Memphis and Saqqara

The cities of Memphis and Saqqara were the last stops on our trip to Egypt. We didn’t really spend much time at either site, so I’m combing the two into one entry.

There wasn’t much to see in Memphis other than a small sphinx statue and a gigantic (fallen) statue of Ramses II. I think the only reason we actually went to Memphis was the fact that it was the capital city of Egypt when Abraham and Sarah made their trip down south. This is where Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah to the Pharaoh. Interesting story, not a very interesting place these days, though. Ironically, there are no huge pyramids in Memphis, Egypt, unlike Memphis, Tennessee, which has that obnoxious Pyramid right on the Mississippi River.

The main feature in Saqqara was the Step Pyramid of Pharaoh Zoser, which was the first burial pyramid ever built. To quote my friend Jon, “It’s not a full blooded pyramid. It’s just a step-pyramid…”

Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is really the most visited site in all of Egypt, surpassing even the Great Pyramids in tourism. I find it interesting that the two most visited sites in the country have to deal with death and human efforts to preserve whatever they could.

The days of the Pyramids had long since passed by the time the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were dug. The Pharaohs of the Pyramid era (Old Kingdom, before the time of Abraham) were believed to be the full manifestation of the gods on earth, so their tombs were much more elaborate, much more magnificent, and much more a target for grave robbers. By the time the Middle Kingdom rolled around, the Pharaohs only considered themselves as half-gods, or demi-gods, yet it is clear from reliefs and tomb paintings that the Pharaohs held a lower position to the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. The Valley of the Kings contains 64 known graves of Pharaohs from the Middle Kingdom period, and interestingly enough, the first ruler to be buried in the Valley of the Kings was Queen Hatshepsut.

Everyone probably knows the “famous” King Tut, whose tomb was found in this valley still completely stocked with gold and all sorts of possessions. Yet King Tut, who was only about 18 when he died, had the least elaborate tomb in the entire valley, so it is theorized. Of the rulers buried in the valley, there are at least 4 different dynasties, including around 11 or 12 tombs of rulers bearing the name “Ramses”, including Ramses the Great (the II). It’s hard for me to even fathom how much more elegant and elaborate Ramses II’s tomb must have been compared to King Tut’s.

We did get to go down into three of the tombs (some people paid extra to go into Tut’s tomb). Of the three tombs, one belonged to a ruler named Thutmosis III who actually became Egypt’s most powerful Pharaoh ever and could likely have been the Pharaoh under whose rule the harsh persecution of the Hebrews and Semitic peoples began. If it is the case that Thutmosis III was the Pharaoh of the persecution, then it is likely that Queen Hatshepsut was the princess who drew Moses out from the Nile.

I know that the discoveries and excavations of these tombs have contibuted quite a bit to our understanding of Egyptian theology, ideology, and every day life, but it is at the same time (for me) a bit depressing to realize that these men and women went to such extreme measures in search for eternal life. I guess they have pretty well toward achieving that goal beacuse now they are lying peacefully, forever enshrined within glass cases for thousands of people to stare at.

Ramses II (AKA Ramses the Narcissist)

Abu Simbel:
The next morning we woke up extremely early to catch a bus at 4:30am for a trip all the way down Lake Nasser to see the huge temple of Ramses II, Abu Simbel. It is a very impressive Temple complex. This is the famous temple that has four gigantic statues of Ramses II sitting in front. To the right of the temple is the temple Ramses II built for his wife, Nefertari, his most beloved of the three wives.
Inside the Temple of Ramses II, there are several side corridors in which are reliefs depicting Ramses himself worshiping nearly all of the 800+ gods of the Egyptian pantheon. To each one, he is bowing down and offering some sort of sacrifice, whether fruit, bread, animals, or something that resembled a chemistry set. He obviously wanted to make a statement about how religious he was.

Abu Simbel was another huge temple that had to be moved to higher ground due to the creation of Lake Nasser.

Note on Egyptian Temples: All Egyptian style temples follow the same basic pattern. The have some sort of gateway (pylons) leading into an open court where commoners could enter and worship. Then another gateway leads to a half-opened pillared section where only priests could go. After that there was an area with several vestibules where the idol of the god was brought to “eat” and to be washed and clothed. At the heart of the Temple lies the “Holy of Holies” as our guide called it. This is where the god would live. This was where the idol was kept, along with an “ark” which housed the 14 commandments of Egyptian law.