Journal: Saturday 12 July 1997
An early breakfast of a hard boiled egg, processed cheese triangles, torpedo rolls with fig jam and several cups of coffee, not quite the cornucopia breakfast buffet I was used to at the Isis Hotel, but a good start to the day. We were out on the street by 7.00am to try to beat the intense heat which was already threatening. As it was still reasonably cool we walked to Karnak, up Sharia Karnak and the remaining avenue of sphinxes and around to the main temple entrance. Surprisingly we seemed to have beaten the coach tours, or maybe it was not so busy in 1997 as I remember from more recent winter visits.
After a quick walk through the main Temple of Amun, we all decided to investigate the transverse axis, consisting of the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth pylons. During our studies we had discovered a wonderful reference work, the ‘Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings‘, by Bertha Porter and Rosalind Moss, published in several volumes by The Griffith Institute. This has become my most valuable source of information on the Egyptian monuments and it is usually referred to affectionately as ‘Porter and Moss’. Beginning at the court in front of the Seventh Pylon my friends and I worked as a team, looking at the reliefs with reference to Porter and Moss, listing and photographing each scene. When this court was excavated, a cache of 750 stone statues and stelae were found, along with over 17000 bronzes which now form a large portion of the Cairo Museum collection. Some of the statues are also now in Luxor Museum. They were probably buried during the Ptolemaic Period, but no-one knows exactly why.
The way through the eighth to tenth pylons was blocked off due to work on the ninth pylon which was being painstakingly taken down and reconstructed. Blocks from a temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) were used as infill here and I had seen some of these talatat blocks in the Luxor Museum where a wall has been reconstructed. This part of the temple was deserted and the guard allowed us to go through beyond the eighth pylon to the Temple of the god Khonsu, who was the son of Amun and Mut. This was a small but well preserved temple from the late New Kingdom, built towards the end of the Ramesside Period, which had the feeling that it was built in miniature, with squat pillars and low ceilings, which seemed appropriate for Khonsu, the child. Reliefs in the rooms to the back of the temple still had some good colour. We went up onto the roof of the temple from where there was a magnificent view over Karnak.
Through a doorway from the Khonsu Temple we came to a later structure adjacent to it. We consulted Porter and Moss and found that this was a temple dedicated to the hippopotamus goddess Apet, or Opet (not to be confused with the festival of Opet). She is said to have helped women in childbirth, possibly a later aspect of the goddess Tauret. The temple was in a poor state of repair and the key to the door was not available but we could peer through an iron grill and could see that the blackened reliefs inside the temple depicted the funeral rites of Osiris. By this time it was mid-morning and the sun was beginning to bear down. I was glad that there were five of us to share the load of necessary books, notebooks and cameras and bottled water we were toting around. I could see why Victorian lady travellers had porters to carry their baggage. Right then I could have done with the one of the parasols those Victorian ladies also carried, but we settled for a cool drink at the shaded café by the sacred lake. So this was where the crowds were hanging out!
Feeling refreshed we next went to look at the Festival Temple of Tuthmose III, beyond the central Middle Kingdom court. This was built as a memorial temple to Tuthmose and his ancestral cult. The pillars inside the hall are said to imitate the ancient tent poles of a pavilion, unique in Egyptian architecture, and still show good remains of the coloured decoration. One of the rooms to the southwest of the pillared hall once contained a famous table of kings which listed the names of 62 kings and is now in the Louvre in Paris. There are several ruined statues to the north of the hall, in an area which was used as a church in the Coptic era. Behind the columned hall is a suite of rooms dedicated to Amun. A larger room to the north is sometimes known as the Zoological Garden, or Botanical Garden, because it contains superb delicate carvings representing plants and animals which Tuthmose encountered on his Syrian campaigns. These were reliefs I particularly wanted to see and the carvings were very beautiful, though I have had to visit them many times since then at different times of the day to get good photographs.
It was now past mid-day and too hot to do anything else. We found a taxi to take us back to Luxor and when we stepped out in front of the hotel the surrounding buildings were giving off heat like storage radiators. It was time for that sensible Egyptian custom, the siesta!