Temples and tombs from ancient Egypt offer many tributes to motherhood. As of 2019, I’ve found one tomb at Saqqara with a madonna scene, and several temples along the Nile cruise route with motherhood-related images, including Luxor Temple, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Philae Temple. Here’s a look at the ones I’ve discovered in my travels so far.
Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (Tomb of the Brothers)
At Saqqara, which is just outside of Cairo, the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, often known as the “tomb of the hairdressers” or the “tomb of the brothers” features two beautiful scenes of motherhood near its entrance.
These are the oldest images from ancient Egypt that I have found so far celebrating motherhood. Although scholars have not determined the tomb’s exact age, the current theory is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep served either Nyuserre Ini or Menkauhor Kaiu. Assuming that theory is correct, this tomb would thus have been built in the latter part of the 25th century BCE, making it over 4,000 years old.
One of the images at this tomb shows a small child playing around his mother while she does her daily housework.
The other shows the mother nursing the baby when it’s time to feed him. It’s really interesting to see this madonna-type image that was created about 2,500 years before the time of Christ.
The birth room of the Luxor Temple tells how Queen Mutemwia became the mother of Amenhotep III. It offers a fascinating story of immaculate conception, annunciation, and birth about 1,300 years before the story of Jesus Christ. The bottom row shows the ram-headed creator god Khnum molding two children, one to be the physical body, and the other to be his ka (spirit version). The story goes on to show the god Amun coming to her, the conception, the pregnancy, and the birth. The intent of the story is to justify Amenhotep III’s right to be revered as a god, just as the later story of Jesus used immaculate conception to justify his claim to be the Son of God.
In this segment of the wall, we see Queen Mutemwia (top right) sitting on the birth chair giving birth to her son s the deities Isis and Khnum rub her hands.
This birth scene would have been commissioned by Queen Mutemwia’s son, Amenhotep III, to support his divine claim to the throne of Egypt. Scholars estimate that his 37-year reign begin in 1386 BCE or 1388 BCE, which places the age of this scene as being more than 1,000 years before the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae (mentioned below) were constructed.
Interestingly, I had visited the Luxor Temple approximately 8 times without ever seeing this birth story. Finally, I visited the temple for about the 9th time in 2019, and this was the first time a guide showed me this scene. It’s not something that every tour of the Luxor Temple includes. If you want to see the birth room, you may need to insist that your guide include it in the tour.
The Edfu temple honors Horus the Elder and his wife, Hathor. Some of its walls feature scenes of Hathor nursing her infant, Horus the Younger. Some of these scenes were damaged by early Christians during the Roman era, in an attempt to obliterate the earlier Pagan beliefs.
Near the entrance to the Edfu temple is a special room known as the mammisi, or “birth room”. This is a small chapel located just outside and in front of the main pylons, and it celebrates the birth of “Horus, the Unifier of Two Lands”. The mammisi features several images of Hathor playing musical instruments, including sistrum (rattle), frame drum, and lyre.
The Edfu temple that stands today is relatively young, but resides on the site of a much older shrine. The structure that stands today was built after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, leading to the era of Greek Pharaohs that ended with Cleopatra. The first stone of today’s temple was laid in 237 BCE, and it was consecrated in 142 BCE. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt due to having been buried for centuries under sand and river silt deposited by the Nile inundations.
The temple at Kom Ombo, Egypt is unique because it honors two different gods – Sobek (with a crocodile head) and Horus the Elder (with a falcon head). It’s a fascinating temple to visit, with many interesting images on its walls.
A unique segment of wall that is popular with many of the tourists who visit Kom Ombo is the scene showing two women using birthing chairs to give birth. The wall to the right of them features images of surgical tools.
The throne-shaped object on the head of the lower woman is a nod to the goddess Isis and her role as a patron of fertility and motherhood.
One of the tour guides I’ve worked with, Abdul Aly, has proudly pointed out that ancient Egyptians have known about the benefits of delivering babies while sitting up in birthing chairs for at least 2,000 years. In contrast, modern Western medicine only started to embrace birthing chairs and the upright posture since about the 1980’s.
Like Edfu, Kom Ombo was built during the period of the Greek Pharaohs, on top of an older temple site dating from the New Kingdom. Construction lasted from 180 BCE to 47 BCE. In addition to the birthing chair scene, I was very fond of the on-site museum featuring crocodile mummies. Unfortunately, the Crocodile Museum at the temple does not allow visitors to take photos. Another of my blog posts shows the Nilometer at this temple.
Philae Island at Aswan hosts the beautiful Nubian temple of Isis. Construction began around 690 BCE, on a site that had hosted an older structure, with most of the temple that remains today being built during the reign of Nectanebo I, ranging from 380-362. In the 1960’s, the island was flooded by the rising waters of the Nile caused by the Aswan High Dam, and Philae was one of the temples moved to a new site on higher ground funded by UNESCO.
There are several images of Isis nursing the baby Horus in this temple. These resemble the madonna-style images of Hathor with Horus at Edfu. There is some overlap of the stories regarding Hathor (which were earlier) and Isis (who came later.) Unfortunately, many of the images of Isis with Horus at Philae were vandalized during the Roman era by early Christians who were trying to obliterate the earlier Pagan religion.
I’ve featured highlights of how ancient Egypt honored motherhood by selecting several must-see images to watch for that are easy to find if taking a Nile cruise or a Luxor-to-Aswan tour or touring Saqqara near Cairo. These are ones I’ve personally noticed so far on my travels to Egypt, but I’m sure there are many I have not yet found. I’ll keep looking, and if I find more, I’ll add them to this blog post.
I encourage you, too, to keep looking on your own. You’re sure to discover more of these images in statues (in museums), tombs, and other temples.
In October 2018, I did something I’d wanted to do my whole life: I went on a Caribbean cruise! One of my friends invited me to join her and share a stateroom with her, and I jumped at the chance!
We booked our trip through Susan Strong of Sanborn’s Travel in Corpus Christie. Susan was a pleasure to do business with, and I would gladly recommend her to others. She also came with us on this cruise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her a bit.
This was a one-week adventure, with three stops and shore excursions. Our cruise ship held about 6,000 people: 4,000 were passengers, and 2,000 were staff. It’s amazing to think of the ship as holding more than 4 times as many people as there were in the rural community where I grew up!
On this trip, I was able to do the following things that have been on my bucket list for most of my life:
Go on a Caribbean cruise
Swim with dolphins
Visit Mayan ruins
Before the cruise, I was very frustrated with Royal Caribbean because of the many struggles I had dealing with their buggy web site. Royal Caribbean’s telephone support people were polite, but would put me on hold for 20 minutes at a time, only to come back saying they were unable to solve the problem. Fortunately, once I boarded the cruise, things went smoothly, and I was able to have a great time with my friends!
Exploring Liberty of the Seas
Our ship for this cruise was called Liberty of the Seas, and it was operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
This floating city featured a large informal dining room with buffet that was open all day, several sit-down dining rooms, bars, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a spa, and more. It featured a variety of entertainment on board, including bands playing music for dancing, movies, game shows, and other acts.
Each day, the carpets on the floors of the elevators on the ship told us what day of the week it was. I found it somewhat fascinating to think there are people whose job it was to change the elevator sign every day.
On the top deck, there were two swimming pools: one for children, and one for adults. The children’s pool also featured a water slide. I kept intending to try it out, but somehow my time filled up with other activities and I didn’t get to it.
Near the children’s pool is a dispenser of soft serve ice cream (shown above) called Sprinkles. The ice cream cones are free, and I enjoyed several of them during the cruise!
The promenade deck was the level that featured many shops, bars, and restaurants. During the week of the cruise, a number of events were held there, including a Halloween party for adults. I particularly enjoyed the jellyfish sculpture that hung from the ceiling!
I enjoyed several treatments at the spa on board the ship, including three massages, a salt scrub, and a facial. Word soon got out in our group that I was doing this, and the final night of the cruise our organizer Susan gave me a certificate proclaiming me “the Spa Queen”!
There were many gorgeous views to enjoy while on board the ship. I found it very peaceful to stand at the side and look out over the intense blue of water and sky.
Our first two days of cruising, we were out in the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.
We saw several beautiful sunsets during the cruise. This photo shows the one that greeted us our first evening on board.
The Shore Excursions
The ship made 3 stops during the week: Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico. We had the option of either purchasing an excursion package, going into town to shop and explore, or staying on the ship and enjoying the many facilities it offered.
The number of options for each stop was amazing. It was so hard to choose what to do!
I enjoyed the cruise very much, and would going on another in the future, especially if I had a friend to go with. Although Royal Caribbean’s online check-in process was extremely cumbersome due to a poorly designed web site, once I was on board the ship I was able to relax and enjoy the cruise. I took over 500 pictures throughout the week.
As I make additional posts about the cruise, you’ll be able to find them at this link:
I was excited when I saw that one of the shore excursions that our cruise ship offered on my 2018 Caribbean cruise was “Dolphin Encounter and Snorkeling”. Swimming with dolphins has been on my wish list for many, many years, and I was so happy to see there was finally an opportunity! For $154 U.S. dollars, the tour offered:
“Experience what it would be like to be a part of the pod in the wild as you interact with curious and friendly dolphins on this unique dolphin swim and snorkel tour.”
When we got off the cruise ship, we were met by a representative from Anthony’s Key Resort, which was the local tour operator that was offering this excursion. They took us via bus to the cove where the dolphins lived. There were changing rooms for us to change into our swimsuits, and lockers we could use to store our belongings until we were done. We each received a set of swim fins and snorkel mask, and then they led us down to the water. They said we could bring cameras and phones to take photos.
The trainers separated us into two groups. Each group would work with one trainer and one dolphin. Our trainer instructed us to wade into waist-level water, standing side-by-side. He called over a dolphin named Callie. He used whistles and hand signals to give requests to Callie. After she performed each task, he rewarded her with fish. Some of the things Callie did for us included:
Swimming past our line so we could pet her as she passed. Her skin was very soft.
Swimming with her belly pointing up to the sky.
Jumping up out of the water.
Going to look for objects buried in the sand, then bringing them back to us. The trainer told us that dolphins have excellent built-in sonar, and they can use it to identify where items are buried.
Flapping her tail on the water to make a big splash.
Going for a “tail walk”, which meant rearing up vertically out of the water, and then “walking” across the surface of the water with her tail. This was my favorite part!
Posing for photos with each of us in turn.
The following video shows Callie going for her “tail walk”.
For part of the above activities, we had an opportunity to use our phones and cameras to take photos. For the photos where we posed with Callie, a professional photographer snapped photos of each of us, and naturally we were given an opportunity to purchase those at the end of the tour. As an individual (i.e., not part of a couple or family), I was able to purchase a package with all of the photos with me in them for $45.
The above “dolphin encounter” activity took about 30 minutes.
After the “dolphin encounter” part of our tour, we set our phones and cameras aside and put on the snorkeling gear. We swam out into the cove. As we swam, the dolphins would come along to swim with us. They often chased each other, passing underneath us close enough to touch. Sometimes they surfaced and swam next to us.
This video shows Callie and Allie leaping together during the initial 30-minute dolphin encounter:
The bottom of the cove was not as spectacular as what I saw when snorkeling at Maui. The fish were not brightly colored, they were simply a silvery color. There were some coral formations, rocks, and seaweed to look at, but the colors tended to be neutrals. I was happy with it, though, because the dolphins were so much fun!
This too lasted about 30 minutes. It felt like the right length of time. At the end, the staff called us to the shore, collected our snorkeling equipment from us, loaded us onto the bus, and took us back to our cruise ship. I went to bed that night happy, dreaming of dolphins!
About the Dolphins’ Lifestyle
Some people have asked me whether the dolphins seemed to be captives or abused. Based on watching them, I got the impression the dolphins are comfortable in their habitat, and staying there by choice.
According to the trainer we worked with, the dolphins who live in the cove were born there. They consider it their home, just as your pet dog would consider your house his/her home. The dolphin behavior I witnessed seemed consistent with that. The dolphins were not restrained, and had enough freedom in a large area that they could have opted to swim away from us and stay away.
The cove at Anthony’s Key is fenced off from the open Gulf of Mexico. At times, the trainers will open the gate to allow the dolphins to play freely in the open water. The dolphins voluntarily return to their home afterward. A dog might run joyously around when taken to a dog park, but will choose to return home where his food and his social group live afterward, and the same is true of dolphins.
If I Were Going to Do It Again…
I would take:
Dry clothes to change into after snorkeling.
Swimsuit. (I’d wait until I get there to put it 0n.)
Something to photograph the dolphins underneath me while snorkeling. This could include:
Either a zip-top bag on a neck lanyard to put my cell phone inside, or
A waterproof camera.
Sunscreen, maybe also a hat.
I’m glad I removed my contact lenses before leaving my room. It’s all too easy for water to get into the snorkel mask and wash a contact lens out of the eye.
I did take my prescription eyeglasses, and I wish I would have left them in my locker with my dry clothes when I changed clothes at the cove. I took the sunglasses off when we got into the water, and they became an extra thing to remember to grab and take with me when it was over.