Some Temples of the West Bank
Part of 6 our trip to Egypt. Part 5 here.
After an overnight train trip along the Nile, we were 400 miles south of Cairo, at the West Bank at Luxor to visit tombs, temples, and whatnot. When I look back, it was the living Egyptians who were the most important to us here, but we came to see the old stone things.
There is a small, ruined temple next to our hotel (like 10 feet away), so we went there upon arrival. We didn’t have tickets, and it was nearly closing time, so the guard sent some little kids over to the ticket office for us. When we finished looking around, the kids were there to sell us some little clay tchotchkes. We didn’t have much cash, so I just bought a scarab, thinking we would see them with their wares again, which we didn’t. There are minor regrets to every trip, and this is top of the list of mine. I wanted to hang out with those kids every day!
After this temple (Temple of Merenptah, 1200BCE), we headed over to the Colossi of Memnon, the backs of which we could see from our hotel terrace. This site is being excavated, and doesn’t currently require a ticket. When my mother visited in ’67, only these two giant statues were here, amidst farmland. They have since been excavated by the Germans, who have discovered a temple complex buried behind them, and more giant statues! The statues have lost their faces, but they would gaze toward the Nile if they had eyes. They stand at the side of the road, and we passed them on our way into town.
On New Year’s Day we walked over to the ticket office and Slava bought a cute hippo figure from a hawker on the street who would try to sell us something every day, but he never had anything as nice as that smiling hippo.
Ramses III temple at Medinet Habu was wonderful. We walked there from our hotel. The guard asked if we were Christians and showed us his Coptic cross tattoo on his wrist, something Slava had seen in Cairo. We had seen some paintings at the Mastaba of Ti that retained some red colors, but Habu included the most amazing turquoise colors, mostly in the ceilings.
There are some grisly war scenes on this temple – counting hands and genitals cut off the dead enemy, subjugation of the Syrians, etc.. We saw some Victorian graffiti here (as we did at every site), including some from someone from Boston. The guard who pointed out carvings of things like baboons and bananas and ancient Coptic graffiti was great. He didn’t even want a tip when we left. I gave him a rubber monster finger puppet for his kids, which he was pretty into. He said he liked Americans because he has a family member who lives in the US. I wish we had hung out with him again; he was a lot of fun!
We also walked to the Ramesseum. We took a turn too soon, and two of the kids we had met at the temple by the hotel took us by the hand and led us through a medieval hamlet behind the site – a beggar boy tried to pull us into his house, but our friends stopped him. We walked a windy, narrow dirt street, past mud brick homes and cattle shaded from the sun, around the back of the ruined pylon of the temple, which was a great view, and to the gate. We looked for these kids every day after, but didn’t see them again.
Statuary from the Ramesseum is, of course, what inspired Shelley to pen Ozymandias, a poem every school kid loves, and from which I stole the title of this piece. I wish I had memorized the whole thing to recite to Slava on site, but I could only recall a few crucial lines.
The guard at this site kept trying to chase us out before closing time, despite our baksheesh. We were there as the sun was setting, giving a lovely pink glow to the sandstone.
This site has a huge mass of mud brick ruins surrounding it, storehouses that held grain and probably people as well. It is being excavated still.
As we were leaving, I spotted an owl in a tree! I had my binoculars and little Egyptian bird identification booklet, and ID-ed it as a Little Owl, which is diurnal. On our last day, I saw it again at the Temple of Merenptah.
The next temple we visited was the Ptolemaic temple of Hathor at Dendara. I wrote about this trip here. Most people, it is said, combine a trip to Dendara with one to Abydos to see the temple of Seti I, but it’s another hour past Dendara, and I didn’t want to spend all day driving around when there was plenty to see nearby. I know my limits!
The temple is fantastic. Much of it is blackened because people lived in it for so long and lit fires inside. The roof is intact, and restorationists have been cleaning the black off to reveal the paint below. The temple was buried in sand for centuries, which, unfortunately, afforded early Christians access to the heads of Hathor at the top of the great columns, which they promptly defaced.
Funny the things I forget to take pictures of – I don’t have one of the front of the temple! Suffice to say, it is no longer buried in all of the sand you see above, and the heads are very far off the ground.
There is a great ceiling there, the Dendera Zodiac, that looks like it is original to the building, but it is actually a very nice plaster cast replacement. The original is at the Louvre, having being removed in 1821! Fortunately, the Victorians were great at making plaster casts of antiquities – if ever you find yourself in London, check out the collection at the V&A– it’s wonderful.
I wanted to visit Dendara because it has a roof, is of a later period than what we were seeing at Luxor, and because Hathor is such a great goddess.
Our final temple visit was to the heavily restored temple of Hatshepsut, which has the most dramatic setting of any of the temples we visited. Built into the side of a cliff, it commands stunning vistas of the valley, down to the Nile. Here, in 1997, terrorists murdered 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians in an attack that marked the beginning of the downturn for tourism in Egypt. Tourism is presently down to something like 20% of what it was in the early 90s.
It’s a perfectly dramatic place for such a terribly dramatic crime. An ambulance now sits at the entrance, but there is no other visible reference to the event. I shot a roll of Super 8 here – hope it comes out! There were quite a few tourists here to star in my film, and a friendly armed guard as well. My super 8 camera looks somewhat like a gun, which is always fun when you are visiting a massacre site. At the security, when they checked my bag, the joker guard said what is this, a Kalashnikov? Then he made me put him in the movie.