Landmarks of the atmospheric corners of Medieval Cairo include Midan Hussein Square with its tea houses and imposing Mosque of Sayyidna Al-Hussein, the Al-Azhar Mosque with the world’s oldest university, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Citadel with its panoramic views of the sprawling city.
Understandably one of the country’s greatest attractions, the Egyptian Museum houses over 130,000 exhibits, including Pharaonic and Byzantine art and sculpture, the Mummy Room and the celebrated Tutankhamun exhibition.
Great Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids are not among the world’s most visited monuments for nothing. Few can fail to be awed by these great valedictions to the mortal world. For a magical introduction, attend the nightly sound and light show at Giza.
With the head of a woman and body of a lion, the Sphinx has bewitched visitors for centuries. Despite being used as target practice by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops, the presence of this enigmatic sculpture still haunts the site at Giza.
Few visitors know before arriving in Egypt that the country’s Old Kingdom precedes the building of the pyramids by many centuries. Saqqara was the ancient capital’s necropolis, crowned by the Step Pyramid. Nearby Dahshur has is famous for the Bent Pyramid and a huge field of royal tombs.
Straddling the Nile, Luxor is the site of the ancient city of Thebes. On the east bank lies the spectacular Temple of Karnak featuring epic statues, reliefs, obelisks and lotus-columned halls. With many other treasures, the town is a destination in its own right.
Valley of the Kings
On the West Bank of the Nile, burrowed into the dusty hillsides, the extravagantly painted tombs of kings, queens and nobles have kindled our imaginations for centuries. Tutankhamun, whose tomb rendered some of the world’s greatest treasures, was actually a relatively minor king.
The relaxed, former frontier town of Aswan offers many attractions, including Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile. Nearby is the Island of Plants upon which Lord Horatio Kitchener built a beautiful botanical garden in the 1890s. Aswan’s Nubia Museum is another highlight.
South of Aswan
The third largest in the world, Aswan Dam is built from 40,000,000 blocks of stone. It generates the country’s power and controls the destructive flooding of the Nile. Visit the nearby Temple of Philae – UNESCO moved it stone by stone when Lake Nasser was created.
Another remarkable UNESCO dam rescue project, the magnificent Sun Temple of Ramses II has had a chequered past. In the early 19th century, it was discovered almost totally buried in sand by the Swiss explorer, Jean-Louis Burckhardt (the same man who stumbled on Petra in Jordan).
Nile archaeological sites
Kom Ombo (‘city of gold’), 18 miles north of Aswan is a largely Nubian settlement, known for its Temple of Haroeris and Sobek. Another common destination on Nile cruises is Edfu, famed for the largest and best-preserved Pharaonic Temple in Egypt, the Temple of Horus.
Egypt’s second city has a French colonial atmosphere, felt as much in the delicious patisseries as in the 19th-century architecture. Other attractions include the Greco-Roman Museum, Roman Amphitheatre and 15th-century Fort Quait Bey built on the foundations of the fabled Pharos Lighthouse.
A small coastal village 60 miles west of Alexandria, El Alamein was the scene of a decisive Allied victory, which determined the fate of Egypt and indeed that of the British Empire. Many visitors come to pay respects at the War Museum, Cemetery and Memorial.
The best way to see this great feat of modern engineering is by boat with the view from the Peace Bridge that crosses the canal near Isma’iliya a good second best. The sight of giant tankers plying the narrow channel between the Red Sea with the Mediterranean is simply surreal.
Cairo has a fascinating early Christian history. Visit the Coptic Museum , Hanging Church, Monastery of St George and the churches of St Sergius and St Barbara for some beautiful examples of Byzantine art.
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