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Did Cleopatra once also look out from this spot in the Temple of Hathor at the “sacred lake” below? Perhaps. It’s just one of many incredulous temples of ancient Egypt we’re exploring on our Nile River cruise.
Our Egyptian guide tells us Cleopatra loved bathing in the rectangular stone pool, now empty but for palm trees growing within its walls.
Carved on an outside temple wall, there’s a large bas relief of Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, and her son Caesarian by Julius Caesar.
This bas relief is one of the few depictions of Cleopatra that still exist.
Famous temples of ancient Egypt
But cruise the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan, and you see many ancient Egypt temples rising up in the baking desert.
And the temples in Luxor and the Temple of Hathor at Denderah are just as astonishing as the Egyptian pyramids for their mystery and beauty.
Temple of Hathor (Cleopatra’s “temple of love”)
Built between 125 B.C. and 60 A.D., the Denderah temple was dedicated to Hathor, the cow-headed Egyptian goddess of love, happiness, motherhood and healing.
The ceiling is intricately painted with fantastic azure-and-gold images of the sky goddess Nut (Hathor’s mother) swallowing the winged sun disc each evening and giving birth to it again each dawn.
Looking up at the soaring columns in the Hypostyle Hall in the Hathor Temple, you can see the four-sided capitals (or uppermost part of a column).
These capitals are carved with the face of Hathor, the cow-eared goddess.
Stairs lead down from the temple to an underground crypt.
We have to crawl through a narrow corridor on our hands and knees to enter the crypt, which stored amphoras of perfumed oil for religious ceremonies.
We also see the mud-brick ruins of a sanatorium within the temple grounds.
They have benches for the sick who would be waiting for cures by the priests; many of the patients would stay overnight hoping to have a healing dream of the goddess.
Other ancient Egyptian temples
The Karnak Temple in the city of Luxor is truly awe-inspiring.
One of the world’s largest sacred sites (covering more than 60 acres), it’s filled with sphinxes, obelisks, shrines and gigantic statues of pharaohs. Dedicated to the sun god Amun-Ra, it was first built more than 3,500 years ago and added onto by 30 successive pharaohs.
We’re struck by the dizzying jungle of 134 colossal papyrus-shaped columns in the Hypostyle Hall.
And how did the Egyptians transport Queen Hatshepsut’s 29-metre tall obelisk – sculpted from a single piece of pink granite and weighing over 320 tons – hundreds of miles from the distant quarries at Aswan to here?
Our guide suggests it may have been floated down the Nile during an annual flood.
Then there’s Komombo Temple, the temple of healing, where our guide points out a wall relief showing surgical scissors, a scalpel, dental pliers and two women sitting on birthing chairs.
Built between 237 and 57 BC, Edfu Temple is the temple of learning, with etchings of scribes and students who studied architecture and engineering here.
It’s the largest temple dedicated to falcon-headed god Horus. Inside, you can see a of the wooden barque that contained a gilded statue of Horus (the original is in the Louvre).
Still, one of our favorites is the temple where roosting birds now sing and the promise of each new day is chronicled – Cleopatra’s temple of love.
Recommended reading: Pssst! Have you visited the ancient rose-red city of Petra? It’s a marvel!
Egypt travel tips
Here’s some practical information for visiting the Egyptian temples and tombs:
Oberoi Zahra Nile cruise
The Oberoi Zahra was built to be the Nile’s most luxurious river boat.
All 27 suites on the Zahra feature timber floors, scattered with horsehair rugs, and marble bathrooms with picture windows.
Upon docking, an air-conditioned Mercedes van whisks you and your Egyptologist guide to touring sites.
The Zahra offers leisurely 7-day river sojourns (unlike 3- and 4-night cruises by most other boats). It’s also one of the few boats that cruises to Denderah to see the Temple of Hathor (on a private twilight visit).
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Photo credits: 1, 2, 4 to 12, 14 to 16 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase |17 to 22 Oberoi Hotels