Amazing Egypt - More than Just the Wonders of Antiquity
Egypt is one of the most fascinating destinations on the world tourist map. This extra ordinary country is today the favourite vacation spot for many, just like it was in the days of the early Greeks and Romans. The thoroughly cultured Greeks, in particular, were fascinated by this civilization that predated theirs by at least 2000 years. The biggest draw continues to be the amazing abundance of historical treasures- temples, pyramids and museums -contained in this one country. But the destination offers more than just the wonders of antiquity. Your visit to Egypt can be rounded off by a cruise down the Nile and a beach vacation at the top notch Red Sea and Sinai resorts.
The unification of the Kingdoms of Lower and Upper Egypt around BC 3180 marks the point from when Egypt became a significant power. This event is credited with Menes, who thus became the first Pharaoh. Menes went on to establish a new capital at Memphis, just to the south of where Cairo stands today. For the next 3000 years and under 30 dynasties of the Pharaohs, a dynamic and culturally sophisticated civilization flourished. It was not however smooth sailing for the descendants of Menes and power was for short periods in the hands of foreigners. Historians who as usual want to simplify things, have divided up the reign of the Pharaohs into three periods: the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC), Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC) and New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC).
It is a curious fact that most monuments of the Pharaohs relate to death. Though moderns may view this as an unhealthy preoccupation with death, some scholars see it as an indication of the ancient Egyptians great love for life and desire for continued existence. The pyramid was the highest evolution in the practice of preparing elaborate tombs for the departed. Pyramids were the final resting place, from where the Pharaohs enjoyed the afterlife. The most famous of these edifices are the Pyramids of Giza, built in the 4th Dynasty (2575-2465 BC), when the power of these ancient kings was at its peak.
Religion was another reason for the great monuments of ancient Egypt. The deities found deserving of worship were truly diverse. And many, many temples were built in honour of these gods. Temples for the most esteemed gods were quite elaborate and were administered by high priests. Auxiliary buildings housed libraries, granaries, and what may today be considered as research laboratories for astronomers, biologists and other scientists. Most gods were linked with specific animals and to whom special powers were attributed. Some gods came and went, but the sun god was one of the most enduring. It has been suggested that the design of the pyramids had some association with practices of the sun cult. The Pharaoh was considered to be a living god.
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The Greeks, in the name of Alexander the Great finally brought the Age of the Pharaohs to an end in 332 BC. He founded that city that bears his name, Alexandria. The Greeks ushered in a period of comparative prosperity and stability under descendants of Ptolemy. Ptolemy was the Macedonian general who was appointed by Alexander as governor. The Pharos Lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the Great Library of Alexandria were built in this era.
As the Greeks declined, so did the Romans rise, and they too cast a covetous eye upon Egypt. The last of the Ptolomies was the notorious Cleopatra, lover to both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The Roman Empire too declined Egypt and was torn apart by foreign armies. The most significant event at this time was the invasion of the Arabs in 462 AD. Though other foreigners including Ottoman Turks, French and the British, subsequently ruled the country, it is the Arabs who brought Islam whose legacy has been the most enduring.
Egypt is today a modern vibrant nation that carries the burden of its 5,000-year history graciously. Just like in ancient times, the Nile sustains the country and upto 95% of the population live in close proximity of the river. The rest of the country is desolate desert, mitigated only by a few isolated oases and the habitable narrow strips along the African Red Sea and the Mediterranean coastlines.
According to the tourism ministry, Egypt for the visitor is best seen as six tourist super-sites. This covers the most popular destinations and excludes off-the-beaten-track locations. The six super-sites are anchored on: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada on the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh in Sinai. Except for Luxor, none of these destinations relies entirely on ancient monuments to attract visitors.