The Sphinx is one of the best known monuments on Earth and dates back over 4,500 years to the Old Kingdom and the time of king Khafre - builder of the second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau on Cairo's outskirts. The head of the Sphinx probably depicts Khafre, while the body is that of a recumbent lion.

 The Sphinx is about 73.5 metres in length. It was originally sculptured from a limestone outcrop and, for most of its history, the Sphinx has been at least partly covered in sand. The first recorded clearing took place in the 18th Dynasty when a prince, who later became the pharaoh Thutmose IV, ordered that the sand be removed. This happened after he supposedly had a dream in which he was told that he would become pharaoh if he cleared the Sphinx.

The Sphinx, the Sphinx Temple and the Valley Temple of Khafre. In front of the Sphinx is its temple, while adjacent to it is the better preserved Valley Temple of Khafre. A causeway, seen behind the Sphinx in the photograph above, connected Khafre's Mortuary Temple next to his pyramid with the Valley Temple. At night, Sound & Light shows are performed at Giza and the audience is seated in an area located to the left of this view.


At night, a Sound And Light show is performed relating the history of Egypt and the Sphinx. The show is viewed from an area to the east of the Sphinx and pyramids and you should check the language schedule. A view of the Sphinx from behind the west side



Children had toys to play with and some of the surviving examples would give much pleasure to young children today.
Toys included dolls, spinning tops and some that had moving parts operated with a string, e.g. cats or crocodiles with moving jaws.

The Egyptians enjoyed games, including a board game called senet. Examples of senet survive in the form of rectangular boxes on top of which are 30 squares, some of which were meant to represent hazards. Small draws in the box contained the gaming pieces.

Tutankhamun's tomb was well equipped with examples of senet board games (one shown at right) - he may have intended to spend a lot of time playing!
Ball games also were popular as they are with children in modern Egypt. The game involved going piggy-back and throwing the balls.



   The most valued skill in ancient Egypt was literacy.  Record keeping played a major role in the civilisation from the point of view of land holdings, crop yields and taxes.  From a religious point of view there were the religious texts that had to be written and copied in temples and on funerary equipment and papyrus

Nonetheless, only a couple of percent or less of the population may have been able to read and write. In the Old Kingdom, the princes were instructed in reading and writing while the sons of high officials probably benefited as well. However, schools are not mentioned. By the Middle Kingdom there are references to "Houses of Instruction" associated with temples and others were probably connected with the palace, treasury and army
One of the most prized jobs in ancient Egypt was that of a scribe. Being able to read and write opened up many opportunities, such as working in government and temple administrations, or perhaps involvement with the writing of inscriptions in tombs.
Having a father who was a scribe could be of assistance, but the learning path was still not easy. To learn to read and write hieroglyphs required many years of hard schooling and if students were lazy they could be beaten.
Crouching scribe

 Some of the exercises involved copying stories and many examples of student exercises have been found, particularly near the town of Deir el-Medina, home for many of those who worked on the construction of the New Kingdom's royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Students would write on ostraka, flakes of limestone or potsherds (fragments of pottery), as papyrus was too expensive. A scribe's kit would have included a number of reeds which they dipped in black or red ink cakes moistened with water from a small pot.




Visit just about any major site in Egypt and one will be deluged with offers of postcards. Unlike the glossy, colour postcards available now, the ones featured here are from the early 20th century and they possess an antique aspect to them. Some of them capture an Egypt that was still largely untouched by development. Giza is a good example where development now extends right up to the plateau that is home to the Great Pyramid.  The postcards featured here represent a small selection from my personal collection of over one thousand, mainly early 20th-century Egyptian postcards, which cover from Suez to Alexandria and Cairo to Abu Simbel .


 Railway Station, Cairo

Kasr el Nil bridge, Cairo

 Native sugar cane seller, Cairo

Cairo - Tombs of the Mamelukes

  Pont Limun Station, Cairo
Arabic Museum, Cairo



 Kom Ombo is located on a bend in the river Nile about 50 km north of Aswan. Located on the east bank, Kom Ombo is home to an unusual double temple built during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The temple is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder). Despite being badly damaged, the temple is a beautiful sight as one approaches from either direction on the river, particularly as sunset nears and the colours change .




Little is known of the town during the Dynastic Period, and there has actually been little excavation of the ancient site beyond the clearance of the temple. Changes in agricultural techniques brought the city to prominence in the Ptolemaic Period, to which almost all the visible monuments date. An 18th Dynasty gateway was, however, seen by Champollion in the south enclosure wall, and scattered New Kingdom blocks have been found on the site. Hence, there is believed to have been a New Kingdom predecessor to the Greek and Roman structure. However, part of the temple forecourt has been eroded by the river, which may also have carried off other features (though modern control of the river has checked the threat of further damage). The mound behind the enclosure contains shards of the First Intermediate Period, showing that the site is far more ancient than the sacred enclosure, which is all that has been explored.

In later times, Kom Ombo was situated at the terminus of two caravan routes, one running westward through the Kurkur Oasis to Tomas in Nubia, while the other ran from Daraw through the Eastern Desert, regaining the Nile at Berber. Those routes were regularly used during early modern times, although how old they are is uncertain.

The earliest king named in the temple at Kom Ombo is Ptolemy VI Philometor, though most of the decoration was completed by Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos. In the early Roman Period the forecourt was decorated and the outer corridor added.



Abu Simbel is a set of two temples near the border of Egypt with Sudan. It was constructed for the pharaoh Ramesses II who reigned for 67 years during the 13th century BC (19th Dynasty).
The temples were cut from the rock and shifted to higher ground in the 1960s as the waters of Lake Nasser began to rise following completion of the Aswan High Dam.
The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses II and a statue of him is seated with three other gods within the innermost part of the rock-cut temple (the sanctuary). The temple's facade is dominated by four enormous seated statues of the Pharaoh (each over 20 metres or 67 feet high), although one has been damaged since ancient times.

The Small Temple was probably completed ahead of the Great Temple and is dedicated to Ramesses' favourite wife, Nefertari. At the entrance stand six 10-metre-high (33 feet) rock-cut statues - two of Ramesses and one of Nefertari on either side of the doorway

The temples can be reached by road, air or boat. Arrival by boat is achieved by cruising from the Aswan High Dam on a 3-day journey. The author first made the boat trip on the "Eugenie" in January 1995 with the vessel stopping at various relocated temples along the way. In early 1998, the journey was repeated on the "Nubian Sea", but the number of tourists reaching Abu Simbel in this way remains relatively small. A hydrofoil service from the Aswan High Dam to Abu Simbel was re-introduced in 2000 (there was a service in the 1960s) with two return trips per day.
In early 2001, the author was surprised at the increased number of visitors at Abu Simbel at night and for sunrise. Once it was possible to watch sunrise with just a few others. However, it is still a very special time

During a visit to Abu Simbel during February 2002 by means of the re-opened highway, buses were required to proceed in a convoy with arrival at the site a little after sunrise and about 2.5 hours spent at the temples before the return journey to Aswan. A security fence has been erected around the site and the cruise boats are now kept off to the sides of the temple site. A new visitors' centre has been opened behind the temples and vendors are now housed in a line of permanent shops leading to the centre.
A very good Sound & Light show also has been introduced for those at Abu Simbel in the evening.  This includes projections onto the two temples showing how they once would have looked. The program is presented in a number of languages with the provision of ear pieces.



The Luxor area of Upper Egypt was the Thebes of the ancient Egyptians - the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Today it is famous for its temples and the nearby Valley of the Kings.
On the east bank is the modern town of Luxor. Running alongside part of the river bank and separated from it by the corniche is Luxor Temple. Modified over many centuries, its main pylons, or gates, are on the northern end. In front of them is one obelisk - its companion was given to France and taken to Paris where it was erected in Place de la Concorde on 25 October 1836.
Just south of the temple is the Old Winter Palace Hotel - used early this century by Lord Carnarvon as work proceeded on West Bank excavations and preliminary work on the tomb of Tutankhamun.
At the northern end of town is the sprawling Karnak complex of temples built over a span of about 1,500 years. It is famous for its main Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns. One can wander for hours amongst the ruins. Starting at the first pylon, one walks back through time to the earlier constructions toward the rear.
About halfway between Luxor and Karnak temples is located the Luxor Museum - one of the best in Egypt.

The major temples include the Ramesseum - the famous mortuary temple of 19th-dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II. Walking amongst its ruins evokes a special feeling and the fallen colossus shows how even the mighty have fallen. This was the site from which Belzoni removed the famous bust now in the British Museum. Belzoni's signature can still be found carved in stone in a couple of places within the Ramesseum, along with those of other well-known personalities of 19th-century Egypt. Stories of the Ramesseum and the display of the enormous bust of Ramesses 

 Medinet Habu was Ramesses III's attempt to copy his ancestor. The complex was added to over the centuries following, but it is most impressive and shouldn't be missed. The artisans from the nearby town of Deir el-Medina moved in to the compound when things got unsafe and the construction of Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings came to a halt. The mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty Queen Hatshepsut is a masterpiece of design and has been under restoration for about a century. It is built into a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs and does not look out of place in the 20th century, even though it was constructed during the early 15th century BC.

Most famous of all on the West Bank is the Valley of the Kings. Although its modern paths detract a little from its atmosphere, it is still possible to feel the link to the distant past - especially when most of the tourists have left earlier in the day. Tutankhamun's tomb is one everyone wants to visit - and should if possible - just to appreciate how small was the area that contained the riches now partly on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
However, there are many other more impressive tombs. There is no guarantee which ones will be open during a visit, but try to see those belonging to Thutmose III (the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt), Ramesses III, IV and VI, and Horemheb. That of Horemheb contains examples of how workmen created wall reliefs. The tomb of Seti I is a masterpiece, but structural problems keep it closed these days



Saqqara is an immense necropolis (cemetery) just south of Cairo and west of the ancient city of Memphis of which very little remains. Used as a burial ground for thousands of years, Saqqara hides its secrets well under desert sands. Despite virtually continuous excavations for some two centuries, much of the area remains to be excavated. The site stretches six kilometres from north to south and more than 1.5 kilometres across at its widest point

  The Step Pyramid of Zoser

The site's best-known feature is the Step Pyramid, the world's oldest major stone structure. It was built in the 3rd Dynasty (around 2630 BC) for King Djoser and its construction was overseen by his vizier Imhotep


All over Saqqara can be found tombs of different periods. Those open to the public date to the Old Kingdom. Around the northern-most of Saqqara's pyramids is that of the 6th Dynasty pharaoh Teti. Adjacent to the pyramid are the mastabas (free-standing tombs of earlier periods) of his officials, some of whom had marvellous reliefs created for themselves.

 Relief showing fishermen in the mastaba of Kagemni, vizier
and judge under three kings of the 5th and 6th Dynasties.
The tomb is just north of the pyramid of Teti

One of Saqqara's most famous archaeological sites is the Serapeum which was discovered by Auguste Mariette in 1851. Its rockcut corridors and burial chambers were excavated for the Apis bulls which were sacred to god Ptah. The corridors form a virtual underground extending for hundreds of metres. The stone sarcophagi weigh as much as 70 tonnes and average some 4 metres in length and 3.3 metres in height. Twenty chambers still contain sarcophagi. The Serapeum was in use from the New Kingdom down to the Graeco-Roman period

Most people visiting Saqqara see only the surrounds of the Step Pyramid (its interior is off limits) and perhaps one tomb or pyramid depending on what is open. If time permits, include the pyramid of Unas which contains the first hieroglyphs to appear in pyramids, the Serapeum, and the mastabas belonging to Mereruka and Ti. There are of course, many other attractions for the enthusiastic person with plenty of time. Remember that the authorities occasionally close particular tombs.