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Wafting turquoise waters and swirling desert sands hum a gentle ode in celebration of the complex and stunning country that holds them -- Egypt. Often considered the Cradle of Civilization, Egypt is home to centuries of famous historical events, pharaohs and leaders. Whether you're looking for an enlightening experience, a thrilling desert adventure or even a beach getaway, your memories of Egypt will surely be unforgettable.
At the lower base of the Nile River and serving as Egypt's gateway to Africa is the city Aswan, located just below the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser. On the east bank see the Nubian Museum and the Unfinished Obelisk, the largest known ancient obelisk, while the west bank holds the Tombs of the Nobles and the 7th century Monastery of St. Simeon. Other sightseeing opportunities include the High Dam, Philae Temple, Aswan Souk, the Nubian villages and Aswan Museum on Elephantine Island, and the Botanical Gardens on Kitcheners Island filled with birds, palm trees and hundreds of plant species.
A short daytrip away from Aswan is Abu Simbel on the Egypt-Sudanese border. Built by Pharaoh Ramses II more than 3,000 years ago, these temples are complete examples of ancient Egyptian architecture and feature statues over 60-feet high carved from solid rock.
Just above Aswan is the Greco-Roman Temple of Kom Ombo. Built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, this double temple is dedicated to Sobek the Crocodile God on the southern end and Horus the falcon-headed Sun God on the northern half. A number of crocodile mummies are also on display here. In nearby Edfu there is another Greco-Roman temple honoring Horus the Sun God. One of the best-preserved temples in Egypt, it features rich design and intricate details depicting ancient mythology.
To the north of Edfu is Luxor, known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians. Once the dynastic and religious capital of the country, Luxor is often considered the most extraordinary open-air museum in the world with its vast array of ruins and monuments set amid the sweeping scenery of desert, river and cosmopolitan city life.
On the city's west bank lies the necropolis of ancient Thebes, an archaeological paradise and home to the ethereal Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. You'll find brilliant tombs carved into the desert rock here, including those of King Tutankhamun and Queen Nefertari. Other highlights on the west bank include the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Medinet Habu and the Colossi of Memnon.
The modern city of Luxor is on the east bank. Public transportation, museums, shops and most hotels and restaurants are found here, as well as Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temples. Luxor Temple was largely the work of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, though many succeeding rulers built onto the temple afterward. See massive statues of Ramses II, Alexander the Great's shrine and Abu Haggag Mosque. Walk along the Avenue of Sphinxes to Karnak Temple with its graceful courtyards and magnificent Hypostle Hall. Also on the east bank are Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum.
Continuing up the northern half of the Nile River brings you to Cairo, Egypt's capital and Africa's largest city. This dynamic metropolis is a mix of ancient wonders and contemporary amenities. The capital stretches out along both banks of the Nile, with the governorship of Giza on the west bank and that of Cairo proper on the east bank.
Perhaps the most famous of Cairo's sights are the Great Pyramids of Giza on the west bank -- three pyramids built more than four millennia ago, honoring Kings Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura, set atop the Giza Plateau and guarded by the Great Sphinx. Of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza are the only ones that still exist. Nearby the pyramids is the ancient funerary barge of King Khufu in the Solar Boat Museum. Just past Giza is the Step Pyramid in Saqqara, the world's oldest pyramid.
In Cairo proper on the east bank is Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. A hub of metropolitan activity, the large square contains numerous attractions, including the Arab League headquarters, the American University in Cairo, Umar Makram Mosque, and the National Egyptian Museum. The museum offers the greatest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, including King Tutankhamun's gold mask, the Fayum portraits and a Mummy Room where 37 Egyptian pharaohs lie at rest. Also on the east bank is centuries-old Khan al Khalili souk where shoppers can try to hustle and haggle with the best of them.
Historic mosques can be found all over Cairo including Al Azhar Mosque, Mohamed Ali Mosque in the grandiose Citadel, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun and the Madrasa of Sultan Hassan. The narrow streets of Coptic Cairo, formerly the Roman fortress known as Babylon, will lead you to the Hanging Church, the Convent of St. George, Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Coptic Museum.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, sophisticated Alexandria lies at the foot of the fertile Nile River delta. Known as the "Pearl of the Mediterranean," this is Egypt's second largest city and largest seaport. Head to Qaitbay Fort to see the Mameluk fortress built in 1480, then view the ancient granite column known as Pompey's Pillar, the 2nd century Roman Theatre, and the Cemetery of Mostafa Kamel. Make your way to Kom el Shuqqafa for Roman catacombs and a fascinating mix of Roman and Egyptian iconography, or visit while Montaza Palace which houses extensive gardens, a casino and a museum.
Bibliophiles won't want to miss the Alexandria Library with its planetarium, museum of archaeology and the almost 8,000 ancient manuscripts and rare books kept in the basement. Popular museums here include Alexandria National Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Greco-Roman Museum. When you're ready to relax, take part in the city's café culture by sipping tea or coffee with the locals, or head to the city's coast for beaches and sun.
The Red Sea & Sinai Peninsula
East of the Nile and on the Red Sea Coast is the resort town of Hurghada, where sandy beaches welcome sun-seekers and water sports enthusiasts. Hit the beach during the day and tour the restaurant and bar scene at night.
The Sinai Peninsula is Egypt's easternmost region, lying between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and Red Sea to the south. The most significant landmark on the peninsula is Mount Sinai, reputedly where Moses received the Ten Commandments. At the foot of Mount Sinai is St. Catherine's Monastery, located on the site where God spoke to Moses at the burning bush. As the oldest continually working Christian monastery in the world, St. Catherine's is rich in religious art and houses a collection of ancient manuscripts second in size only to the Vatican's.
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