“An Archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have: the older she gets, the more he is interested in her!”Agatha Christie
It was 1937 when Agatha Christie published “Murder on the Nile”, her fifteenth novel starring the famous Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot. It’s probably one of the most famous books in the world that was inspired by a writer’s cruise along the Nile when she was accompanying her husband, who was an archaeologist looking for ancient civilizations.
The Nile is extremely fascinating, as it’s the oldest river in the world with 31 million years, and the second longest waterway in the world after the Amazon River. But above all the Nile is a symbol, the icon of one of the most important and ancient civilizations of the world, as well as a source of life and prosperity, considered a deity.
In the past, traveling on the Nile was a common way of moving: ordinary people built papyrus rafts for short journeys, but for longer expeditions, it was necessary to have larger boats in order to carry bigger loads. The Nile was a crossroads where animals and people came every day looking for food and shelter.
For all these reasons, a cruise on the Nile river still represents one of the most fascinating ways to explore Egypt and discover some of the most intriguing sites in the world. Furthermore, at night, many temples and monuments are illuminated and their view from the water is wonderful.
How a Nile cruise works
Most cruises on the Nile depart from Luxor and arrive in Aswan, passing by the sites of Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. You can choose between 3 types of boats:
- cruise ships: they’re smaller than ocean cruise ships, but still equipped with many comforts, such as the swimming pool.
- dahabiyas: they offer one of the most exclusive and luxurious experiences. In the past, they were used by noble families and were opulent vessels painted in gold, used by Pharaohs too. These boats are built for maximum of 12 people with sycamore wood and alabaster, and a sail at both ends. Dahabiyas were also much appreciated by 19th-century travelers for their adventures along the Nile, in search of the wonderful treasures of pharaohs.
- feluccas: they’re traditional sailing boats, perfect for low-cost travellers. You sleep outside on the deck in your sleeping, there are no toilets, nor a guide.
In the footsteps of Poirot
If you’d like to revive the story of the intrepid investigator Poirot, now you may take an original “Karnak”. As a matter of fact the splendid “Steam Ship Sudan“, has been completely restored according to its original Belle Époque style. Getting on board is like stepping back in time
Two suites out of 5 are dedicated respectively to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, while the restaurant offers typical dishes of the local cuisine.
This steamship can navigate in shallow waters, therefore it reaches the less traveled stretches of the Nile. In five nights, it covers a journey from Luxor to Aswan, with two different itineraries: “The Dynastic” and “Eternal River”. Each one includes the archaeological sites of the Luxor Temple, the Theban Necropolis, the Valley of the Queens and the Edfu Temple.
Let’s list the unmissable archeological sites on a Nile cruise!
Karnak and Luxor temples
Luxor, or Thebes, was the capital of Ancient Egypt. It has the highest concentration of temples and tombs in the world. Here it’s possible to visit the impressive Karnak temple and the smaller Luxor Temple. In ancient times they were joined by an avenue bordered by sphinxes. Karnak is the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Great Hypostyle Hall contains 134 columns of 24 meters in height! Luxor Temple was dedicated to the god Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khons, the god of the moon.
It is located on the west bank of the Nile and was the burial place of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, Rameses II and III and Seti I for over 500 years. The tombs are dug into a rock amphitheater dominated by a mountain whose shape resembles a pyramid. Of the 62 known tombs, each has up to 150 chambers. To access some tombs, such as those of Seti I and Tutankhamun, it is necessary to pay a separate ticket.
Temple of Horus (Edfu)
Edfu is more recent than Karnak and Luxor, having been built between 237 and 57 BC. during the Ptolemaic dynasty. It was dedicated to the god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, the first and most important Egyptian deity. Some of the temple decorations were removed by the early Christians when all other religions were banned in Egypt.
Kom Ombo temple
The name of the temple in the Ancient Egyptian language was Pa-Sobek which means “The Possession of Sobek”. Kom Ombo in Egyptian mythology represented the god of water and flooding of the Nile; he also had the role of lord of the waters and fertility. The site is divided into two separate temples dedicated to two deities: Horus the Elder and Sobek, the crocodile god. The temples were built between 180 and 47 during the Ptolemaic dynasty and have a symmetrical structure with duplicated rooms, halls and shrines. Next to the temple stands the Crocodile Museum, where there are about 300 mummified crocodiles. They were found inside the temple, probably sacrificed to the God Sobek.
Aswan is located at the end of the Nile Valley, where ancient Nubia begins. The famous dam was built between 1960 and 1970 to provide water for irrigation and manage river flooding. Its construction involved the displacement of the two temples of Abu Simbel. South of Aswan we visit a Nubian village and the Philae temple, built during the Ptolemaic dynasty and dedicated to the goddess Isis, the goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic and medicine who governed life, death and resurrection.
The excursion to Abu Simbel is generally not included in cruise packages, but it is definitively worth a visit. Built for celebrating the victory of Ramses II against the Hittites in the battle of Kadesh in 1274 b.C, Abu Simbel was supposed to pay homage to the pharaoh like a god. Located today on the shores of Lake Nasser, it consists of two temples: the Major Temple, dedicated to Ramses II and the Minor Temple, dedicated to Nefertari, his wife. Inside the main temple, twice a year, on February 22nd and October 22nd, it is possible to witness the miracle of the sun entering through the temple and illuminating only a few statues. In ancient times, this rite represented a sort of homage to the statues of Ra, Amun-Ra, while the statue of Ptah, god of the dead and of darkness, was the only one that was not illuminated by the sun.
Now, are you ready for a fantastic adventure cruising the Nile river in Egypt?!