Egypt: Beyond Cairo
Area: 1,001,449 square kilometres
Population: approx. 79 million
Currency: Egyptian Pound (LE)
Egypt: Beyond Cairo
Egypt beyond the attractions of Cairo is a land of innumerable ancient sites and striking natural features. The green, fertile areas of the Nile valley and the Delta contrast sharply with the huge, barren deserts.
Egypt also offers excellent recreational opportunities, like Nile cruises and the seaside resorts of the Sinai and the Red Sea.
|Road distances in Egypt|
|From Cairo to:|
|Al Fayyoum:||104 km||Marsa Alam:||730 km|
|Alexandria:||205 km||Marsa Matrouh:||442 km|
|Aswan:||867 km||Port Said:||205 km|
|Asyout||370 km||Salloum (Libyan border):||655 km|
|Dahab:||630 km||Saqqara:||34 km|
|Damanhour:||150 km||Sharm El Sheikh:||575 km|
|Dumyat (Damietta):||190 km||Siwa (northern route):||742 km|
|El Alamein:||260 km||Siwa (southern route):||780 km|
|El Arish:||330 km||St Catherine's Monastery:||313 km|
|El Mansoura:||125 km||Taba:||495 km|
|Hurghada||453 km||Tanta:||90 km|
|Ismailiya||130 km||Zagazig||78 km|
The legendary city of Alexandria lies on the shores of the Mediterranean. The city was originally conquered and designed by Alexander the Great.
In antiquity, Alexandria was known for its Pharos Lighthouse, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. The city was also famous for its library, which used to be the largest in the ancient world.
Alexandria has a cosmopolitan Mediterranean – rather than Arab – character. It is Egypt’s second city, but less chaotic than Cairo, and has an air of affluence and liberalism. The city is renowned for its numerous Hellenistic and Roman artifacts.
The newly constructed Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a huge centre for literature and science. This ultra-modern institution features a library holding millions of books, a planetarium, a science museum, an exploratorium, an antiquities museum, a manuscripts museum plus numerous other exhibits. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is situated in the Eastern harbour, facing the Mediterranean.
More information on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina can be found on its website.
The Graeco-Roman Museum contains 25 galleries of exhibits covering the period from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD.
The Roman Amphitheatre was excavated beneath a Napoleonic era fort. The theatre is the only known example of a circular Roman theatre in Egypt.
Fort Qaitbey is a 15th-century fort, built on the foundations of the Pharos Lighthouse. The fort was built by the ruler Qaitbey, who ruled Egypt between 1468 and 1496. It is one of Alexandria’s main attractions, also because of its scenic location, overlooking the Mediterranean.
The Corniche, on Alexandria’s waterfront, is a lively area dotted with casinos. Although it is possible to swim in Alexandria, serious water pollution is a problem and beaches tend to be overcrowded in summer.
The Muntazah Palace and Gardens, east of Alexandria, used to be the summer retreat of the Egyptian royal family. The gardens should be visited in spring or summer, when the flowers are in bloom. The palace is a unique combination of Ottoman/Florentine style.
El Alamein is a town located 106 km west of Alexandria. During the Second World War, two major battles were fought in the area: the First Battle of El Alamein, between 1st and 27th July 1942, when the advance of the Axis forces on Alexandria was stopped by Allied forces.
During the Second Battle of El Alamein, between 23rd October and 4th November 1942, Allied forces broke the Axis line and forced them to retreat. These victories determined the fate of Egypt and the British Empire.
There is a War Museum containing collectibles from the battles. There are Italian and German cemeteries, as well as a Commonwealth cemetery.
This legendary example of engineering is a ship canal linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. The canal is about 166 kilometres long, and was opened in 1869, after 11 years of construction.
The Suez Canal
Crossing the canal to the Sinai peninsula, can be done by a number of ferries at various locations. There is an car tunnel, called the Ahmed Hamdi tunnel, just north of Suez. There is also the 9 kilometre Suez Canal Bridge from El Qantara.
Port Said is on the northern entrance to the Suez Canal. The city is by many considered to be the most beautiful city of Egypt. Port Said was damaged during the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973. The city has since been rebuilt, and is a popular summer destination for Egyptians. The 19th century colonial architecture in the city centre gives Port Said a nostalgic flair.
Port Said has an interesting National Museum, housing artifacts from most periods of Egypt's long history. There are also Islamic and Coptic exhibits, including textiles, manuscripts and coins.
Across the Suez Canal from Port Said is Port Fouad, at the northwestern tip of the Sinai peninsula. Founded in 1927, Port Fouad was built to relieve Port Said of its swelling population. Today, Port Fouad is basically a bedroom community of Port Said.
Ismailia is between Port Said and Suez, on Lake Timsah (“Crocodile Lake”). The city was named after its founder, the Khedive Ismail, during the digging of the Suez Canal. Like Port Said, Ismailia has its share of 19th century, British and French-style colonial architecture along tree-lined streets.
One of Ismailia’s main attractions is the House of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the founder of the Suez Canal. Inside the grounds is his private carriage, encased in glass. The house has been maintained as if it hadn’t been touched since the day Ferdinand de Lesseps left it.
Suez, situated at the southern end of the Suez Canal, is one of Egypt's largest ports. Its main attraction is as a vantage point for watching ships passing through the canal. There are also nice views of the Sinai and the Gulf of Suez.
The Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai is made up of three geologically different areas:
The northern area consists mainly of shifting, soft sand dunes. This is an area of ancient 'wadis' or dried-up riverbeds. The central part of the Sinai is a flat, elevated plateau broken up occasionally by limestone outcroppings. In the south stand the high mountain ranges, creating a natural barrier between the desert and the sea.
S:t Catherine’s Monastery
Located at the foot of Mount Moses, St. Catherine's Monastery was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565.
The monastery has the second largest collection of illuminated manuscripts in the world. The collection consists of some 3,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other languages. Around the year 1850, the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus, which is now in the British Museum in London, was discovered here. Codex Sinaiticus is a 4th century Greek bible manuscript, containing all the Christian scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
St. Catherine's has a rich history. It has been called the oldest working Christian monastery, though St. Anthony's predates it, and the smallest diocese in the world. The monastery was originally ordered built by Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, but was actually built by Emperor Justinian to house the bones of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
St. Catherine's is a formidable fortification, with granite walls 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses.
Though established and patronized most of its history by the Russian Orthodox Church, the monastery is now under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Enjoy these panoramic views from St. Catherines.
Wadi Feiran is the Sinai's largest wadi and one of its most archeologically important stretches of terrain. It was here that Moses is said to have struck a rock with his staff, bringing forth a spring so his people could drink. Feiran is also the site of Rafadim, the fabled oasis where the Hebrews camped and battled the Amalekites.
Feiran has ruins of dozens of ancient churches; some dating back to the 4th century AD, when Feiran began to develop into a major religious center for monks and pilgrims, many on their way to Mt. Sinai and St. Catherine's Monastery further east.
The main natural scenery of Wadi Feiran is in the Oasis of Feiran, the largest oasis in all of Sinai. The heart of the oasis is a spectacular and luxuriant sprawl of palms that stretches over four kilometers in length. This is why Feiran is called the "Pearl of Sinai".
The Coloured Canyon
The Colored Canyon, near Nuweiba, is among the most colorful and fascinating rock formations in all of Sinai. In some places of this narrow gorge, the deep coloration of rocks gives the canyon walls a prismatic and metallic appearance. In some other places, the stone is so smooth that it appears soft. The short length of the Coloured Canyon (700 metres) makes it easily accessible and negotiable.
Nuweiba is a port and beach resort on the northern coast of eastern Sinai. In the southern part of Nuweiba, called Nuweiba Muzeina, are the port and some excellent beaches and coral reefs. There is a daily ferry service to Aqaba in Jordan.
Dahab is a beach resort eighty-five kilometers south of Nuweiba.
Blue Hole is a spectacular dive site a few kilometers north of Dahab. It is called Blue Hole because that is what it looks like. This dark hole has an unusually dense fauna, which has attracted many adventurous divers. It should be noted, however, that Blue Hole is also quite a dangerous dive location.
Sharm el-Sheikh is the town that gave tourism in the Sinai a name. This is the main resort on the peninsula and offers splendid holiday opportunities with sandy beaches and diving. Not far from Sharm el-Sheikh is Ras Mohammed, another legendary diving spot with dazzling coral reefs.
The Sharm el-Sheikh area has developed on a large scale, and is today a major holiday destination even for people who just want to relax. The town has an abundance of hotels and other tourist facilities, and makes a good starting point for journeys to the inland of the Sinai.
Na’ama Bay, just north of Sharm el-Sheikh, has become another tourism centre with resort hotels, shops, dive- and tour operators.
Ras Mohammed National Park
This national park is in an amazing setting on a slender peninsula at the very southernmost tip of the Sinai. The peninsula rises to a dramatic promontory overlooking the coral reefs of the Red Sea.
Ras Mohammed National Park contains within its modest area an amazing variety of fauna, both on land and in the sea.
The Red Sea Coast
Hurghada, called Al-Ghardaqa in Arabic, used to be a small fishing village. Nowadays, it is the main tourist resort on the Red Sea coast of the Egyptian mainland. Hurghada has become an international centre for aquatic sports – windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, swimming, snorkeling and diving.
The warm waters of the Red Sea offer a large variety of fish and coral reefs. Hurghada is one of the top diving destinations in the world. For those who wish to explore the underwater life without getting wet, tours in glass-bottomed boat are available.
Hurghada is a town for holidaymakers, with a reputation for a vibrant nightlife. Restaurants, bars and clubs cater for all tastes.
Marsa Alam is a fishing village some 300 kilometres south of Hurghada. Like Hurghada already did, Marsa Alam is developing into another popular Red Sea resort. The recent opening of Marsa Alam International Airport has greatly improved accessibility to this relatively remote town.
Travelling on the Nile
The purpose-built cruise ships are floating hotels, equipped with facilities similar to land-based hotels. Virtually anything is available, depending on the size of your purse. Rooms can be of any size, ranging from small cabins to luxurious lounges and suites. Other amenities on offer are swimming pools, hot tubs, exercise rooms and nightclubs.
Cruising the Nile is a very relaxing way of experiencing Egypt. As the cruise ships call at locations along the river, there are opportunities to visit a wider variety of antiquities along the banks of the Nile.
Nile cruises also give the tourist the opportunity to get some impressions of rural life in Egypt, which has changed little over the ages.
There is a plethora of operators offering Nile cruises. Cruises generally take three, four, five or seven nights. Most short cruises are operated between Luxor and Aswan. There are longer cruises going between Cairo and Aswan.
Those looking for more modest modes of travel can board a Felucca, the traditional Nile sailboat. Felucca trips are short, taking a couple of hours, but longer trips on larger vessels are available. Conditions onboard feluccas are primitive — passengers sleep under the stars on open deck.
Along the Nile
Luxor, called Thebes in ancient times, is one of the main tourist destinations of Egypt. Often called “the world’s greatest open-air museum”, this city draws thousands of tourists to its attractions every day. Luxor itself is a tourist town with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. There is also a traditional market.
Luxor attractions on the east bank of the Nile:
The Karnak Temple
The Karnak Temple covers a huge area of approximately 400 square metres. It is the largest ancient religious site in the world. The temple actually consists of three main temples, smaller enclosed temples, and several outer temples located about three kilometers north of Luxor. Construction work on the temple of Karnak began in the 16th century BC.
Karnak’s ancient name was Ipet-sut, meaning "The Most Venerated of Places". The most impressive of the three temple enclosures is the Precinct of Amon-Re. This used to be the main place of worship. Amon-Re was the main god of Thebes. This is the only area open to the public. The Great Hypostyle Hall is 6000 square metres and filled with gigantic stone pillars.
The other two main temples are the Precinct of Montu, and the Precinct of Mut, the wife of Amon-Re. Both these temples are much smaller than the Precinct of Amon-Re.
The Luxor Temple
This temple is situated in the centre of Luxor. In ancient times, there used to be an avenue of sphinxes linking the Luxor temple with Karnak. Today, only the two ends of the avenue remain, and the sphinxes have been badly eroded. The Luxor temple was dedicated to the Theban triad of Gods; Amon, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu. Construction work on the temple began in the 14th century BC. A major expansion of the temple took place during the reign of Ramses II, some 100 years later.
The Luxor Museum & The Mummification Museum
A pleasant walk north along the Corniche brings you to the Luxor Museum where a small interesting collection of relics from the Theban Temples and Necropolis can be viewed. This modern museum houses a number of interesting antiquities, including items from the tomb of Tutankhamon. There is also a reassembled wall of painted sandstone blocks, originally from a wall in the dismantled temple built for Amenhotep IV, at Karnak.
The recently opened Mummification Museum has exhibits of human, reptile and bird mummies, as well as explanations of how they are made.
Luxor attractions on the west bank of the Nile:
The Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is one of several sites of the Theban Necropolis. The tombs in the Valley of the Kings were built for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom and the 18th through 20th dynasties. The area actually consists of two valleys; the East and the West Valleys.
This impressive structure is the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty. This elegant terraced temple has been cut out of the rock, and blends naturally with its natural environment. The temple was first excavated in 1891, and has since gone through successful restorations.
The temple consists of a series of terraces whose supporting walls are concealed by long colonnades. In the centre, monumental access ramps lead up to the terraces. On the second terrace, a third portico opens to a peristyle courtyard leading to the Sanctuary of Amon.
The Tombs of the Nobles
This site contains some 400 tombs of noblemen.
The Ramesseum (Temple of Ramses II)
This is the mortuary temple of Ramses II.
This was the village where the workmen who built the mortuary temples used to live with their families. Every day they used to walk to the construction sites in the area. The village has been entirely excavated.
The Valley of the Queens
This is the necropolis where wives of the Pharaohs were buried. Many princes and princesses were also buried here. The site contains some 75-80 tombs.
Medinet Habu is the site of the mortuary temple of Ramses III. This relatively well-preserved site is surrounded by mud-brick walls, which used to enclose stores, workshops, administrative offices, and houses of priests and officials. The female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her male successor, Tutmosis III, originally built a temple to Amun on the site. Next to this temple, Ramses III built his mortuary temple.
The temple complex also comprises several other structures, such as the mortuary chapels of the Divine Adoratrices of Amon (The God’s Wives of Amon).
The Colossi of Memnon
These are two gigantic statues flanking what used to be the entrance to the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, of the 18th dynasty. Both statues depict Amenhotep III. Ancient Greek visitors to the site thought that the statues were of Memnon, who was king of the Ethiopians in Greek mythology.
Aswan, called "Syene" in ancient times, is the last stop for southbound travellers on the Nile. This relaxed city, the southernmost in Egypt, has a picturesque riverside location. Aswan borders on Nubia, a region covering southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The Nubians are a people with a long history and rich cultural heritage.
The Corniche is one of Aswan’s main attractions, offering pleasant riverside walks. In the evenings, floating restaurants feature Nubian music. The Cultural Centre, near the Corniche, hosts performances of Nubian folklore, with dances and music.
Aswan has an extensive traditional souk, with spices, food, clothes, and the inevitable souvenirs.
The Nubia Museum
This attractive museum, opened in 1997, received the Agha Khan Award for Architecture in 2001. It showcases three thousand objects reflection Nubian culture and civilization, from ancient times to the present.
Elephantine Island is the largest of the islands in the Aswan area. This island houses one of the most ancient sites in Egypt, containing artifacts dating back to pre-dynastic eras. Elephantine Island used to be Egypt’s frontier town, bordering on the lands of Nubia. Excavations of this site have revealed temples and a fortress.
The Aswan Museum is situated on the southern part of the island. It contains exhibits found in Nubia and Aswan. Just nearby is the Nilometre, which was used in ancient times to measure the height of the Nile’s water level.
The Aswan Dam
The Aswan Dam was built to control the annual floods of the Nile, and to provide electric power. The dam generates about 50% of the country’s power. The dam has also facilitated navigation on the Nile, by keeping water levels consistent. The construction of the High Dam forced the relocation of 90,000 people who used to live in the areas now covered by the reservoir named Lake Nasser.
There are two dams; the older Low Dam and the newer High Dam. The Low Dam was completed in 1902. After the water in the reservoir peaked near the top of the dam in 1946, it was decided that a new dam would be built upriver. The High Dam, which was completed in 1970, is 3,600 m long and 111 m tall. The Lake Nasser reservoir (named after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser), holds 169 billion cubic metres of water.
The twin temples at Abu Simbel, 280 km south of Aswan, are among of the world’s most amazing archaeological sites. The temples, referred to as the Great Temple and the Small Temple, where carved out of the rock during the reign of Ramses II, who reigned between 1290 and 1224 BC. He dedicated the temple to a triad of gods called Amon-Ra, Ptah and Ra-Harakhte. The four, 20 metre high, statues in front of the Great Temple depict Ramses II. North of the Great Temple is the Smaller Temple, which was dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, and also to Ramses II’s favourite wife, Nefertari.
Situated on the west bank of the Nile, the temples were threatened by submersion resulting from the construction of the Aswan High Dam. In a gigantic rescue effort supported by the UNESCO, the whole temple complex was dismantled, raised more than 60 m, and moved 200 m back from the Nile. In its new location it was reassembled, piece-by-piece, and restored exactly to its former shape.
Kom Ombo, 45 km north of Aswan, is a town known for its Temples of Haroeris and Sobek. The temples are of Graeco-Roman structure, dating back to the Ptolemaic era. Construction was started during Ptolemy VI Philometor (180-145 BC). Following Ptolemaic rulers added to it, and final touches were added during the Emperor Augustus.
These temples are unique in the sense that they are two adjacent, symmetrical temples unified into one. The northern temple was dedicated to Haroeris (“Horus the Elder”), the falcon-headed god, and the south temple to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god.
Edfu is situated on the west bank of the Nile, about 120 kilometers north of Aswan. The site is famed for its Ptolemaic temple, the Temple of Horus. This is the most completely preserved temple in Egypt. It was built over a period of 180 years, from 237 BC to 57 BC.