The Great Sphinx (Giza)
Like the broken arms of the Venus de Milo, the Great Sphinx's long lost nose has made it all the more iconic. Standing guard at the hallowed entrance to the Great Pyramids of Giza, the human-headed, lion-bodied Sphinx is the oldest of all Egypt's superhuman stone sculptures. It is also the most instantly recognizable. Originally hewn from a gigantic piece of limestone bedrock, it was covered in plaster and paint in its youth. But the winds, waters and sands of the Giza Plateau have taken their toll. Once upon a time, the Great Sphinx also wore a Pharaoh's royal beard. Part of it is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other part is in the British Museum in London.
Though named by the Greeks after their riddle-loving mythological character, the Sphinx was actually built by the Pharaoh Kefren in his own image.
The Valley of the Kings (Thebes)
Inconspicuous and unassuming, the Valley of the Kings hides its secrets well. The grand pyramids of the earlier pharaohs proved too tempting to grave robbers, so from the eighteenth to twentieth Dynasties, 26 pharaohs opted to build their tombs in the valley. Carving them deep into the mountains, far from reach, Tutankhamun, Ramses the Great and Tuthmosis III's tombs lie in this single, sprawling necropolis.
There are interesting tombs to see in the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Nobles as well.
Colossi of Memnon (Luxor)
These are the first ruins visible when arriving by ferry. They are the sole surviving remains of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III which, according to recent discoveries, was more vast than the complex of Karnak. Even with a great deal of imagination, it is difficult to picture.
The faceless giants stand in front of the first pylon with their backs to the mountain. They represent the pharaoh’s sovereign majesty seated on his throne. The funerary complex, of which nothing remains, was the biggest on the west bank.
The Ramesseum (Luxor)
The funerary temple of Ramesses II has lost much of its splendour over the centuries. Poets sang of its glory in antiquity but the dream of self-glorification of Ramesses II, already responsible for the construction of Abu Simbel, has not survived the passing of time or successive pillaging. The broken columns and thorny trees create a romantic and moving sight particularly at sunrise when the first rays brush the gigantic statue of Ramesses II lying in pieces in the ground. Calculations indicate that the statue must have measured at least 17 m high and weighed around one thousand tons.
Monuments of the Graeco-Roman eraFrom Alexander the Great's grand entrance in 332 BC to Cleopatra's tragic exit when she committed suicide in 30 BC, the Greeks thrust Egypt centre stage during their three-and-a-half century reign under the Ptolomeic Dynasty.
Not your average colonialists, the Ptolemaic rulers embraced the Egyptian culture and design, continuing the great works of their predecessors. Their greatest legacy was Alexandria, the glittering jewel of the ancient world. Its ancient library was a beacon of enlightenment and its now long gone Caesareum, an emblem of sophistication.
When Cleopatra finally chose death, Octavian brought Egypt into the Roman fold. Egypt was relegated to being the Empire's bread basket. The Romans also built on the works of the Greeks, staying true to native traditions until 394 AD. This is when Christianity ushered in the Coptic era and Ancient Egypt was finally buried.
Roman Amphitheatre in Alexandria
The Roman Amphitheatre was found buried, quite literally, under a pile of rubble ˜Kom-el-Dikkah'. Unearthed beneath a Napoleonic era fort, it's the only known example of a typically circular Roman theatre in all of Egypt.
Majestic but solitary, Pompey's Pillar is a 25 meter column of solid red granite, from the bottom of its Greek inscribed base to the top of its Romanesque capital. Surprisingly, Pompey's Pillar has nothing to do with its namesake. It was built in honour of the Emperor Diocletian in 292 AD.
The Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa
Hewn in the bedrock of the mountains in the second century, Kom ash-Shuqqafa is the largest burial place in Egypt with three underground storeys that accommodate over 300 bodies. The lowest level is now submerged, but a spiralling staircase descends to the first two levels, complete with banqueting hall (triclinium) for funerary feasts, and the principal tomb with its eclectic clash of Egyptian, Greek and Roman symbolism.