Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

An Egyptian Family Odyssey

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

There is something exotic and adventurous about Egypt. Every child knows that in a desert somewhere in the North African desert, there are gigantic pyramids, “cursed” tombs, and an abundance of mummies. Exploring Egypt as a child provides an experience that lasts a lifetime, possibly resulting in your child becoming an archaeologist, historian, or diplomat.

You might not expect your mummy-obsessed child to want to  be a SCUBA diver,  particularly in the desert land of Egypt. But in locations like Alexandria and along the Nile River, archaeologists and environmentalists need to go underwater to do their research.

For environmentalists, there is the concern about rising sea levels, which would affect Egypt’s coastal cities and communities along the Nile river. For archaeologists, Egypt’s many shipwrecks and submerged buildings are of great interest, as they provide a record of Egyptian nautical history, as well as many stone and metal artifacts.  These kinds of materials do not deteriorate easily, and while underwater, objects can be preserved from wind, weather and war.

So even if your child wants to be a certified SCUBA diver, you may find yourself visiting her in Egypt someday.

Have you been to Egypt? What was your favorite highlight?

Take the whole family to Egypt! Our Egyptian Family Odyssey has dates available in 2010 and 2011.

How the Red Sea Got its Name

Monday, May 17th, 2010
On the shores of the Red Sea. Photo: Leah Ibraheem

On the shores of the Red Sea. Photo: Leah Ibraheem

The first people known to explore the Red Sea were the Ancient Egyptians, who explored the area c. 2500 BC while looking for commercial routes southward. So how did the Red Sea get its name? Theories abound, but no one knows for sure.

It could be from the red-hued “sea sawdust,” a type of bacteria that grows near the water’s surface. Some historians believe the Red Sea is named for the Himyarites, a group who once lived along it’s shores.  Others believe that the “red” in Red Sea is actually a designator of the Sea’s location relative to the ancient Mediterranean world – to the South. In ancient languages, the colors black, red, green, and white referred to North, South, East, and West, respectively.

Wherever the name comes from, visitors to the Red Sea today can take advantage of fantastic snorkeling – more than 1200 species of fish have  been found in the coral reef ecosystem of the Red Sea; more than 100 of these have not been located in any other body of water.

If this sounds good to you, join Smithsonian on our Ancient Civilizations of the Red Sea  program for a chance to go snorkeling in Ras Mohammed National Park.

What’s your favorite place to go snorkeling? Share your story.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and is the only one still intact. As the burial chamber for the fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, it took an estimated 20,000-30,000 workers to build over a 20 year period.

Here are a few more facts about the iconic architectural marvel:

1. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure for over 3,800 years, until Lincoln Cathedral’s spire surpassed it around 1300AD in England.

2. It is estimated the Great Pyramid consists of more than 2.3 million limestone rocks, unless it was built on top of a substantial core of rock. While this is possible, scientists still aren’t certain.

3. Contrary to popular belief, the pyramids were not built by slaves. They were actually built by workers who lived in the surrounding villages. While no ancient artwork already discovered depicts female workers, archaeologists have found the skeletal remains of women which show evidence of heavy lifting of stone. Therefore, it has been concluded that women may have had a part in the building of these massive structures.

4. You can enter the tomb of the Great Pyramid, but you’ll have to the use Robbers’ Tunnel dug by workmen employed by Caliph al-Ma’mun around AD 820. Recently, the entrance to the Pyramid has been restricted to groups of 100 morning and afternoon. The reason for this involves the moisture in our breath. When we exhale, the moisture creates salt within pyramids and tombs resulting in damaging cracks.

5. Under the leadership of Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquties, photography inside the pyramid is now strictly forbidden.

Do you think the amount of visitors to the Pyramids in should be limited in order to preserve them?

Witness the sheer magnitude of the Great Pyramid with your own eyes on our Egyptian Odyssey tour.

Women of Ancient Egypt

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
File:Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 004.jpg

Image of Nefertari from her tomb in the Valley of the Queens

No history of ancient Egypt is complete without considering the integral role of women. Unlike many women before and after them, ancient Egyptian women had the right to own property, sign contracts, and initiate divorce, among other things. In some cases, women became Pharaoh.

Here’s a few ancient Egyptian women you should know more about:

1) Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous of all Egyptian women (though she was ethnically Greek), convinced Caesar and later Marc Antony to help assure her position as Pharaoh and dispatched all of her siblings in the process. Very popular among ethnic Egyptians at the time, she learned the Egyptian language and used her power to expand Egypt’s trade and keep it from becoming part of the Roman Empire. Click here for more on Cleopatra.

2) The lesser-known Hypatia, one of ancient Alexandria’s last great scholars, was also one of the first women we know of to become an astronomer and mathematician. Her public lectures were very well-attended, but ultimately she was killed by Christian zealots for her pagan beliefs. Learn more about Hypatia’s life, death, and legacy here.

3) Hatshepsut’s 21-year reign as Pharaoh was marked by prosperity gained through extensive foreign trade, advances in art and architecture, and a period of relative peace. Her successor (stepson, and nephew), Thutmose III nearly obliterated all traces of Hatshepsut from the historical record, removing her name from many monuments. Why? Read more here.

4) Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten, was a powerful woman in her own right. Her strength in foreign relations meant than many foreign leaders dealt directly with her on matters of state. Her image appears beside Amenhotep III’s in tomb artwork, stelae, and smaller objects, reiterating her importance.

5) Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, began with her husband a religious revolution, where followers worshipped only one god – Aten. Scholars believe that she may have served as co-regent with Akhenaten. She was also stepmother to King Tut.

6) Nefertari was one of the principal wives of Rameses the Great, who built a temple in her honor at Abu Simbel. One of the most famous Egyptian queens, her tomb at the Valley of the Queens is notable for its beauty and her image abounds at the temples of Luxor and Karnak.

Are your bags packed for Egypt yet? We’d love to see you there! Click here for options.

What would history be without women? Share your thoughts.

SI Research Notes: Ancient Egyptian Art

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Linda Stevens is the Field Notes Coordinator for Smithsonian Journeys. Combing the Institution for interesting projects happening around the world, she prepares these research notes especially for travelers.

Statue of the falcon god at the Temple of Horus, Egypt

From 1906 to 1909, Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art, visited Egypt on three separate occasions. On the first, he traveled by train and boat along the Nile River from Alexandria in the Nile Delta south to Wadi Halfa, visiting many well-known tourist destinations such as museums, archaeological sites, churches, and mosques. On all three trips, he also frequented the shops of antiquities dealers and the homes of private collectors, seeking to acquire works of Egyptian art to add to his already extensive collections of Chinese and Japanese art and late 19th-century American painting. Unlike many collectors of his day, whose knowledge of Asian and Egyptian art was gained exclusively through museum collections, dealers’ shops, and international expositions in Europe and the United States, Freer placed a high value on studying the art of a civilization in its’ native land.

Egypt’s ancient monuments captivated Freer. His first trip convinced him that his collection would be incomplete without examples of Egyptian sculpture in stone and wood.

Most of Freer’s Egyptian acquisitions were made during his final trip to Egypt in 1909, which was devoted largely to visiting dealers’ shops in and around Cairo. The most important of these was a private collection of nearly 1400 glass objects, including vessels, beads, inlays, and fragments, ranging in date from the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 B.C.E.) to the Roman period (30 B.C.E. – 395 C.E.). Among his other purchases were bronze figurines, limestone plaques, and sculptures of wood and stone.

Today, part of the Smithsonian’s National Museums of Asian Art, the Freer Gallery’s Ancient Egyptian Collection  comprises more than 1,000 objects with a historical range from 2,500 B.C.E.- 400 C.E. In addition to the world-famous collection of glass vessels, highlights of the collection include a pair of stone falcons, probably from a temple near Alexandria, dating to the Ptolemaic dynasty (ca. 305-30 B.C.E.) and a collection of amulets made of faience, stone, metal, and glass depicting gods, goddesses, and sacred animals.

A small exhibit representing the Freer’s vast Egyptian holdings is on display at the Gallery.

What’s your favorite thing about ancient Egyptian Art?

If you’ve always dreamed of visiting Egypt, we can help. Click for our travel to Egypt.