5 Reasons Why We Love Egypt (And You Should, Too!)

      Founded by Alexander the Great, captured by Julius Caesar, and home to Cleopatra and Antony, Alexandria was a leading city of the ancient world, known for its Pharos lighthouse and its library. The ruins of the lighthouse, lost to earthquakes in the 14th century, were recently discovered underwater.



 Debate still rages over whether the library was burned during Caesar’s invasion or simply deteriorated over time, but the city replaced it in 2002 with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which stands on the same site and houses museums, galleries, a planetarium, and a manuscript restoration center. Its main building is a marvel of hypermodern architecture, a giant cylindrical slice of stone, steel, and glass, rising diagonally from the coastline. Inside, 11 sun-drenched levels cascade into a vast reading hall.



An amble through this ancient quarter of Cairo assails the senses and confounds the mind. Chickens, horses, and sheep walk the narrow, potholed streets, which are further congested by donkey carts, itinerant street vendors, and people going about their daily lives. Dust and rubble often obscure the faded architectural grandeur of what is still the intellectual and cultural center of the Arab world.
   There are a daunting number of sites to see here, but start at the spectacular 12th-century Citadel of Saladin, a heavily fortified bastion that was founded by the chivalrous foe of the Crusaders and offers a matchless panorama of Cairo’s minaret-punctuated skyline. Amid the sprawl rise the marvelous carved stone dome of the 15th-century Mosque of Qaitbey and the spiral minaret of the 9th-century Mosque of Ibn Tu¯lu¯n, one of the grandest and oldest places of worship in Egypt. Adjacent to the mosque are two joined Ottoman-era homes containing the Gayer-Anderson Museum’s vast collection of pharaonic artifacts and Islamic art. An even more extensive collection, spanning the 7th to 19th centuries, is found to the north at the Museum of Islamic Art. Still farther north is the richly ornamented Qalawun complex, built by three important Mamluk sultans; it contains a madrassa, a hospital, and elaborate mausoleums.



Exploring Ancient Egypt’s empty tombs and monuments will leave just about anyone hungry to gaze upon the relics that were found inside. Which is why a visit to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (aka the Egyptian Museum)
is a must. Housing an unparalleled collection of treasures that are arranged chronologically from the Old to the Middle to the New Kingdoms (which date from 2700–2200 b.c., 2100–1800 b.c., and 1600–1200 b.c., respectively), it is so vast that if you allowed just one minute to examine each of its 136,000 pharaonic artifacts, it would take 9 months to see it all. Many visitors focus on the breathtaking mummified remains of 27 pharaohs and their queens, along with the 1,700 objects unearthed in 1922 from the small tomb of the relatively insignificant (but now iconic) Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut). An astounding 40,000 other items remain crated in the basement, evidence of the chronic space shortage that has plagued Egypt’s greatest museum since its 1858 founding. A visit here is overwhelming, to say the least. Catch your breath with a stroll to nearby Tahrir Square, where thousands of Egyptians gathered peacefully during the 2011 revolution.



The only wonder of the ancient world to have survived nearly intact, the Pyramids at Giza embody antiquity and mystery—and their logic-defying construction continues to inspire plenty of speculation. The funerary
Great Pyramid of Cheops (or Khufu) is the oldest, and it is also the largest in the world, built circa 2500 b.c. with some 2.3 million limestone blocks, weighing an average 2.75 tons each and moved by a force of 20,000 men. Two smaller pyramids nearby belonged to Cheops’s son and grandson. Lording it over them all is the famed Sphinx (Abu al-Hol or “Father of Terror”), which you can learn more about—along with something about pharaonic history—during the booming, melodramatic, but surprisingly entertaining nightly sound-and-light show. Still, the pyramids are most magical at dawn and dusk, or when bathed in moonlight and silence, after the last tourists have gone.

5.Mount Sinai and the Red Sea

According to the book of Exodus, Moses spent 40 days and nights on the rocky slopes of Mount Sinai before he was given the Ten Commandments. For today’s pilgrims, the challenging “Path of Moses” up Mount Sinai
takes just a few hot daytime hours—or part of a dark night if you’re seeking a magnificent sunrise: It’s 3,750 rock steps up to the 7,500-foot summit for expansive views. Or ride a camel along the gentler “Camel Path” (even if you choose the latter, you’ll still have to tackle the final 750 steps on foot).
At the mountain’s base, built around what was believed to be the site of the “burning bush,” is Saint Catherine’s, the world’s oldest functioning monastery. Continuously inhabited since completion in a.d. 550, it’s said to have been home to the Byzantine monk who constructed the stepped path up the mountain. Today, about a dozen Greek Orthodox monks live here, overseeing the largest collection of codices outside of the Vatican, a 6th-century mosaic of the Transfiguration of Christ, and some of the world’s finest illuminated manuscripts and oldest Christian icons.
Many visitors choose to pair their heavenly climb with rapturous scuba dives off the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The waters of the Red Sea were praised by Jacques Cousteau as “a corridor of marvels—the happiest hours of my diving experience.” They are famed for their diverse marine life (10 percent of the species are endemic) and spectacular visibility (often in excess of 150 feet). While Israel and Jordan (see p. 456) have their own Red Sea resorts, those in Egypt grant the best access to the finest dive and snorkeling sites. From Sharm al-Sheikh and its smaller, bohemian neighbor to the north, Dahab, a range of day boats service the Straits of Tiran and Ras Mohammed, Egypt’s first national marine park, replete with dramatic rock overhangs, sheer underwater cliffs, and deep pools full of barracudas and hammerheads. Sites like Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef feature innumerable starfish, sea urchins, mollusks, and crustaceans, while farther offshore, divers can explore the ghost hull of the Thistlegorm, a British Merchant Navy ship that sank in 1941.
Sharm’s recently opened Four Seasons has gorgeous rooms tucked into the coastal hillside, while the nearby Savoy Sharm El Sheikh offers lodging options from standard rooms to supremely luxurious ocean-view villas. Bypass the crowds at Sharm altogether on one of Tornado Fleet’s live-aboard boats and enjoy even more pristine reefs, steep drop-offs, seamounts, and shipwrecks.


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