The first Sound and Light show (or Son et Lumière) was presented at the Chateau de Chambord in 1952. In 1961, a new show premiered at the pyramids of Giza. Today, there are Sound and Light shows at the major and famous ancient Egyptian monuments. In addition to the pyramids at Giza, there are shows at the temple of Karnak at Luxor, Philae Temple, and Abu Simbel.
The attraction of a Sound and Light show, in principal, is to bring alive in theatrical fashion a spectacular historical place. To add voices and stories in the magic of the night. That’s the idea, at least.
The great temple of Karnak was the site of our first Sound and Light show.
During the daytime, one of the awesome pleasures of a visit to the temple of Karnak is to walk and explore amid the gargantuan decorated columns. One of the best parts is the hypostyle hall, which means a hall composed of massive columns laid out in a grid, like the trees of an orchard. At the time of construction, when the ancient Egyptians didn’t have the technology of the arch, they were limited to wood or stone beams to span between columns. For stone beams and slabs, which was their choice here, the spans possible were short compared to the awe-inspiring expressive columns that the pharaohs and priests required. The result is a mystical stone grove that dwarfs us mere mortals. For the nighttime Sound and Light show, we looked forward to walking amid the columns, in semi-darkness, with projected lights and images and a transporting soundtrack.
Well…. We did get to walk by the columns.
There were some simple red and green and white lights. And comically serious British voices — was that Richard Burton?! — intoning like from a biblical epic movie. I had visited the Karnak temple once before, in the mid 1980’s. I’m pretty sure the soundtrack today is the same one from back then. I guess when you’re narrating tales from 4000 years ago, a 40-year-old radio play is almost brand-new.
Unfortunately, the narration was ponderous with heavy-handed music from a bad movie. We think the intention had been to tell tales of pharaohs and priests and scribes in their own voices, but the result was so dated that we couldn’t stay interested. Nonetheless, it was fun to spend some more time, under an almost full moon, in a remarkable place.
Our second Sound and Light show experience was on our last night in Cairo, overlooking the great pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
For this one, the audience sat in a vast sea of folding chairs rather far from the pyramids. We arrived about 30 minutes before the start of the show and as the last of dusk was dimming. In addition to all us tourists, a couple dozen local dogs wandered around, down the aisles, in and out of the desert. They didn’t seem to paying any attention to us humans. Just another night in their territory.
Giza is the jewel in the crown of Egypt’s famous and impressive sites, so we expected an updated, even high-tech, multimedia show. Alas, the old British thespians were still holding court. We settled back in our metal chairs and just enjoyed being in the desert, under the stars, in the company of the pyramids and the sphinx.
During the droning of the ancient voices, a few fireworks starting going off in the neighborhood behind us. We turned to see a few colorful arrays above the buildings. And then the dogs all stopped their meanderings, looked up, and starting howling at the lights and noise. We couldn’t tell if they were upset or if they were taking the opportunity to do a little singing together. While the British voices rolled on, all around us much more animated local dogs sang and cavorted. They were by far the best part of the show.