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The "Splendors of the Nine" group visited the same temples and tombs that are visited by virtually every other such tour. The fact that these sites are clustered in historical Lower Egypt (roughly, the entrance to the Nile Delta) and in Upper Egypt (the Nile Valley) is a factor of (1) where the most spectacular ruins may be found and (2) how itineraries may most easily be arranged; the tour did not follow a chronological sequence.

Be that as it may, it turns out that the oldest sites visited are indeed those in Lower Egypt: Giza, Saqqara, and Memphis date from the Early Period (3000-2575 BCE) and the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BCE). The sites in Upper Egypt date from the New Kingdom (1570-1085 BCE) on into the Greek and Roman periods (332 BCE-395 CE).

A warning about dates: while some hieroglyphs are etched in stone, none of the dates are. Though they appear to be precise, scholarly disagreements about them probably will continue forever. Take them as educated guesses or approximations.

The throngs of tourists -- who today clamber down the well-lit corridors of ancient tombs and listen in scarcely comprehending awe to guides in the ruins of still magnificent temples -- are not capable of internalizing the horror that surely would have been the reaction to such behavior had it occurred 4000 years ago. The hieroglyphs on the walls of those tombs and temples are theological documents and that is true even when they serve to glorify the military campaigns of rulers. What we see today are the remnants of a lived religion, a belief system (faith, if you will) that lasted longer than has either Christianity or Islam.

The tombs, with their colorful literary and graphic theology, were never meant to be opened. They were sealed to ensure the journey of the deceased to the next world. The temples, surely in their inner parts, were to be viewed only by the king and a few of the priests. Definitely not by hoi polloi, perhaps especially those armed with digital cameras!

Those are some of the thoughts that crept into my mind as I photographed the work of ancient hands and asked naive questions of our well-trained guide. Perhaps they may lurk at the back of your mind while you devise your own trip through the "Splendors of the Nile." Click on any of the underlined locations to go there. Or, if you'd like to follow a rough chronological squence, begin with Memphis.