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Egypt's long and illustrious history has left a rich legacy in sandstone and granite. Nowhere else on earth is there such a wealth of fine ancient architecture. The major monuments listed here are simply the tip of a huge iceberg.
The Great Pyramids, Giza. Tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), this iconic monument constituted a design and engineering revolution and was the largest manmade structure on the planet for almost 4,000 years.
The Temple Complex of Ramses II, Abu Simbel. The colossal statues of the pharaoh dominating the facade represent a high point in New Kingdom art and architecture. The relocation of the temple in the 1970s to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser was a triumph of engineering and of international cooperation.
Deir al-Bahri, Luxor. She didn't manage to get a tomb plot in the Valley of the Kings, but the facade of Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, is one of the most graceful and elegant buildings in Egypt.
Valley of the Kings, Luxor. Burial ground of Egypt's ancient rulers, the tombs of the Middle and New Kingdom pharaohs are vividly decorated, and one—that of Tutankhamun—held a vast cache of treasures interred alongside the dead king for use in the afterlife.
Faith always has played an important role in daily life in Egypt, from the temples dedicated to the earliest ancient deities to the churches of Christianity and mosques of Islam still in use today.
Karnak Temple, Luxor. For centuries the most important place of worship in Egypt was Karnak, cult temple of Amun, which is really three temples in one. It charts the development of religion and power in this ancient realm.
Philae Temple, Aswan. Dedicated to Isis, the Queen of the Gods—or at least the leading Egyptian female deity—Philae's island setting helps make it the most romantic temple in Egypt. It was also in use most recently; offerings were still being made here in the 6th century ad.
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai. This 6th-century monastery at the foot of holy Mount Sinai was built to protect the site of the biblical burning bush. The site is considered holy by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, while the monastery guards a wealth of religious treasures and documents.
The Hanging Church, Cairo. Testament to the strength of the Coptic community even after the arrival of Islam, this 9th-century church is the most famous Christian place of worship in Cairo.
Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo. Cairo's first mosque complex was completed in the late 9th century and is still the largest in the city. The center is also a fine example of early Islamic architecture.
The Natural World
The waters of the Nile and the sands of the desert are the two major natural combatants in the story of Egypt, but the country displays tremendous variety of topography both above and below the water.
The White Desert, the Western Desert. It seems as if icebergs have somehow been transported from the north here in Egypt's own Big Sky Country. Forests of white chalk towers fill the landscape, formed over many millennia by the action of the winds and the sand.
The Black Desert, the Western Desert. Scores of black-tipped conical hills rise from the desert floor in this uninhabited corner of the country.
Ras Mohammed National Park, Sinai. An arid cape at the top of the Sinai Peninsula on land, Ras Mohammed is one of the world's richest submarine environments and one of its top dive spots.
The Nile, the Nile Valley. The ancient Greek researcher and traveler Herodotus—the man who invented the notion of writing history—put it succinctly when he said, "Egypt is a gift of the Nile." This most mighty of rivers brings fertility and beauty to the land and was a conduit for trade and information from the dawn of civilization.
The Era of Grand Touring
The ancient history of Egypt fascinated the world in the years after the great temples were rediscovered and Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone in the 1820s. This interest spawned Egypt's first tourist development—new museums, hotels, and restaurants, some of which have become tourist attractions in their own right.
Mena House Hotel, Giza. Originally the Khedive Ismail's hunting lodge in the shadow of the Great Pyramids, this mansion was built in 1869 and became a hotel early in the following century. Guests have included Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Cecil B. DeMille, Randolph Hearst, and William Faulkner.
The Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan. Built in 1899 by Thomas Cook, the man who invented tourism in Egypt, the Cataract was the place to stay when the genteel arrived in Aswan on the new rail line. The setting, overlooking the boulder-strewn whitewater narrows that gives the hotel its name, couldn't be more dramatic.
Grand Trianon Café, Alexandria. The Grand Trianon has been a place to meet for afternoon tea since it opened in the 1920s. From the literary glitterati of that era to the academics of the present day, the period interior has been a party to many conversations.
The Old Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor. Completed in 1886 as a place for the royal family to spend the cooler months, the Winter Palace adds an understated elegance to Luxor waterfront.