Posts Tagged ‘egyptianfamilyodyssey10’

Tribute to the Sands of Egypt

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The enigmatic Great Sphinx sits on Egypt’s Giza Plateau.

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most. Click here for more on Kate.

Dear Friends,

The tale of the Egyptian Prince Tutmosis III and his encounter with the Sphinx of Giza fascinates me. On a hunting trip in the Valley of the Gazelles some time before his reign, Tutmosis III decided to take a nap to escape the midday sun. He chose the shade below the head (the only visible section) of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

While he slept, the Sphinx spoke to him and told him that, if he dug the Sphinx out of the sand that covered it, he would be assured the throne of Egypt. So Tutmosis III set to work and excavated the Sphinx, the very first restoration of this site, undertaken circa 1400 B.C.E. The story of this dream is recounted on the stelae at the Sphinx’s feet. What captivates me about this tale is the fact that, even in 1400 B.C.E., the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were already ancient, having existed since 2650 B.C.E., and that the protective layers of desert sand had already buried all but the Sphinx’s head over the preceding 1,200 years.Egypt’s ancient wonders abound, but it is not until you stand within inches of the deeply carved cartouches of Ramses II in Karnak or the stunning turquoise of painted vulture wings on Hatshepsut’s Temple, or the intricate delicacy of King Tutankhamen’s jewelry, that the impossibility overwhelms you.  How can such beauty have survived 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years?

Vivid colors of a vulture’s plumage on Hatshepsut’s temple

Entering the imposing structure of Ramses III Temple, there is a series of chapels to the left.  Little color remains, and the carvings seem simplified, unremarkable.  It turns out, these chapels date to Alexander the Great’s time—circa 332 B.C.E. Modern, by Egyptian standards! Yet paling in comparison to the elaborate scenes of battle and power depicted on Ramses III’s own temple walls.

Deep in the Temple of Luxor (circa 1400 B.C.E.), past the small area that once served as a chapel for Roman soldiers during the 3rd century C.E., there is a shrine built by Alexander the Great, depicting the Greek king as a pharaoh. Here, you can stand between the outer wall built by Amenhotep III and the inner wall of the Greek shrine. Within a couple of feet of each other, the contrast is sharp: over a 1,000 years pass from the time the Egyptian outer wall was carved to the time the Greeks erect their shrine. Yet, Alexander the Great’s craftsmen lose this contest: their work appears amateurish at best.

Image of Ramses III on his temple

It’s not often that Alexander the Great comes across as lacking accomplishment. Yet ancient Egypt puts many more modern cultures to shame. Even the Romans, who seemed to lack the respect and interest Alexander showed Egyptian culture, appear boorish and uncultured in comparison. The Roman chapel within the Temple of Luxor is made of scavenged temple stones, betrayed by the upside down body parts and images carved on their surfaces.

Reflecting on all the perfection that bears tribute to Egypt’s royal ancestors, I can’t help but wonder what we have lost over time in sophistication, technique, and ambition. And I rejoice in the protective benefits of the sands of Egypt—without them, what treasures would have been lost to humankind!

For information on our educational journeys to Egypt, click here.

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.

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.