Templed-out, but still wowed – Upper Egypt

Days 46-50, Sept 3-7, 2022

This is the 5th of 6 blog posts covering our Pharaohs and Pyramids River Cruise. If you missed our previous posts, feel free to review them here.

During our seven days cruising the Nile River, we visited 9 temples. And yes, we were templed-out by the last day. However, each site was unique, dedicated to a god and we learned that these ancient places harbor their own complex riddles that lie in wait to be solved. Many already have.

But first, in addition to the temple visits, we joined an excursion to a Nubian village. It gave us a feeling of traveling back in time to ancient Nubia, home to one of Africa’s oldest civilizations and still inhabited today:

Nubian homes are often brightly colored in light blues, oranges, yellows and reds

In southern Egypt near Aswan and along the banks of the Nile, Nubian families carry on the traditions of their ancient Egyptian and African ancestors. Those ancestors moved here from Sudan some 8,000 years ago to begin farming along the river. They have darker skin tone and their own unique language that differs from the rest of Egypt. They were very warm and welcoming during our visit to one of their homes.

It was refreshing to see vibrant colors in and around the village, a nice contrast to the drab desert hue:

Temples along the Nile

The following stories are all of the temples we visited, and you may also get templed-out along the way. But each has its own character. Feel free to scroll through this section, but don’t miss the final one 😉

Along the banks of the Nile in Southern Egypt (Upper Egypt), ancient Egyptians built incredible temples in honor of their gods and pharaohs. These temples remain standing in various states of condition with their “doors” open, inviting us to discover the secrets and mysteries within.

Map of the temples we visited

Our Egyptologist/Program Director Mohamed, who was with us since Cairo, helped us to understand the stories behind the symbols carved into stone. He continued to blow our minds with his vast knowledge.

Mohamed interprets a story for us

Dendera Temple

The construction of Dendera Temple is estimated at the 1st century BC. It’s one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt, as it was submerged under desert sand for centuries. The walls, stone roof, columns, underground crypts and twisting stairways are all carved with hieroglyphs. The colors seen throughout are original and amazingly vibrant, considering that much of the inside was covered in soot from Bedouins and other desert peoples seeking shelter:

Dendera is dedicated to the cow goddess Hathor, the Egyptian sky goddess of
sexual love, fertility, music, and dancing
Details of the ceiling, profusely decorated with hieroglyphics and a turquoise-blue background

Our necks were aching as we looked up at the intricately decorated ceilings.

At the back of the temple is the only existing representation of the most famous pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, with her son Caesarion making offerings to goddess Hathor

Esna Temple

This temple dates back to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, and is one of the last built in Egypt. It was dedicated to the god Khoum and several other deities. The part we see today is around one-fourth the size of the original structure and sits in a large pit created in the town. It was built 20′ below ground level and holds 15 centuries of desert sand and debris accumulated since it was abandoned during the Roman period.

It was a short walk from the Viking MS Antares to the temple as we passed through a Souk market and some very “determined to sell” vendors.

We saw a team of people working on preservation/restoration efforts inside the temple

The roof of the hypostyle hall is still intact and supported by 24 columns, each intricately carved floral capitals:

Happy Hour back on the ship’s top deck – yay!

Temple of Edfu

The Temple of Edfu is dedicated to the falcon god Horus, a central figure in ancient Egyptian mythology. To get there from the ship was a fairly wild ride on horse-driven carriages through busy, dusty and rough roads:

The structure was buried under almost 40′ of desert sand and silt from the Nile for centuries, which helped to preserve it in near-perfect condition:

Mohamed mentioned that the temple makes us aware of the continuous and active history of Egypt. Over time the site has been vandalized as part of widespread iconoclasm that resulted in the scratching out of faces:

Note the carved reliefs that were razed by followers of the Christian faith which came to dominate Egypt

Kom Ombo Temple

The Temple of Kom Ombo is considered unique because it is a double-temple dedicated to two deities; Sobek the crocodile-headed god, and Horus the falcon-headed god:

Impressive riverside setting for a temple

The double dedication was deliberate and architecturally duplicated, with two sets of courts, hypostyle halls, and sanctuaries:

It’s believed that engravings here are among the first representations of medical terminology and surgical instruments, and of a calendar:

Caretakers at the temple

Much of the temple has been destroyed by natural forces and builders who used its materials for other projects. Some of the reliefs were defaced by Copts who once used the temple as their church:

The nearby Crocodile Museum displayed ancient mummified crocodiles, along with intriguing explanations

Arriving back at the ship hot and tired, it was always a pleasure to wipe off with a cold cloth, and then enjoy a snack and refreshment – all before even getting onboard! These little details make us select Viking for our cruises whenever we can:

Temples RESCUED from Rising Lake Nasser

UNESCO began an ambitious mission in 1960, as ancient landmarks including the temple complex at Philae were flooded after completion of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. Thanks to their efforts and Egyptian governmental support, the Temple of Isis was painstakingly disassembled and rebuilt on higher ground on Agilkia Island:

Temples of Philae flooded in 1906

The temple was originally built to honor the goddess Isis, and serves as an amazing example of the cult that was built around the story of Osiris and Isis.

We sailed on a motorboat to get to the Philae Temple Complex
To relocate the complex, 50,000 stones were individually labeled, moved and then re-assembled on Agilkia Island

Despite flooding and vandalism by early Christians, the temple is one of Egypt’s most spectacular sanctuaries. Many Coptic crosses and Greek inscriptions are found inside, revealing the transformation to a Christian place during the Byzantine age:

And last but not least, the Grandest of them all – the temples of Abu Simbel

For this excursion, I boarded a 45-minute flight from Aswan to the town of Abu Simbel. Steve took the Aswan Dam excursion and we exchanged stories and pictures afterward on the ship.

Flying over one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, Lake Nasser

Building dams always has an impact on the environment and wildlife. Here in Egypt it also has an impact on cultural heritage. The two enormous rock temples of Abu Simbel that were built in the 13th century BCE took twenty years to construct. It involved carving and cutting into the face of massive rock walls to create statues of the royals. They were also buried in sand and forgotten, finally discovered in 1813.

The Great temple still partially buried as shown in this 1854 photo by John Beasly Greene (credit Wikipedia)

Construction of the new Aswan High Dam during the 1960’s threatened to submerged the temples under the waters of Lake Nasser, the reservoir created by the dam. Because of their archaeological significance, they were deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site along with other monuments between Philae and Abu Simbel.

Thanks to financial support from a number of countries, the enormous temples were dismantled piece by piece and relocated to avoid damage by floods during the dam’s construction. It was an incredible feat that is almost as impressive as the construction of the temple itself. The campaign resulted in a complete relocation of the temples that was completed between 1964 and 1968, costing $40M at that time.

Dismantling and relocation of the Great Temple (credit Wikipedia)

Rather than me describing the amazing project, I urge you to read this link. It’s a good description with pictures about how it was accomplished.

It was a hot and long walk to the temples
The Great Temple of Ramesses II on the left, the smaller Temple of Nefertari on the right

Most of the group immediately headed to the Great Temple of Ramesses II, so I chose to visit the Temple of Nefertari first:

Four colossal statues of Ramesses II and two of Queen Nefertari marked the entrance
Queen Nefertari as tall as her husband Ramesses II

This was the first time the statue of a wife, in this case Queen Nefertari, was carved the same size as the one of the pharaoh himself. It reveals how Ramesses II felt about his beloved queen:

A huge hall supported by six pillars. Each is carved with the head of Goddess Hathor and scenes showing the King and Queen making offerings to various other Egyptian gods
A scene of Queen Nefertari making an offering to Goddess Hathor
Scene of the deification of Ramesses II by gods Horus & Set

Great Temple of Ramses II

Eleven pharaohs were named Ramesses, but Ramesses II the Great looms larger than any other. He was a master of self-promotion, honoring himself all over Egypt and and then leaving his grandest mark here in Abu Simbel with his temple:

The entrance is flanked by four colossal 66′ statues, each representing Ramesses II seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt
The smaller figures next to his legs are those of his wives and children
Baboon carvings above the heads of the statues of Ramesses II
Relief carvings depict the union between upper and lower Egypt
Quite an impressive entryway!
Four statues of divinity inside the inner sanctuary
Scenes of Ramsses II honoring gods

The reassembly of the inside and outside of both temples appeared to be seamless, one of the modern marvels of engineering.

When observing them in person, these magnificent ancient temples sprang to life for us in a way they never could if displayed in miniature behind glass in a museum. We’re completely amazed by what humans and the ancient Egyptians in particular were able to create and build thousands of years ago!


A selfie with Ramesses II before I leave 🙂

Our 12-day Pharaohs and Pyramids River cruise in Egypt came to an end, but it has left an indelible mark in our memory and overstuffed our brains. The Viking crew was excellent as usual, and overall the trip exceeded our expectations despite the summer heat, ultra pushy vendors and a demanding schedule.

So far the trip of a lifetime, but we still have Jordan to go!

Next up: Onward to a journey in Jordan!


  1. Not surprisingly, even among all the elaborate and beautiful artwork, my favorite is the Pharaoh Eagle-owl! The people and deities always seem to be depicted with extra-large legs and feet — I wonder if there is some significance to that? I can see how you got “templed-out” after a while, but what an experience!

    • I knew you would like the napping Pharaoh Eagle-Owl which was oblivious of the din below it. Yes our Egyptologist did talk about the extra legs, feet, eyes and how they are depicted standing, but of course I already forgot what it was and it was not on Steve’s notes 😦

  2. Those temples are extraordinary! And your photos are gorgeous and really help bring your tour to life. Although I enjoy seeing the temples, the Pharaoh Eagle-owl immediately caught my eye, too. What a cool bird! I don’t think it’s a bird we’ll be seeing in person, so thanks for the photo. It’s just astonishing to consider the amount of labor involved in building those temples. And mummifying crocodiles…😳

    I think my favorite of all is the colorful Nubian village. Your photos make it look like a living folk art gallery. And yes, you were wearing the perfect top the day you visited. 🙂

  3. What an amazing trip! Yes, lots of temples but as you mentioned each one is so unique. The amount of carvings and paintings is so hard to grasp the time it took to create all this. Your photos are spectacular and really gave us a wonderful glimpse into what you witnessed.

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