Egypt is the oldest tourist destination
on earth. Ancient Greeks and Romans started the trend, coming to
goggle at the cyclopean scale of the Pyramids and the Colossi of
Thebes. At the onset of colonial times, Napoleon and the British
in turn looted Egypt's treasures to fill their national museums,
sparking off a trickle of Grand Tourists that, by the 1860s, had
grown into a flood of travellers, packaged for their Nile cruises
and Egyptological lectures by the enterprising Thomas Cook.
Today, the attractions of the country are little different.
The focus of most visits remains the great monuments of the Nile
Valley, combined with a few days spent exploring the souks, mosques
and madrassas of Islamic Cairo. However, possibilities for Egyptian
travel also encompass snorkelling and diving along the Red Sea
coasts, remote oases and camel trips into the mountains of Sinai,
or visits to the Coptic monasteries of the Eastern Desert.
itself is a freak of nature, whose lifeblood is the River Nile.
From the Sudanese border to the shores of the Mediterranean,
the Nile Valley and its Delta are flanked by arid wastes, the
latter as empty as the former are teeming with people. This stark
duality between fertility and desolation is fundamental to Egypt's
character and has shaped its development since prehistoric times,
imparting continuity to diverse cultures and peoples over five
millennia. It is a sense of permanence and timelessness that
is buttressed by religion, which pervades every aspect of life.
Although the pagan cults of ancient Egypt are as moribund as
its legacy of mummies and temples, their ancient fertility rites
and processions of boats still hold their place in the celebrations
of Islam and Christianity.