In the fifth century BC Herodotus wrote that ‘nowhere are there so many marvelous things’ as in Egypt, ‘nor in the world besides are to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness’ – and not too much has changed. Since long before the birth of Christ, travelers have been drawn to this extraordinary country and its pyramids, Sphinx, ancient Luxor and River Nile. It’s not just the Pharaonic monuments either – it’s the legacy of the Greeks and Romans, the churches and monasteries of the early Christians, and the overwhelming profusion of art and architecture accumulated from centuries of successive Islamic dynasties.
Modern Egypt is an amalgam of these legacies and more, juxtaposed with the often incongruous influences of the 20th and 21st centuries. Mud-brick villages stand beside millennia-old ruins surrounded by buildings of steel and glass. Bedouins live in goatskin tents and farmers till the earth with the simple tools of their ancestors. Some townsfolk dress in long flowing robes, others in Levis and Reeboks, and city traffic competes with donkey-drawn carts and wandering goats. Nowhere are these contrasts played out so colorfully as in Cairo, a massive city thronged with people and ringing to the sound of car horns, ghetto-blasters and muezzins summoning the faithful to prayer. Egypt isn’t all chaos and clatter, however. It’s also a diver’s dream dip, a trek across the sands on a camel or a long lazy punt down the Nile.