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The Nile Cruise - In the Footsteps of the Pharaohs

Egypt is where history first emerged. It is here that we have the first pictographic record of events and persons. Hieroglyphics, the system of writing used by ancient Egyptians can be traced back to about 3200 BC. At about 3180 BC, the nations of Upper and Lower Egypt were brought under the rule of a single king titled Pharaoh. The first Pharaoh is thought to have been Menes, who set his capital at Memphis, 22 km south of Giza in today's Cairo. The Pharaohs established the systems that brought forth the highly successful Egyptian civilization.

The history of Ancient Egypt lasted for about 3,000 years. Ancient Egypt declined, was overrun and thereafter ruled by foreign powers. The Greeks and Romans who ruled after the decline were aware of the great similarity between their own gods and those of the Egyptians. They not only tolerated Egyptian religion, but also expanded existing temples and dedicated new ones to existing cults. Some of the new overlords, Alexander the Great for example, styled themselves as divine priest-kings in imitation of the Pharaohs.

Emperor Theodosius, who reigned after Christianity became the state religion in Rome, extinguished the last remnants of the living culture. The Egyptians worshipped hundreds of gods - a great offense against the monotheistic religions; whose first article of faith is that there is only one God. Theodosius decreed in AD 391that all pagan temples in the Roman Empire be closed. The Arabs, who brought Islam to Egypt in 640 AD, also had no time for deities such as Anubis the jackal, Horus the falcon god or even Amon the king of the gods. Ancient Egypt was dead for one thousand five hundred years, until the French came across the Rosetta Stone in the nineteenth century invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. This priceless discovery was inscribed in both Greek and Egyptian, and it was the key that allowed the deciphering of Hieroglyphics by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822. The voluminous literature produced by Ancient Egyptians was now accessible to curious scholars. This rekindled great interest in Ancient Egypt in the West that remains undiminished to this day. Religion is the common theme running through the attractions of ancient Egypt. The diversity of gods found worthy of worship is astounding.

There were over 2,000 of them of either sex and they supposedly manifested themselves to earthlings as animals. There were overlaps and the same gods could be known with different names in various parts of the country. There was hardly any part of the life experience that was not assigned a deity- digestion, mummification, sexuality, feasting, childbirth, writing - you name it. Some gods came and went out of fashion, but those connected with basic aspects of life were enduring. Such deities had cults and temples dedicated to them. The afterlife was taken very seriously, and a lot of the monuments relate to preparation for that glorious time. Mortuary and burial preparation was so elaborate as to ensure a painless and enjoyable afterlife. The custom of mummification, for example, was seen as necessary for the soul needed a physical body to occupy in the other world. There was however great inequality in preparation for eternal life. The Pharaohs and other royals, nobles and key officials were mummified and accompanied by grave goods and great treasure.

The common folk who could not afford the full treatment had to do with statuettes of mummies. The main draw to Egypt is the legacy of the Pharaohs and the Greeks and Romans who ruled after them. Basically this legacy is associated with temples, tombs and burial places. People in Egypt from the earliest times to present have always lived along the River Nile and this is where you find the richest harvest of ancient monuments. As many travelers will testify, the best way to experience classical Egypt is by taking a Nile cruise. The cruise is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get close to the attractions of antiquity, most of which are not far off from the banks of the river. You also get a glimpse of rural Egypt where many eke out a living just as their forbearers did thousands of years ago. The typical Nile cruiser is really a floating hotel. Amenities on board will include lounges, restaurants, bars, swimming pool, discotheque and shops. The rooms are rather smaller than those of a land based hotels but will have air conditioning, TV and enough room for twin beds, private shower, nightstand and dresser.

The quality of cruisers varies and they are graded with stars just like hotels. Top end cruisers have spacious suites and amenities almost equal to those of ocean cruisers. Generally, the quality and romance of Nile cruisers surpasses other riverboats anywhere else in the world. Nile cruises normally take three, four or seven nights. You will be able to see the most important and interesting monuments on the shorter and more popular cruises that ply between Luxor and Aswan. The longer sail takes you up to Dendera. The boats sail both downstream and upstream and on the shorter cruises, you can embark at either Aswan or Luxor. The more adventurous travelers or those on a tight budget avoid the luxury cruisers in favour of fellucas- the traditional Nile sailboats. Though amenities onboard fellucas are very basic, those who can survive them, visit all the attractions along the Nile at a fraction of the cost of the cruisers.


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