from the Greek word ‘Aigyptos’, meaning Egyptian.

NB: The word Coptic is often used to refer to all Egyptian Christians, not just members of the Coptic Church. This site uses the narrow meaning.



The Coptic Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, a group which includes the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, the Syrian Church of India, and the Armenian Church. The Oriental Orthodox Group has around 60 million members worldwide.

The Church in Egypt

Father Irenaeus of St Macarius Monastery, Wadi Natrun, Egypt

At the end of the twentieth century Egypt’s Copts were the largest Christian minority of any country in the Middle East; estimates ranged from 6 to 11 million; 6% (official estimate) to 20% (Church estimate) of the population , the majority living in the Upper Egyptian provincial capitals of Assiut and Minya, and in Cairo.

These numbers are partly the result of a Church revival in the 1940s and 50s in the form of the Coptic Sunday School Movement.


The Church outside Egypt

An Ethiopian Copt ©

The Coptic Church has expanded worldwide during the last 40 years and now has a million members outside Egypt.

There are over 100 churches in the United States. There are two Coptic bishops in Australia and more than 50 priests to serve the congregation. There are four bishops in the UK and the first Coptic Cathedral in Britain was inaugurated at the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Shephalbury Manor in

Stevenage in 2007.

There are churches in Switzerland and Japan, and four in Black Africa. In Libya there are three churches, in Sudan two bishops, as well as churches in Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

Coptic monasteries have been opened in Ireland, Texas, California, Sydney, and Jerusalem, and new monasteries have opened in Egypt.


Organisation, priesthood

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St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria: The Oldest Church in Africa



St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria is the seat of the Pope of Alexandria, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The cathedral is said to stand on the site of the church founded by St. Mark the Evangelist in 60 AD.


St. Mark the Evangelist (author of the second Gospel) has been connected with the city of Alexandria since earliest Christian tradition. Coptic Christians believe he arrived in Alexandria around 60 AD and stayed for about seven years.

During this time, Mark converted many to Christianity and performed miracles. He is considered the founder of the church in Alexandria and the first Bishop of Alexandria. According to tradition, St. Mark was arrested during a festival of Serapis in 68 AD and martyred by being dragged through the streets. He was buried under the church he had founded.

In 828, the body of St. Mark was stolen from the Alexandrian church by Venetians to be enshrined in the grand new St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. However, the head of the saint remained in Alexandria and every newly-appointed Patriarch of Alexandria began his service with holding the holy head of St. Mark in his lap and changing its cloth shroud.

The head of St. Mark was moved around a great deal over the centuries, and has been lost for over 250 years. Some of the relics from the body of St. Mark, however, were returned to Alexandria from Rome in 1968.

What to See

The present St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral is of recent date, but is said to stand on the site of church founded by St. Mark himself.


Quick Facts

Names: St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral; St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church; St. Marcos Orthodox Church; Morkosia

Location: Alexandria, Egypt

Faith: Christianity

Denomination: Coptic Orthodox

Dedication: St. Mark

Category: Cathedrals

Status: Active


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Top 10 things to do in Alexandria from Trip Advisor

st mina
#1 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4.5 of 5 stars 20 reviews

Located near the site of the ancient library of Alexandria, this modern version is an eleven-story, cylindrical-shaped building that houses more than eight million books.

Attraction type  Libraries
Ollie #2 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4 of 5 stars 15 reviews

It’s worth going early in the morning when no one else is around (before the tour buses arrive). With no one around, it can be a great experience. There are guards up above and also at the bottom of…

Attraction type  Ancient Ruins
Ollie #3 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4.5 of 5 stars 2 reviews

This sprawling property was the summer home of controversial King Farouk who assumed power at the age of 16 in 1936.

Attraction type  Historic Sites
Ollie #4 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
3.5 of 5 stars 6 reviews

Royal gardens of King Faruk. The king was the last Egyptian monarch.

Attraction type  Gardens; Parks
Ollie #5 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4 of 5 stars 8 reviews

More than 1800 archaeological pieces are exhibited chronologically from one floor to the next: the basement is devoted to Prehistoric and Pharonic times; first floor to the Graeco-Roman period; second floor to the Coptic and Islamic era that highlights artifacts raised during recent underwater excavations.

Attraction type  History Museums
Ollie #6 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4 of 5 stars 6 reviews

Built in the 2nd century AD, this Roman amphitheater has 13 semicircular tiers made of white and gray marble.

Attraction type  Ancient Ruins
Ollie #7 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
5 of 5 stars 1 review
Attraction type  Museums
Ollie #8 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4 of 5 stars 3 reviews
Attraction type  Religious Sites; Architectural Buildings
Ollie #9 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
4 of 5 stars 1 review

These desert building are all that remains of the monasic Christians that fled Roman persecution in the 4th century.

Attraction type  Religious Sites; Architectural Buildings
Ollie #10 of 22 attractions in Alexandria
5 of 5 stars 1 review
Attraction type  Religious Sites; Monuments/ Statues; Historic Sites
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