Some of the most advanced early civilizations on the planet have called Egypt home. Those cultures left their incredible mark with the Great Pyramids, which remained unchanged as Egypt evolved around them. The mighty Nile runs through this land of pharaohs, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony. Modern Egypt lies at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East, rendering it the perfect spot for an expedition cruise. Its ancient legacy is threaded subtly with its rich modern culture, to create a fascinating and beautiful country on the corner of the African continent.
The Ancient Egyptians
Egypt was home to one of the oldest and most complex civilizations on the globe; the region has been inhabited for several millenniums B.C. By 3300 BC, two distinct kingdoms had arisen along the Nile River, known as Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.
Pharaoh Menes is credited with uniting these two kingdoms to form what is now known as the Ancient Empire, that existed from 3200 to 2200 B.C. As Egyptian culture developed, religion played a monumental role in uniting customs, social structure, architecture, and art during these centuries.
The Ancient Empire eventually gave way to the Old Kingdom. Most of Egypt’s pyramids were built during this era. The first crude pyramids were constructed during the Third Dynasty, and the Great Pyramids of Giza were built during the 4th Dynasty. An Egyptian adventure cruise may provide the opportunity to visit the fantastic feats of architecture, which were built as monumental tombs for pharaohs. Ancient Egyptians worshipped their pharaohs as gods, and the construction of these massive structures reflects nothing less.
Recent findings have shown that the Egyptian governments recruited their builders from across the countryside. Peasants were enlisted to construct the pyramids during the annual Nile flood that covered their fields, thereby giving them year-around work. A recent excavation near one of the pyramids revealed a huge city that appears to have housed workers during construction.
The Old Kingdom came to end with a succession of civil, which combined with drought and famine, led to a succession of periods characterized by strife. Egyptian culture struggled to rise to its former glory throughout the next centuries. Finally, the New Kingdom arose with reforms and such notable individuals as the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. She built an extensive network of temples, and her reign was known for peace and prosperity. Ramses II was known for the huge amount of children he sired through his many concubines, and the tombs he built for them in the Valley of the Kings.
The period of Egyptian greatness came to an end as the region fell under Persian domination. It came into a new era when Alexander the Great arrived in 332 B.C. He founded Alexandria, and Egypt became a major hub of Greek trade. The Ptolemies came into power, most notably Queen Cleopatra. Cleopatra was known for her political liaisons and love affairs with Julius Caesar, and later with Marc Antony.
After her reign, Egypt slipped under Roman rule, and evolved into the Byzantine Empire. Arabs invaded the region in 639 A.D., and Egypt was conquered and converted largely to Islam.
After the Pharaohs
Egypt again switched hands after the invasion of Turks from the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and was more or less left alone until the invasion of the French under Napoleon in 1798. Napoleon brought with him a number of intellectuals and scientists, which led to the discovery of the famed Rosetta Stone. Exposure to the ideals of the French Revolution led to the people’s popular support of Mohamed Ali, an officer in the Ottoman Empire who rose to power in Egypt. He is considered to be the father of modern Egypt.
Ali was followed by Khedive Ismail, who had lofty ambitions for the modernization of Egypt. The Suez Canal was built under his administration, and Egypt quickly became a major transportation hub.
In 1882, British troops landed in Alexandria, which marked the beginning of a British occupation that would last for 74 years. The British were ostensibly concerned with protecting their investments in the African country.
A nationalist movement gained momentum in Egypt during the beginning of the 20th century. British officials exiled nationalist Sa’ad Zaghloul and his supporters to Malta in 1919, and Egypt underwent its first modern revolution. Revolts and popular unrest led to Britain’s declaration of Egypt’s independence in 1922.
Zaghloul was popularly elected Prime Minister, and formed Egypt’s first representative government in 1923, and drafted the first constitution.
In 1952, the Free Officer Movement, formed out of the social unrest that pervaded after the Palestine War, seized power in a bloodless coup that allowed the king to leave the country with dignity. The monarchy was ended and Gamal Abd El-Nasser assumed control of the country as president.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched an offensive against Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula. The October War, as it was known, was a political success more than a military success. It paved the way for Egyptian President Sadat to sign the 1979 Peace Treaty, with the condition that Israel withdraw completely from Sinai.
Oases in the Desert
Egypt is considered a crossroads between Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. It’s beaches lie along the Mediterranean Sea on the north and the Red Sea on the east. The land bridge of the Sinai Peninsula connects the country to the Middle East, and is bordered there by Israel and Saudi Arabia. It shares its western border with Libya, and its southern with the Sudan.
The fabled Nile River runs along 1,000 miles of Egyptian countryside. It begins in the Wadi Halfa in the south and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt’s landscape is defined and divided according to the Nile. The Western Desert covers nearly two-thirds of the country, and is opposed by the Eastern Desert. The Sinai Peninsula enjoys its own geographical designation, and the remaining geographic region is the Nile Valley and Delta, where most of Egypt’s population is concentrated.
Sand dunes and blowing winds characterize the vast majority of the Egyptian landscape, in sharp contrast with the green, fertile valleys blossoming outward from the Nile. The Saharan and Libyan Deserts are both represented, and have been known as the “Red Land” since ancient times. The desert is dotted with oases, some of which are big enough to be named and well-recognized. An Egyptian cruise will reveal such dramatic contrasts.
Cairo is Egypt’s capital, and is the largest city in the Arab and African worlds. Other cities that merit a visit on an Egyptian cruise are the historic city of Alexandria; Giza, home of the towering pyramids; and Suez.
Egypt has been a republic since the bloodless coup of the Free Officer Movement. It is officially an Arab Republic with a democratic system. Egypt’s president is Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, who has held office since 1981. Under the constitution, the President and Prime Minister share power, although in practice it largely rests with the President. Egypt holds regular multi-party parliamentary elections, although the President has been elected in single-party elections for nearly fifty years.
Mubarak announced in 2005 that he was paving the way for multi-party presidential elections, although regulations for filing for candidacy prevented well-known leaders from opposing him. Mubarak has come under criticism for human rights violations in recent years, despite his public pledges to strengthen democratic ideals.