Luxor – the ancient city of Thebes


The city of Luxor seems friendly. Unlike Cairo, it is not overwhelming to step out into the streets. We are certainly pleased not to be harassed by people trying to sell us cheap memorabilia. Perhaps it is also because we are close to the Nile docks, and not at major tourist attractions. A sign outside a shop promises not to hassle us, so we walk straight in. True to their word, the owners do not bargain – a refreshing change indeed.

As the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open air museum”, as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. The Philae offers a well organized tour to the temples in the evening when they can be seen under the lights and it should be an excellent photography experience.

For now, we venture more into the small town of Luxor. It seems to be a modern city, but it is at once striking to see that the economy depends heavily on tourists. We spot a Pizza Hut and a KFC, and they are about the only restaurants open in he mornings near the docks. There are a lot of shops that sell trinkets and gifts from Egypt, as well as Alabaster stone artifacts and as this picture on the right shows, tourists can shop for all luxury brands under one roof and at huge discounts. And yes, they have the quality.

Egypt of course is famous for its papyrus as well. Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt as far back as the third millennium BC. Nowadays, it can be bought off the streets, in big and small shops and is a favorite artefact for travelers.However, not all papyrus sold in Egypt is an original hand made piece of ancient paper. We are tempted to buy papyrus paintings and make our way into a shop in hte local bazaar – just steps off the docking location. The shop is rather large – something not apparent from its much smaller outer facade. Papyrus paintings are hung all around and clearly the shop caters to the whims and appetites of the tourists. The owner is courteous and we have a rather long conversation in broken English on the art of papyrus making. In the god old days, all papyrs was hand made – but after tourists infested Egypt in large droves, a small cottage industry took shape up north near Alexandria that automated the process. The synthetic papyrus is cheaper, stronger and the colors hold up for a lifetime. In contrast, the hand made papyrus is a dying art and very few artisans are helping keep the tradition alive. It was only revived in the late 1960s as a way to protect the ancient art forms. In short, tourists should look for the following tips wile buying papyrus:

  1. It should be fairly opaque

  2. It should have a criss-cross pattern

  3. It should have a memory – so that if you crumble it, it regains its original form

  4. Real papyrus is hand painted – to test this, apply a little water to the edges of the color to check if it comes off – if it does, you are looking at a real hand made painting.

Our shopkeeper is courteous enough to tell us about these minor details – perhaps we are his first customers for the day and he is eager to make a deal. This reminds me of the small shop owners in India – they routinely give a good discount to their first customers in anticipation of good business for the rest of the day. We are pleased by the artwork and buy up almost 10 paintings, in different sizes – they will make excellent gifts for family and friends.

It is a hot afternoon  – the temperature is almost 90 degrees F (33C) and we make our way back. Back on the boat, we are served a sumptuous lunch, we meet some new folks on board and just relax and wait for the heat wave to die down.