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.
And carved on an outside temple wall, there’s a large bas relief of Egypt’s last Pharaoh and her son Caesarian by Julius Caesar – one of the few depictions of Cleopatra that still exist.
Temples of ancient Egypt
The most famous of the historical places in Egypt may well be the Great Pyramid of Giza, the lone surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
But cruise the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan, and you see many ancient Egypt temples rising up in the baking desert, like the temples in Luxor and the Temple of Hathor at Denderah – just as astonishing for their mystery and beauty.
Temple of Hathor (Cleopatra’s “temple of love”)
Built between 125 B.C. and 60 A.D., the 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.
A crypt, which we enter by crawling through a narrow corridor on our hands and knees, stored amphoras of perfumed oil for religious ceremonies.
We also see the mud-brick ruins of a sanatorium within the temple grounds – with benches for the sick waiting for cures by the priests; many 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.
And Edfu Temple, the temple of learning, with etchings of scribes and students who studied architecture and engineering here.
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.
Visiting the Egyptian temples and tombs: Practical information
Nile River cruise:
Except for the pyramids near Cairo, most of Egypt’s top archaeological sites are found along the banks of the Nile River between Aswan and Luxor (Upper Egypt).
The best way to see these ancient Egyptian temples and tombs is on a Nile River cruise. We sailed on the Oberoi Zahra.
Best time to visit Egypt:
It’s hot and sunny all year in Upper Egypt, with little shade.
November to February are the mildest months and the best time to visit Egypt. Avoid June through August, when the heat is intense.
While Cairo has seen unrest, Upper Egypt has been trouble-free for years. However, check Canadian and U.S. government travel advisories before you go.
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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All photos © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase, except lead image and where noted
Our magazine feature on ancient Egyptian temples
This post is based on our travel article “Honoring the Gods: Egypt’s ancient temples,” published in the October 2014 issue of Taste of Life magazine. Click on the image to read a PDF of the print story.
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.