Ancient Cities Steeped in History, Culture

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), November 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Ancient Cities Steeped in History, Culture


For thousands of years, the Nile river has been a source of civilization, history, and culture in Egypt. It was also a source of national unity during ancient kingdoms as the river played a pivotal role in binding regional powers. The waterway functioned as an essential route for transporting construction materials needed for building colossal pyramids and temples, where the monarchical power found its ultimate manifestation.

The best way to appreciate the beauty of the Nile and the marvelous ancient architecture along the way is to get on a cruise boat heading south. The southern region, which used to be called Upper Egypt, in comparison to the Lower Egypt whose center was the ancient city of Memphis in the north, is rich in history and architectural heritage.

For 400 years from 1550 to 1150 BC Luxor, whose ancient name was Thebes, in Upper Egypt was the capital city of New Kingdom. The city of Thebes bloomed under Pharaohs such as Tuthmosis I, his daughter Hatshepsut, the well-known female ruler, and Egypt's greatest conqueror Tuthmosis III who furthered his territory to West Asia.

A number of monumental temples and tombs were built during the period, making the city now the ``world's greatest open-air museum.'' The relatively well preserved temples of Luxor, Karnak, Hetsgepsut and Ramses II boast magnificent architecture and draw endless lines of tourists from all over the world.

The image of Thebes as a flourishing city is well described by the famous Greek poet Homer who called it ``the hundred-gated city.'' On the western side of the Nile, or so-called West Thebes, is the awe-inspiring parade of tombs of pharaohs, queens and nobles. The necropolis called ``Valley of the Kings'' and ``Valley of the Queens'' used to entomb treasures and mummies of several dozens of royalty, but most of them are now empty after centuries of plundering.

The Luxor temple in the eastern part was built by Pharaoh Amenophis III and added to by pharaohs in the later years like Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Alexander the Great and various Romans. Standing at the front gate of the temple is another architectural marvel, the obelisk, a granite statue beautifully engraved with cartouches (Egyptian hieroglyphs). Originally there were two obelisks on both sides of the gate, but the one on the left side was given to the French as a gift in the late nineteenth century. The transplanted obelisk is standing at the Concord Plaza in Paris, like several others found in the cities of Europe.

The Temples of Karnak are a series of monuments that were the main place of worship in Thebian times.

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