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Part II:
Ancient Tourism

The origins of tourism can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, where merchants and other travelers would visit the highly advanced city of Moenjo Daroh, located at the perceived edge of the known world. Evidence of these travels can be seen in the Mesopotamian seals that have been found at Harappan ruins.

At the same time, religion and healthcare have always been closely linked throughout history, with many ancient civilizations recognizing the therapeutic benefits of mineral thermal springs and sacred temple baths. The Sumerians, who lived around 4000 BCE, were among the first to build health complexes around hot springs, which included majestic elevated temples with flowing pools.

During the Bronze Age, tribes in present-day Switzerland recognized the health benefits of drinking and bathing in iron-rich mineral springs. Archaeological evidence suggests that people may have even made health pilgrimages to these springs, as bronze drinking cups similar to those found in Switzerland have been discovered at thermal springs in France and Germany.

India also has a rich history of medical tourism, with the popularity of yoga and Ayurvedic medicine drawing medical travelers and spiritual students to the country for thousands of years. In Rome, the rise of the thermae, hot-water baths, and springs, became popular among the elite and not only served as healthcare facilities but also as commercial and social networking centers.

The Ancient Greeks were pioneers in the field of medical tourism, with the Asclepia Temples serving as some of the world’s first health centers. People from all over would travel to these temples to seek cures for their ailments, and by 300 BCE, other therapeutic temples, such as the Epidaurus, Sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, and Temple of Delphi, had also emerged.

Today, medical tourism continues to evolve and expand, with people from all over the world traveling to seek out the latest treatments and technologies, as well as traditional healing methods. From the earliest days of human civilization, the connection between religion, healthcare, and travel has been evident, and it continues to be a driving force behind the growth and development of tourism.

But let’s put aside all other civilization’s tourist histories for now and focus on ancient Egypt.

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Tourism in Ancient Egypt

As mentioned more than once already, the ancient Egyptians were known for their love of travel, both within their own borders and beyond. They sought out special places that held a certain allure and fascination for them, and they were willing to undertake long journeys to visit these destinations. In this section, we will explore the various domestic and international destinations that captured the hearts and minds of the ancient Egyptians, delving into the motivations and factors that influenced their travel choices.

From the earliest days of Egyptian history, the southern regions of the country held a particular appeal for travelers. Trade with the south was considered a form of domestic travel, and the main motivation for these journeys was to bring back valuable goods such as ivory, incense, ebony, and animal skins. This drew many ancient Egyptians southward, to destinations like Nubia, Aswan, Punt, and other regions of Africa. The proximity of these places and the ease of travel facilitated by the Nile River made southern travel a popular choice.

However, the ancient Egyptians were also adventurous explorers, and they were not content to stay within the boundaries of their own country. They ventured out to distant lands, seeking new experiences and opportunities. The most preferable outbound destinations in ancient Egypt included Punt, which was a land filled with incense and myrrh. The Nile route was the main road that the ancient Egyptians took to travel to Punt. This was an exciting and dangerous journey that required great skill and bravery.

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Leisure Travel During the Old Kingdom
(2686-2181 BCE)

The ancient Egyptians were constantly seeking new ways to entertain themselves in their free time. This can be seen in the numerous humorous scenes depicted in their tomb and temple paintings, dating from the predynastic period to the end of the New Kingdom. These paintings reveal a society that enjoyed partying, drinking, and dancing, as well as playing games. The Egyptian elite, such as Harkhouf, were particularly fond of entertaining themselves with monkeys, specifically, baboons, brought from distant lands like Nubia and Africa. Furthermore, the rise in travel opportunities, such as voyages, allowed mobility to become a form of leisure activity.

In fact, aside from the ancient Mesopotamians, Egypt was probably the second earliest civilization to engage in leisure travel, a concept that was virtually unknown in other ancient “empires’ where travel was mainly for government, trade, or military purposes. For all we know, the ancient Egyptians may have even been the first to engage in leisurely travel. This shows that while travel was primarily a necessity in ancient times, by 1500 BCE, the Egyptians began traveling to see their pyramids, driven by a combination of religious devotion and pure enjoyment.

In a sense, we can see how the Egyptian civilization leveraged its impressive architectural wonders to attract visitors and tourists from all corners of its grand empire (and beyond). This form of tourism promotion, which is still in practice today, was at its peak during the New Kingdom period from 1600 to 1200 BCE. The inscriptions found in ancient Egypt provide compelling evidence of travelers visiting iconic sites such as the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the Sphinx, the Giza pyramids, and the pyramid complex at Abusir for both enjoyment and entertainment. One inscription found at these sites reads:

“Hadnakhte, scribe of the treasury, came to make an excursion and amuse himself on the west of Memphis together with his brother, Panakhti, scribe of the vizier.”

This indicates to us that these tourists were similar in behavior to modern-day tourists, curious, and interested in leaving a record of their visit. This is evident in the graffiti found in ancient Egypt dating back to 2000 BCE, which shows that early tourists would sometimes cause damage to buildings to leave their mark. While travel in ancient Egypt was not always easy or comfortable, with challenges such as dependency on merchant ships without proper guest cabins, and constant fear of attacks, it was still considered better than in other countries. Despite the difficulties, it is clear that the ancient Egyptians were pioneers in the practice of leisure tourism.

The reign of Cheops, the second king of the Old Kingdom, saw the rise of one of the most fascinating and intriguing tales of ancient Egypt. According to the story, when king Cheops had some free time, he would gather his sons and wise men around him in search of entertainment. One day, the magician Zazamankh suggested that Cheops go on a picnic to a nearby lake, in a boat adorned with oars of ebony, inlaid with gold and silver, and accompanied by twenty beautiful girls. This story is considered to be the oldest in the world and marks the beginning of the art of storytelling.

It is also an interesting glimpse into the leisurely pursuits of the ancient Egyptians. The tale illustrates how much they valued nature, beauty, and luxury in their travels, with the lake, grass, girls, and jewelry being essential components of a successful marine journey. It paints a picture of a society that placed a high premium on leisure and delight and how they sought these experiences through travel.

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Earliest Record of Tourism

Queen Hatshepsut’s journey from Egypt to the land of Punt (likely Somalia or Ethiopia today) in 1490 BCE is one of the earliest recorded examples of tourism. The interplay between peace and tourism is akin to the two sides of a coin – the presence of peace is necessary to incentivize people to travel and gain new experiences. Apart from Hatshepsut’s voyage, other trips to Punt during the Old Kingdom were motivated by other goals. The inscriptions found on the walls of the Deir el-Bahari Temple in Luxor bear testament to the detailed description of her journey.

Due to the waning of political unity in Egypt towards the end of the New Kingdom, which was brought about by internal disintegration, the region experienced a cultural decline that spanned the entire Near Eastern Mediterranean, from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River. This decline was brought about by the great migrations of warriors, such as the Durians, the Sea People, and the Scythians, who sought to establish new empires and kingdoms. Although Egypt was only peripherally affected by this, the influx of Libyan natives and mercenary soldiers from the Sea People and Libya culminated in the rise of a military aristocracy that eventually came to power in the 22nd dynasty.

Hatshepsut’s voyage to Punt was a groundbreaking moment in the New Kingdom era. It was a voyage made possible by the abundance of water resources in ancient Egypt, and the inscriptions of the journey remain an important historical source. According to these inscriptions, the journey was a “godly way” to the “Land of God”, where the Egyptians made a peaceful landing.

Hatshepsut was not the first ruler to travel to Punt, but she was the first to return with young trees loaded on five ships, re-establishing trade relations with the land after a period of cessation. The international trade of this age was limited to luxury goods, as evident in the scenes of Punt in Hatshepsut’s temple and the Qenamun tomb.

Additionally, Syria was frequently traveled to by Egyptians during this time, primarily to import wine. Furthermore, the Egyptians were highly motivated by the presence of gold and silver, which were mined cheaply in Egypt, encouraging a mutual exchange of visits between the people of Egypt and Syria.

Hatshepsut’s voyage to Punt was a powerful move to reconnect with other lands, and her actions continue to be a source of admiration and inspiration today. Through her journey, she demonstrated her shrewdness and capability as a leader, and her intrepidness helped to re-establish a link between Egypt and the outside world. Her voyage was an important moment in history, and it had a profound influence on the culture and economy of the region for centuries to come.

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Ancient Egyptian Tourism in a Deeper Sense

“[…] Make holiday and do not weary of it. See, no-one is allowed to take his goods with him and no-one who has gone comes back again […]”.
– A section from the Harris Papyrus

Traveling in ancient Egypt was a vital aspect of their society, as evidenced by the numerous references to it in their records. To truly understand the intricacies of travel in this era, we must delve into the specific words and phrases used in these texts.

One of the primary ways that travel by river was represented in ancient Egyptian texts was through the use of the words “go north” and “go south,” accompanied by a determinative of boats. Additionally, the word ḫnt.w was used to indicate a journey upstream, or to the north, while the word ḫd.y was used to indicate a journey downstream, or to the south.

Inscriptions also reveal the frequent expeditions undertaken by the Egyptians in search of the prized turquoise, which was known as mfkȝt.

The Middle Egyptian language, considered the classical stage of the language, also had specific words for travel. For example, the word šbἰ was used in reference to the story of the Eloquent Peasant and conveyed the present perception of traveling. Additionally, the word ḏbn was used to indicate traveling around a region, similar in meaning to the modern word “tour.” These words were often mentioned in various references throughout ancient texts.

Finally, Egyptologist Boyo Ockinga has compiled a comprehensive list of synonyms for travel in the ancient Egyptian language, further highlighting the importance and prevalence of travel in this ancient civilization:

So, as we’ve mentioned throughout this article so far, the ancient Egyptians are well-known for their pioneering of leisure travel, which began in around 1500 BCE. This period of travel is marked by the general word “travel” having been derived from “travail”, meaning “a painful and hard effort” in French. This difficult period of travel was a result of the Dark Ages, which made journeys much more dangerous. However, the Egyptians did still travel, often to visit their beloved pyramids or to trade with other nearby countries. To illustrate these travels, the hieroglyphic scripts often included drawings of the relevant mode of transport, alongside the main text, ensuring that the reader understood the full meaning of the sentence.

The Egyptians would often express satisfaction after visiting their desired destinations, writing the word mȜwt for the new land and msḥtw for frequent destinations. Furthermore, the hieroglyphic texts also included descriptions of psychological feelings, such as hunger, thirst, and happiness, that the Egyptians experienced during their travels.

This period of travel was of great importance to the ancient Egyptians, as it provided great cultural, spiritual, and economic benefits to their communities. It was the pioneer of modern-day travel, transitioning from a hard, laborious effort to something that is far more accessible and rewarding. The pioneering of travel by the Egyptians is still being felt today, with the same sense of excitement and joy with which they undertook their journeys being appreciated and shared by modern-day travelers.

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Dream Incubation

Dream incubation is an ancient practice that involves inducing a state of sleep in order to receive messages or guidance from the divine realm. The word “incubate” comes from the Latin incubare, meaning “to lie down upon,” and it is a practice that has been used for both healing and divination.

Incubation rituals typically involve a period of cleansing and fasting, abstaining from certain foods and sexual relations, and purifying the body with cold water. The dreamer may also recite special prayers or incantations and make offerings to specific deities. In ancient Egypt, dream incubation was an important method of healing, and people would often visit sleep temples to receive messages from their (idolatrized) gods. These temples were equipped with special beds and sometimes featured harmless yellow snakes, which were believed to have healing properties.

The rituals and practices associated with dream incubation varied throughout history and were specific to certain periods, but the underlying belief in the power of dreams to bring guidance and healing remained consistent. This practice was most evident during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods in Egypt.

Dream incubation is known and proven to be a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth, it is an opportunity to connect with the divine and receive guidance that can help us navigate the challenges of everyday life. It is a practice that can be adapted to suit the individual’s needs and beliefs, and it has the potential to bring about profound healing and transformation. In today’s world, a whole tourism industry exists (e.g., Ayahuasca trips in South America, or Peyote in Mexico) to serve those that seek psychedelic trips for healing and/or entertainment purposes.

Dream incubation tourism is a unique form of travel that combines the pursuit of healing and spiritual growth. It involves traveling to sacred places such as temples where individuals can participate in rituals and ceremonies before sleeping in these sacred spaces to induce powerful and transformative dreams.

This type of tourism can be classified into two main categories: health tourism and special-interest tourism. Health tourism refers to the use of dream incubation as an alternative form of therapy for psychological and emotional ailments. The idea is that by inducing specific types of dreams, individuals can gain insight and healing for their condition. Special-interest tourism, on the other hand, is geared towards individuals who are seeking an authentic and meaningful experience of sleeping in sacred places. They may be drawn to the historical and cultural significance of these places and the rituals associated with dream incubation.

Therapeutic tourism can also include other types of interest-based tourism, such as sea bathing, but dream incubation tourism is unique in that it combines the pursuit of healing with the pursuit of spiritual growth. It is an opportunity to connect with the divine and gain guidance and insight that can help to improve our lives. It is a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth and it can be a life-changing experience.

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Sleep Temples

In ancient times, sleep temples were built as sacred spaces for dream incubation. They were open to all who believed in the temple gods and goddesses associated with dreams. During the New Kingdom period, the most revered (idolatrized) deities were Meret-Sedgr, Thoth, Bes, and Isis, while in the Greco-Roman Period, the primary gods were Hathor, Serapis, Isis, and Imhotep, also known as Æsclepius.

During the Greco-Roman period, these sleep temples were widely recognized as centers of healing and wellness, known as sanatoriums. They were dedicated to the god of healing, Æsclepius, who had taken over the role of Imhotep. Temples of this kind have been discovered in various locations such as Saqqara, Dendera, Abydous, Edfu, and Philae.

Although the temple of Amun at Siwa was not explicitly recorded as a sleep temple in Ancient Egypt, it was widely known as the Oracle temple. The term “Oracle” in Ancient Egypt encompasses oracle, prophecy, and dream incubation. The earliest evidence of dream incubation can be traced back to a Ramesside stele. I shall talk a bit more about Siwa momentarily.

One of the best-known examples of dream incubation is that of the wife of Kha-m-was, the son of Ramesses II. She sought the help of the goddess Mrt-Sdgr to fulfill her wish of becoming pregnant, in addition to the help of Sekhet. Similarly, the wife of Satni also sought help for the same reason. An inscription found on a stele dating back to the late New Kingdom period indicates that sleeping in temples was a common practice among the inhabitants of western Thebes. The temple of goddess Mert Sedr was found to be the most popular site for this specific practice in the region.

The recorded diseases that were cured through dream incubation were fever, illusions, nightmares, sleep disorders, headaches, and blindness. The sick person would often consult a priest or dream interpreter for dream interpretation.

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Nestled deep in the western desert of Egypt lies the remote and mystical Siwa Oasis, a place of great natural beauty and spiritual significance. Surrounded by the vast expanse of the Great Sand Sea, Siwa is home to the renowned Oracle of Amun, a temple that has attracted travelers and seekers of wisdom for centuries. In 331 BCE, Alexander the Great himself is said to have made the treacherous journey to consult the oracle, solidifying its place in history.

Siwa is not only a place of natural beauty, but it is also a place of healing, both physically and spiritually. The oracle temple and the natural springs have long been a source of healing, and the oasis is a place where one can reconnect with nature and find inner peace and clarity. The remoteness of the oasis adds to the mystical aura, making it a truly mind-blowing and captivating destination for those seeking to explore the ancient wisdom of the past.

The oasis is a lush oasis, dotted with olive and palm groves, fed by natural springs that flow with three types of water: normal hot and cold water, and sulfurous hot water, which has been used in the treatment of various skin and respiratory illnesses. Siwa is also known for its hot white sand, which has been used to relieve arthritis and spinal pain, and for the radiations found in the Dakrour Mountain, which have been found to be effective in treating rheumatism, polio, psoriasis, and digestive ailments.

The landscape of Siwa is a unique blend of the Great Sand Sea, water springs, salt lakes, and a diverse array of flora and fauna. The desert winds have sculpted the plateaus into a wonderland of natural beauty, and the oasis is home to a unique cultural heritage, rich with native customs, traditions, and a distinct dialect. The Siwi people, descendants of the Berbers or Imazighen, share more with the cultures of Libya than with Egypt, making Siwa the most eastern point of the Berber culture.

The Oracle Temple of Siwa is a place of great historical and spiritual significance. Situated on the plateau of Aghurmi, it stands 30 meters above sea level and offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding desert landscape. The temple was built during the 26th Dynasty by Greek workers, and although the (idolatrized) god Amun was Egyptian, the cult at Siwa was partly Libyan. The facade of the temple is easily distinguished by its lack of inscriptions, and upon entering, visitors are greeted by two large halls and a sanctuary with an entrance on the main axis.

The first court of the temple features two niches on the southern wall and an entrance to a crypt on the west wall. The second court is almost the same size as the first, built a little higher and with three entrances in the north wall, of which the middle and larger one leads to the sanctuary. The small entrance to the right, only 80 centimeters wide, leads to a narrow corridor, which perhaps was used to assist in delivering the oracles.

On the left wall of the corridor, there are three elevated niches, as well as two holes for light near the ceiling. It is believed by some that this might have been a secret area from which the priests could speak the words of the Oracle. Only the sanctuary has walls that are inscribed, and it was once roofed over. Although the walls have been badly damaged, the temple remains an awe-inspiring and mysterious place that has drawn visitors for centuries. From Alexander the Great to modern-day travelers, the Oracle Temple of Siwa continues to captivate and inspire all those who seek its wisdom.

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Various Travel Destinations

I – Punt

As we mentioned earlier, the land of Punt, known as pwn.t in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, was a mysterious and alluring destination for the rulers of ancient Egypt. Initially mentioned in the fragment of the royal annals of Palermo Stone, Punt was known as the source of the prized aromatic substance, antyw. This exotic land was home to unique cultivated plants and trees that were not found in Egypt, such as the ‘snṯr and ‘ntyw trees, and the prized myrrh trees which were brought back to Egypt during the expedition of Hatshepsut in the 18th dynasty.

As mentioned previously, Punt was not just known for its botanical treasures, it was also the site of one of the most famous expeditions in ancient Egyptian history, that of Hatshepsut. The walls of her temple at Deir el-Bahari detail her voyage to Punt, depicting the domestic life, giraffes, baboons, palm trees, and the people of Punt. The expedition of Hatshepsut to Punt was regarded as the longest journey in ancient Egypt and it fueled the desire of many Egyptians to travel to this mysterious land.

However, the precise location of Punt remains a mystery to this day. Some scholars believe it to be in the area now known as Sudan, while others propose it could be in Eritrea, Somalia, or even inland from the Red Sea. Some argue it is located in northern Somalia or Djibouti. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, Punt’s allure and significance in the history of ancient Egypt remains undeniable. Its unique botanical treasures, the famous expedition of Hatshepsut, and the mystery surrounding its location make it a fascinating subject for Egyptologists and historians alike.

II – Aswan

Aswan, located in southern Egypt, has a rich history dating back to ancient times. The name itself is derived from the ancient Egyptian word swnw, which referred to the commercial center or souk. This is fitting, as Aswan has long been known as a vital hub for trade between Upper and Lower Egypt.

Throughout history, Aswan has been a desirable destination for both Egyptian rulers and commoners alike. For example, the ruler Nemtyemsaf visited Aswan in the ninth year of his reign to meet with southern chieftains. Additionally, Aswan dignitaries such as Harkhouf were known for their business ventures that extended far into Africa in search of trade items.

Beyond its commercial significance, the Aswan desert was also a popular destination for travel. Many ancient Egyptians crossed the desert to journey into Nubia and other parts of Africa, with Sabni being one such traveler who aimed to recover the body of his father who had died during a southern journey.

To facilitate travel, many Egyptian rulers took steps to improve transportation and security in Aswan. Sesostris III, for instance, enlarged a canal near the first cataract to allow boats to pass through the rapids at Aswan and sent campaigns to establish a frontier and fortresses on the southern border to protect caravans. The island of Elephantine, located nearby the first cataract, was also an important location for trade and was controlled by powerful lords who were responsible for maintaining order among the wild Nubian tribes south of the cataract and allowing trading caravans to pass safely.

All of these actions and developments encouraged people to travel and explore the southern regions of Egypt. Aswan was not only a center of trade and commerce, but also a hub of travel and adventure. Its strategic location and rich history make it a fascinating place to study and understand ancient Egyptian culture and society.

III – Abydos

Abydos, also known as Ȝbḏw, holds a special place in the hearts and minds of ancient Egyptians. It was considered to be the main center for the worship of Osiris, the (idolatrized) god of the afterlife, and was believed to be the closest location to the underworld. As a result, it was originally considered the second most important city of Osiris after Busiris, but over time it came to be recognized as the primary holy site in Egypt.

For ancient Egyptians, visiting Abydos was akin to making a pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians, or Rome for Catholics. Not only was it a sacred site throughout Egypt’s history, but it was also the location where many of the country’s first kings were buried. Some scholars even believe that it was the final resting place for the head of Osiris himself.

While many people made actual visits to Abydos, there were also imaginary visits where individuals would cross through chapels during funeral processions. This meant that both the living and the deceased had the right to visit the holy site. Other scholars believe that the inscriptions of people’s names and titles on various temples were an indirect form of pilgrimage and that the actual pilgrimage was represented by scenes of boats dedicated to carrying the dead. These scenes depict imaginary journeys, with the seated persons representing sacred souls rather than the travelers themselves.

Abydos was also known for its holy festivals, which attracted visitors from all over Egypt. These festivals, which were held annually or monthly, were either dedicated to Osiris or were locally inherited. The prt ‘Ȝt festival was the most significant of these, and it was held in Abydos.

Although Abydos was the most sacred site in ancient Egypt, the journeys to it were similar to those made to Busiris and held similar significance. It seems that not only were the kings of ancient Egypt able to visit Abydos, but all people were interested in visiting this holy place. Abydos is not only a place of religious importance but also a historical and tourist destination that holds a special place in the emotions and perceptions of the ancient Egyptians, making it a compelling and mind-blowing destination to explore.

IV – The Sahara

The deserts of Egypt, also known as the Eastern or Desert Sahara, have long been a destination of choice for travelers. Whether it was for kings or commoners, the allure of hunting wild animals and embarking on thrilling adventures drew many to these barren lands. This is evident in the numerous paintings found on the walls of tombs such as those of Rekhmire and Ineni, which depict hunting expeditions as a form of sport and leisure enjoyed by the elite.

Kings and high officials, accompanied by their friends and even their families, would embark on these excursions, relishing the opportunity to see animals that could only be found in the desert. Throughout Egyptian history, travel to the regions south of Egypt was highly desirable and of great interest to the ruling class. One notable example is Weni, whose success is evidenced by the fact that in the 5th year of Merenre II’s reign, the king himself journeyed from Memphis to the first cataract to receive homage from the Nubian chiefs. An inscription found in the cataract region depicts this historic event, showing the king leaning on a staff while the chiefs of Medja, Irtje, and Wawat bow in submission.

This desire to explore and conquer the unknown was not limited to the elite, but was a common thread that ran through all levels of Egyptian society, from the pharaohs to the common people. It is this spirit of adventure and discovery that has left us with a rich legacy of art, history, and culture that continues to inspire and fascinate us to this day.

V – Lower & Upper Nubia

As you’ve probably acknowledged by now, Egypt, throughout its rich history, has been a land of explorers and adventurers. From the earliest times, the people of Egypt have had a deep interest in venturing beyond the borders of their country, and one destination that has always held a particular fascination is Nubia.

Located in the south of Egypt, Nubia is connected to Egypt by the Nile River, and stretches from the first cataract at Aswan in the north to its southern boundary in Sudan, at the district of Debba, approximately 80 km downstream of the fourth cataract. Geographically, the natural boundary of Nubia is considered to be the fourth cataract, also known as the Doung l reach.

Lower Nubia, situated between the first and second cataracts, stretches for 320 km along the Nile today and lies within the Egyptian borders, and it is considered to be a part of ancient Egypt. Upper Nubia, on the other hand, extends from the second to the fourth cataract in Sudan, with the two parts separated by the inhospitable Batn el-Hagar region. This fertile land was the site of the development of the Kerma culture and the Kingdom of Kush, making it a highly distinguished place in Nubia.

Therefore, any mobility and travel activities that had been organized within the boundaries of Lower Nubia are considered domestic travel, whereas those that had been organized in Upper Nubia are considered outbound travel since it exceeds the ancient Egypt boundaries.

Nubia was a land of great significance in ancient Egypt, both for its strategic location at the southern borders of the country and for its economic value as a source of valuable resources such as gold and construction stones. The rulers of Egypt recognized the importance of Nubia and took great pains to protect and manage their relations with the Nubians. This is evident in the numerous military campaigns and exploratory expeditions that were launched in the region throughout history.

Beyond its strategic value, Nubia also played an important role in the broader economic and cultural landscape of ancient Egypt. The lower regions of Nubia provided Egypt with exotic foodstuffs and access to trade routes with the neighboring land of Punt, while the upper regions of Nubia offered a gateway to sub-equatorial Africa via the regions of Darfur and Kordofan.

One of the most important historical records of Egypt’s relations with Nubia comes from the account of the four expeditions of Harkhouf, during the Old Kingdom period. These expeditions were viewed as a sort of pilgrimage to a holy land and were considered a great honor for those who were chosen to participate.

VI – Yam

In ancient Egypt, there existed a strong bond of cooperation and partnership between the kingdom and the neighboring Nubian tribes and southern regions, as evidenced by the travels of Weni and Harkhouf. One of the most notable and significant of these journeys was that of Harkhouf, whose destination, the mysterious land of Yam, remains a topic of debate among Egyptologists to this day. Some experts believe that Yam was located in southern Nubia, near the Wadi Halfa region south of the second cataract, while others argue that it was situated in modern-day Sudan, south of Khartoum.

Archaeologists now believe that the site of Kerma was at the heart of Yam and that Harkhouf’s donkey caravans, which began in the northern city of Memphis and returned there, passed through the area. Regardless of its exact location, Yam remains an important historical site due to the significance of Harkhouf’s visits. These journeys, which were made to acquire exotic goods and souvenirs for the Egyptian king, demonstrate the pride Harkhouf took in being the only one to discover and explore new places, bringing back valuable and unique treasures such as incense, ebony, elephant tusks, and even a pygmy trained in native dances.

During his multiple trips to Yam, Harkhouf is said to have purchased over 300 gifts, a testament to the importance of the land as a source of valuable goods in ancient Egypt. His trips there took between seven to eight months by land, on donkey caravans. The most notable and distinctive aspect of Harkhouf’s journey was the dwarf of the god’s dancers that he brought back with him, marking him as the only one to do so in ancient Egypt. Overall, the legacy of Harkhouf’s travels to Yam serves as a fascinating glimpse into the ancient relationships and trading practices of Egypt and its neighboring lands.

VII – The Rest of Africa

The ancient Egyptians were deeply connected to the African continent, both through trade and exploration. Located in northeastern Africa, they had a long-standing interest in traveling to other regions of the continent in search of valuable resources such as myrrh, electrum, aromatic herbs, ivory, and gold. This interest in African exploration dates back to the Old Kingdom, as evidenced by the funerary biography of Harkhouf, which tells of the Egyptians importing pygmies or dwarfs from Africa.

During the New Kingdom, the relationship between Egypt and the rest of Africa was further strengthened as Egyptians continued to travel to other parts of the continent. But it wasn’t just the Egyptians who were drawn to the African region, people from the Chad region also considered Egypt a worthy travel destination. They would reach it via the ancient valley of the Nile and caravan routes that led to the west.

North Africa, in particular, was an important source of necessary goods for the Egyptians. Ash, Fraxinus excelsior, naturally occurred in North Africa and was used to make a beautiful compound bow discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The shafts of axes and adzes were also carved from ash due to their tremendous elastic properties and toughness.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile began at the first cataract, a place where the river came down in a series of rapids among a lot of rocky islets and this was the end of the Egyptian land. This belief motivated them to explore the areas beyond the first cataract, deeper into the African continent.

In conclusion, the ancient Egyptians had a deep and ongoing connection to the African continent, as they traveled, traded, and explored the regions of Africa in search of valuable resources and to satisfy their curiosity. This relationship was a two-way street, as other African cultures also considered Egypt an important place to visit and trade with. The Nile River, played a significant role in this relationship, being a natural and cultural connection between Egypt and the rest of the continent.

VIII – Phoenicia

As early as 3000 BCE, the ancient Egyptians established a robust trade relationship with the Phoenician coast, which is now present-day Syria and Lebanon. They utilized the sea as the primary mode of transportation to reach the Phoenician coast, where the Phoenicians, known for their expertise in shipbuilding, had constructed a network of trading posts around the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians, based in their thriving coastal cities in Lebanon, acted as intermediaries for their neighboring regions, trading raw materials and finished goods such as linen and papyrus from Egypt, ivory and gold from Nubia, grain and copper from Sardinia, olive oil and wine from Sicily, cedar timbers from their homeland, and perfume and spices from the East.

Despite being viewed as vassal states in ancient Egypt, many Egyptian rulers made trips to the Phoenician coast through their maritime trade route. Snefru, for example, sent a fleet of about 40 boats to Byblos to bring back quantities of timber and cedar wood, which was always in short supply in Egypt. Sesostris II and Sesostris III even sent military expeditions into the Phoenician coast to fight against the Mantjiu.

Additionally, there is evidence that the Egyptians ventured beyond Syria and Lebanon and reached the Anatolia region to import oak, a type of wood that was used for wooden works. The Egyptian trader Wenamun, who was dispatched by Herihor on a trade mission to Phoenicia, is just one example of many who made these journeys.

To read more about the illustrious history of the Phoenicians, click here to check out my other blog.

IX – Naharina

The northern Sinai Peninsula held a special significance in the ancient world, as it served as a crucial overland route connecting the Nile Valley and Delta to other regions. The earliest known migrations along this route, known as the Dunastic Race, may have been how the imperial power of Mitanni, located in northern Syria and Mesopotamia, was first established. This period, known as the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550-1200 BCE), was also the time in which the military culture of the Maryannu flourished, and it was from this culture that the renowned Mitanni chariot emerged.

The tale of an Egyptian prince, who rebels against his fate and embarks on a journey to foreign lands, perfectly encapsulates the fantastical elements of this historical period. Though sharing similarities in geographic direction with the story of Sinuhe’s flight, this tale lacks the richness of topographical detail and psychological depth.

This period also marked a significant shift in international trade, as it represented a direct leap from Egypt to Asia without intermediate stations. The figure of the Egyptian prince, a timeless and nameless figure of pure fantasy, serves as a symbol of the mythical geographic universe that existed during this time.

X – Crete

The ancient Egyptian civilization was a beacon of progress and innovation, particularly in terms of the size of its territory. This was not lost on the people of Minoan Crete, who were known for their seafaring capabilities and had established trade and cultural connections with the more advanced civilization of Egypt. The evidence of this can be seen in the numerous Egyptian artifacts that have been uncovered in Crete, as well as the presence of Minoan products in ancient Egypt.

Trade between Egypt and Crete was at its peak during the Old and Middle Kingdoms but declined during the First Intermediate Period. However, it saw a resurgence during the New Kingdom. Two main routes connected Egypt and Crete, the first being a direct route through the Mediterranean Sea; this route was approximately 800 km, starting from Memphis and ending in Knosous, the capital of Crete. However, this route was challenging to navigate during the summer months, and sailors often had to stop for days if the weather was too windy to continue. According to the historian Herodotus, it took about three nights to sail this route in adverse conditions.

The second route, the eastern route, was considered much safer for sailing. It was about 1500 km in length and required boats to travel from Crete to Egypt through the islands of Kasos, Karpathos, and Rhodos, as well as the shores of Andol, Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine. This route took about twelve days to complete, making it a more favorable option for sailors from both Egypt and Crete. While there were instances when sailors would opt for the direct route due to bad weather, the eastern route was generally considered the preferred option for trade and travel between the two civilizations.

XI – Guibil

Guibil, also known as Byblos, is a city of great historical significance located on the Phoenician coast of Syria and Lebanon. It is the earliest city in the region to be mentioned in both Egyptian records and cuneiform documents from Mesopotamia. As a major port city, Guibil played a vital role in the export of Lebanon’s natural resources, particularly cedar wood, and thus maintained close trade relations with ancient powers such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia.

This ancient port city held a prominent place in the commercial relationship between Egypt and other regions such as the Aegean Islands, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. During the Middle Kingdom, Guibil served as a key port for connecting Egypt to destinations in the East Mediterranean. The Egyptians even named a specific type of boat, “the boat of Guibil,” in reference to the frequent journeys made to the city. Scholars believe that these boats were constructed in Guibil using Syrian cedar wood, and were then used to travel to Egypt through the Mediterranean Sea as well as to Punt via the Red Sea.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that the boats were entirely Egyptian in design and construction, with the skilled craftsmanship of the ancient Egyptians being superior to that of the Syrians. Regardless of their origin, it is clear that the boats were specifically named after Guibil because of their association with the city and its resources.

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Ancient Tourism Around the World

The Assyrians and Persians

The Assyrian empire revolutionized the way people traveled, with activities such as road improvement, marker establishment, and post and well development all geared towards military use as well as pleasure travel. The chariot was the primary mode of transportation for the military, while horses and donkeys were used by the common people. The Persians, who eventually conquered the Assyrians, further developed the travel infrastructure by introducing new types of wagons, including a four-wheeled carriage for the wealthy.

The Assyrian Empire’s contribution to the development of travel is evidenced even today. Their system of transport was incredibly advanced for its time and would have been crucial to the growth and progress of the empire. By improving the travel infrastructure, the Assyrians were able to increase the speed of their military campaigns, as well as make it much easier for the common people to move around the kingdom.

The Persians who followed the fall of the Assyrian Empire continued the improvements in the travel infrastructure, introducing new types of wagons and carriages to the ancient world. These new forms of transportation allowed the wealthy to travel in comfort and style, while also providing a much quicker way to move goods and supplies throughout the empire.

Tourism in Ancient Greece

In 776 BCE, the ancient Olympic Games were born, marking the beginning of a revered tradition that honored the Gods of Olympus through athletic competitions and artistic offerings. The Games were accompanied by sacrifices and prayers to specific (idolatrized) gods and were not the only festivals celebrated in ancient Greece. The Pitios, Ismios, and Nemeos festivals also drew large crowds, requiring a well-developed transportation infrastructure to accommodate the influx of visitors.

The road system in Greece was similar to that of the Persians, and travelers mainly used foot or donkey as means of transportation. Inns were available for lodging, but they were basic and did not offer amenities such as dining rooms or bathrooms. However, public baths were a common sight in Greek cities, open to everyone and equipped with lockers for personal belongings. Tourists were expected to bring their own towels and were attended to by slaves who used jars of hot and cold water for hygiene purposes.

Pilgrimages to the various temples and oracles in Greece were a popular activity among tourists. The most famous of these were the Temple of Apollo in Delphi and the Sanctuary of Esculapio, the god of medicine. The Greek lands also boasted medicinal baths and seaside resorts, as well as theater festivals and the opportunity to witness architectural marvels such as the Acropolis of Athens.

The Acropolis, built in the fifth century BCE, became one of the most visited sites in the ancient world, alongside the iconic pyramids of Egypt. These two ancient wonders were among the seven wonders of the ancient world and were a source of fascination for many Greek tourists. The Greeks also traveled to other regions, mainly for military or trade purposes, but it is known that the pyramids in Egypt also attracted many visitors.

In ancient Greece, the concept of proxenos was established to provide assistance to foreign visitors. These offices, known as proxenia, served as a point of contact for foreigners who needed assistance while in Greece. These visitors, who were considered non-citizens and did not have any rights, could turn to the proxenos for help in returning to their home city or country. They could also seek lodging or financial assistance for their journey. The managers of these offices, who acted as unofficial consuls, often worked closely with merchants to arrange passage on ships for tourists, providing them with food and drink and allowing them to bring along their own servants.

Leisure and culture were highly valued by free men in classical Greece, and they devoted their time to pursuits such as entertainment, religion, and sport. However, it’s important to note that only free men of the upper class or nobility were able to participate in these activities.

Slaves, who made up a significant portion of the population, were also an essential aspect of tourism at the time. In fact, slaves were considered to be a necessary accessory for wealthy travelers and were often used as servants and guards for protection. With a ratio of approximately seven slaves for every free man, tourism in ancient Greece was a luxury reserved for the wealthy class and those who could afford to travel with a retinue of servants and slaves. Tourist activities that were not religious or Olympic-related were relatively rare.

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Tourism in Ancient Rome

As we’ve covered so far, in ancient times, the world was a vast and mysterious place, full of wonder and adventure. And for those travelers that are brave enough to venture forth, there were countless destinations to explore and discover. But among all the ancient tourist spots, some stood out as particularly popular and sought-after. These were the places that offered a little bit of everything – a blend of culture, history, and entertainment all rolled into one.

Perhaps no civilization understood this concept better than the ancient Egyptians. They were a people who traveled far and wide for both business and pleasure, and they always seemed to find ways to make the most of their journeys. Whether they were visiting other countries for government purposes or simply taking a leisurely trip through the Nile Valley, the Egyptians always sought out the best local shops, restaurants, games, and other forms of entertainment. They knew that travel was not just about the destination, but also about the journey and the experiences along the way.

Like the Egyptians, the Romans, too, understood the importance of making travel both easy and enjoyable. The Roman Empire was renowned for its engineering prowess, none more so than its advanced road networks. Thanks to the marvelous invention of Roman concrete, they built an impressive network of roads that covered more than 50,000 miles, connecting every corner of their vast empire. These well-maintained roads were of paramount importance to the empire, as they enabled swift and effective military movement, and facilitated local trade and faster communications.

In fact, during various periods of the empire, a veritable postal system also took shape, thanks in large part to the efficiency of the road network. It couldn’t be stressed enough to keep mentioning over and over again how the Romans were master road builders, and the famous motto, “All Roads lead to Rome” is a testament to the significance of their road network. This saying refers to how many roads radiate out from the center of Rome, where mile 0 was measured from.

These roads were not only crucial for military and economic reasons, but also greatly improved the quality of life for citizens within the Roman Empire. The diversity of goods, food, and services made possible by an effective road system, fostered the development of travel and tourism. These roads were expertly constructed, leading to aqueducts and major attractions and event centers such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum.

One of the most famous examples of these roads is The Via Appia or the Appian Way, built in 312 BCE by Appius Claudius. The road covered about 350 miles, from Rome to Brindisi, a seaport. It was toll-free and used not only by government officials and the postal service but also by ordinary citizens. The Romans understood the importance of connectivity and mobility, and their road networks have stood the test of time, still inspiring engineers and city planners to this day.

The Romans recognized that one of the biggest challenges of travel was finding a safe and comfortable place to rest at night. So, they also developed a system of inns that were placed approximately every 30 miles along the roads. This ensured that travelers always had a place to stay and a hot meal to eat, no matter how far they had traveled or how long they had been on the road. You can say that the Romans invented an early prototype of hotels and motels.

This system of roads and inns made travel much safer and more convenient for everyone. There were always other people around in case of emergency, and the risk of running out of food or water was greatly reduced. Even the threat of natural predators was lessened, as travelers no longer had to venture into endless plains or overgrown wilderness. The Roman system of roads and inns became so well-established that people from all over the world would come to Rome just to see them and experience the wonder of ancient travel.

So, as you can see, the fundamentals for a solid tourism industry was already there, which all began by serving military purposes before branching out to become utilized by all branches of Roman society from top to bottom. Furthermore, Rome was home to many wealthy and influential families who had the time and resources to explore the vast Roman Empire. And explore they did, traveling to distant lands to experience the culture, history, and wonders of the world. But where did these rich and powerful Romans choose to go on their grand adventures?

International Travel

One of the most popular destinations for Roman tourists was Greece. The Romans had a deep admiration for all things Greek, from the language and literature to the art and philosophy. They considered themselves superior to the Greeks, yet they could not help but be fascinated by the ancient Greek culture.

One place that particularly drew their attention was Sparta. The Roman society was a martial one, where power and prestige were gained through military conquests. The extreme and violent society of the Spartans endlessly fascinated the Romans, and the city of Sparta became a popular tourist destination, even though it was by that time nothing more than a small village still practicing customs from centuries earlier.

Another popular destination was Antioch, located in the Eastern Roman Empire. Known as a city of gambling, drinking, and debauchery, Antioch attracted a large number of party-goers and thrill-seekers. But it also drew in those who were interested in the new and mysterious religions that were emerging from this region. Antioch was a wealthy city, and the Romans were also deeply interested in the new cultures and customs that they could discover there.

Finally, the Romans also had a deep love for Egypt. As the breadbasket of the Empire and the source of 90% of the emperor’s income, Egypt was an important and vital part of the Roman world. Although senators were forbidden to visit Egypt without permission from the emperor, the wealthy non-senators still flocked to this land of ancient wonders. Many Romans found the clean, organized, and orderly nature of Alexandria to be a refreshing contrast to the chaotic and crowded city of Rome. The city was also home to the legendary Library of Alexandria, which drew academics and scholars from all over the Empire to study its vast collection of knowledge. Even after centuries of abuse, the Library of Alexandria remained one of the most important centers of learning in the world.

Despite the allure of exotic destinations and the thriving tourism industry in ancient Rome, the reality was that the vast majority of the population could not afford to travel. The majority of Romans were poor farmers or slaves, who were restricted to their small plots of land and could never even dream of leaving their neighborhoods, let alone embarking on a journey to the grand cities of the empire. Even for the wealthy elite, the idea of leisure travel was a luxury that only a select few could afford.

Domestic Travel

Nevertheless, for most Romans, Rome by itself was a hub of entertainment and leisure, with games and events that not only provided entertainment for its citizens, but also played a significant role in the development of travel and tourism. These events were held at iconic venues such as the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Circus of Maxientus, Circus Agonalis, Circus Flaminus, and Circus Gai. During the Republic era, an average of 17 days a year were dedicated to ludi (circus games), each featuring 10-12 races known as missus. As the empire progressed, this number increased to a staggering two months of races, held daily from sunrise to sunset. Each day featured 24-25 races with four contestants each.

But the most popular and renowned event of the Ancient Roman Empire was undoubtedly gladiatorial combat. This blood sport was preceded by animal fights, trained animal acts, mass executions, and even featured female and dwarf gladiators. Held primarily in the Colosseum, the brutal battles were met with cheers and shouts from the audience, often lasting well into the evening. Check out this article on my blog to read a much deeper insight into gladiators, their history, and almost every other aspect surrounding this aspect of ancient Roman history.

In addition to these brutal spectacles, the Romans also had a rich tradition of theatrical performances, held in the Amphitheatre, which featured double theatres back-to-back, creating an oval arena similar to the Colosseum. These performances brought a new level of appreciation for drama to Roman culture, with actors wearing large masks with wide-open mouths to better project their voices and bring their characters to life.

The games and events of the Ancient Roman Empire were not only diverse and spanned across the entire year, but also gained international recognition. The magnificent structures that housed these events, such as the Colosseum, stand as a testament to the popularity and significance of these games in Roman culture.

Religious Travel

The Ancient Roman Empire was a society deeply rooted in religion and tradition, with a wide range of religious festivals, rites, and feasts that played a significant role in the development of travel and tourism. These events were carefully planned and organized according to a calendar, to ensure that the festivities were clearly laid out and kept to.

Religious festivals such as Carmentalia, Ides, Quirinalia, Feralia, and many others, were celebrated to honor the ancient gods, while others, such as Compitalia and Saturnalia, were staged as feasts to remember their ancestors. These events drew crowds of people from far and near, both native and foreign, eager to witness the festivals and take part in the celebrations.

Additionally, the Roman Empire was home to a variety of cults and shrines, such as the Mithras cult and the cult of Isis, which set aside specific days for rituals and celebrations. Members of these cults traveled from far and wide to participate in these rituals, adding to the influx of travelers. What made these Ancient Roman festivals, rites, and feasts truly remarkable was their organization and planning by the Roman leaders. They were timed to coincide with holidays and the rituals were never staged outside their traditional time frame, ensuring their authenticity.

In conclusion, the religious activities of the Ancient Romans played a significant role in the development of travel and tourism, drawing people from all corners of the empire to witness and take part in the grand festivals, rites, and feasts that celebrated the gods, ancestors, and cults of the Roman Empire.

Click here to read a vividly-detailed account of Roman history.

The Decline in Ancient Tourism

The fall of the Roman Empire marked a significant shift in the way people viewed travel. With the constant threat of war and danger, the primary motivations for travel became religious and political, rather than leisure. The destruction of transportation infrastructure and the growing divide between languages made travel even more challenging and dangerous.

It wasn’t until Marco Polo’s pioneering journey in the 13th century that people began to once again explore the world with a sense of adventure and wonder, and even then, continents such as Europe were very dangerous during the European medieval and renaissance eras. Nevertheless, Marco Polo’s accounts of his travels sparked a renewed interest in exploration and travel and marked the beginning of a new era in the history of tourism. The true beauty of the world is not limited to those who can afford it, but rather, it is available to all those who are willing to take the risk and explore it.

In conclusion, tourism in ancient Roman times was a luxury reserved for the wealthy elite. The Romans, in particular, had a strong interest in traveling for entertainment and cultural enrichment. The establishment of efficient transportation infrastructure, such as the Roman roads and inn system, made travel safer and more accessible for the wealthy. However, for the vast majority of the population, travel was a dream that could often be reached domestically, particularly in Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, tourism decreased as nations were at war and travel posed too much risk.

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Wrapping Things Up

To put everything we’ve covered so far into a single plate, the ancient Egyptians were a people with an insatiable wanderlust, driven by a desire to explore new places and seek out new experiences. Whether traveling to the southern regions of their own country or venturing out to distant lands, they were drawn to destinations that met their interests and motivations. By studying the destinations and travel patterns of the ancient Egyptians, we can gain a deeper understanding of their culture and way of life.

The ancient Egyptians left behind a wealth of texts that shed light on the lives and activities of individuals and professional groups during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. These texts, including biographies, expedition inscriptions, and official records, provide valuable insights into the actions of travelers and travelers of the time, including members of expeditions, the military, doctors, and diplomats serving in foreign courts.

But it’s not just those in professional roles requiring mobility, such as traders, deliverymen, and soldiers, that are represented in these texts. The records also include mentions of workers, priests, clerks, doctors, architects, and expedition members. Even more everyday roles such as hunters, brewers, shoemakers, bakers, and millers are accounted for.

The paintings and other artifacts found in tombs, on walls, and on vessels, also give us a glimpse into the various purposes of travel in ancient Egypt. The different shapes of boats depicted indicate that they were used for a variety of activities, including fishing, hunting, sport, and leisure. Furthermore, it is clear that travelers often brought large quantities of food and beverages with them on their journeys, indicating that they were prepared for extended trips.

All in all, these ancient texts and artifacts allow us to gain a fascinating and detailed look into the lives of the people of ancient Egypt and the various ways in which they traveled and lived. They provide a window into a world that is both familiar and alien, offering insights that continue to captivate and inspire us to this day.

The ancient Egyptians were a people with a rich and diverse culture and one that was defined by their travels. Whether it was for trade, diplomacy, warfare, or simply for the pursuit of adventure, the ancient Egyptians were constantly on the move.

Aside from the need to travel for religious and healing purposes, another main reason for their travels was the desire to experience the daily lives of different communities. They were fascinated by the customs and traditions of other cultures and sought to learn more about them.

Another important motivation for ancient Egyptian travel was the honor and prestige it bestowed upon the travelers. In a society where status and reputation were highly valued, traveling to foreign lands and returning with valuable goods and stories was a sure way to gain prestige and respect.

Trade and commerce were also major driving forces behind ancient Egyptian travel. The Egyptians were known for their skill in building monuments, and they often needed to import scarce materials from other countries to complete these projects. Additionally, they were eager to exchange their own goods with other nations to improve the quality of life in Egypt.

The spirit of adventure was also an important motivator for ancient Egyptian travel. Many of them enjoyed hunting wild animals in the deserts, and others were drawn to the excitement of visiting foreign lands and bringing back unique souvenirs.

Leisure and recreation were also important reasons for ancient Egyptian travel. The Nile River was considered the most important source of entertainment, and many enjoyed taking boats on it to visit domestic and foreign sites.

In addition to these reasons, ancient Egyptians also traveled to protect their national security, expand their horizons and maintain strong relations with their neighbors, and to practice their religious rituals and ceremonies. Through their travels, the ancient Egyptians were able to build a rich and diverse culture that continues to captivate and inspire us to this day.