Friday, March 23, 2007

Late Afternoon at Luxor Temple

I never tire of taking a tour of Luxor Temple under the tutelage of the Mudhir (my boss, Dr. Johnson). I always learn something new and notice more details each time. Yesterday, I was able to attach myself to a late afternoon tour for members of an Oriental Institute group. It was an amazingly different experience, as I had never explored the temple at this time of day before.

There were several school groups at LT as you can see from this photo. These young girls in their white headscarves flitted about as if they were butterflies--never settling anywhere for very long! The young men "sauntering" about were much more brash and obtrusive. As usual, there were several groups of tourists from various countries, each led by their multilingual Egyptian guide (the linguistic skills of these guides never fail to amaze me, at the same time that the misinformation that is often shared appals me!).

One of the delights of my late afternoon visit was to be able to see the Abu el-Haggag Mosque in sunlight! This almost surreal juxtaposition of the ancient (1550 BC) and the merely old (ca. 969 AD) in the same space is fascinating. This original entrance to the mosque has three arches covered with marble and faience. Inside the mosque, there is a niche of simple design that is free of ornaments. There is also a small grave in which Yousef Ibn Abdel-Raheem, known as Abu Al-Haggag, was buried. On the top of the mosque, there is also a row of balconies that were built with baked bricks as it was restored in AD 1914 by Khedive Abbas Helmy the Second.

I really like this view of the minaret of the mosque framed by the papyrus-bundle columns of the peristyle court*. These columns are part of a triple shrine originally built by Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty) and later rebuilt by Ramesses II (19th Dynasty). The three shines belong to Mut, Amun, and Khonsu. The building was the southernmost of the bark shrines** used in processions between Karnak and Luxor temples and played an important role in the ceremony.
The slim minaret is located at the top of the northeast side of Luxor temple. Its height is about 14.15 meters or 46.41 feet and it was constructed on the thresholds above the four granite pillars in the temple, which form an invisible base.

*A court enclosed by columns
**A type of small temple in the shape of a Nile boat, with the prows and sterns decorated with the aegis of a god. The cabin contained the cult image of the deity.

We are now in the Colonnade of Amenhotep III, one of the most impressive spaces in any Egyptian monument. It has 14 massive columns with open papyrus capitals that once supported a roof 68 feet above the ground. The scenes in the Colonnade are the best sources available for study of the Opet Festival, one of the most important religious rituals in the New Kingdom. Five scenes on the west wall depict the procession from Karnak to Luxor and initial ceremonies in Luxor Temple. The five on the east wall show further festivities at Luxor and the return procession to Karnak.

There are approximately 50,000 decorated blocks in our blockyard at Luxor Temple. This is one I had not seen until yesterday. It is an intriguing depiction of a lunar cat! Actually the head of the cat is on the left, accompanied by the falcon god Horus above and just below him is his left eye, the Wadjet or Oudjat (meaning "healthy" or "whole"). In an ancient myth, about a battle between Horus and Seth (a storm god as well as the murderer of his brother Osiris), Horus' left eye (the moon) was torn out. The myth relates to the waxing and waning of the moon during which the moon appears to have been torn out of the sky before being restored once every lunar month. (Other myths suggest that it was Horus' right eye (the sun) which was torn out and thus the myth refers to a solar eclipse in which the sun is momentarily blotted from the sky.) The "eye" was also personified as the goddess Bastet and Bastet is a lunar goddess. Just another reminder of the saying: "Once cats were worshipped as gods. They have never forgotten this!"

My primary reason for wanting to visit the temple was to see the newly cleaned Roman wall paintings in the Chamber of the Divine King. The chamber had served as a bark shrine but was converted to a chapel for the Roman imperial cult. Scenes of Amenhotep III and Amun were plastered over and painted with scenes of Roman officials. [NB: There is a long-held belief which still surfaces on many websites about Ancient Egypt and is promulgated by many of the Egyptian guides that this room served as a Christian church and that the scenes were actually renderings of the Last Supper! In fact, it was on this spot that early Christians were made to forcibly declare their allegiance to the Roman god-emperor.] Just last year the Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Project under the auspices of the American Research Center in Egypt launched a major effort to clean and conserve these unique paintings with the assistance of a group of Italian conservators. The first stage was completed earlier this season, and I had not yet seen the results without scaffolding in front. The paintings are remarkably beautiful, as you can see in this photo.

As a perfect ending to a perfect visit to Luxor Temple, and as the sun sank slowly in the west, we headed for a much-anticipated gin-and-tonic on a dahabeeyah named the "Kingfisher" docked on the Nile....Life is good!

هس ا لسلا هة إ

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