Journal: Monday 14 July 1997
The intrepid five spent another morning at Karnak Temple, arriving at 6.00am to try to beat the heat. This time I spent most of the morning in the Open Air Museum, which I hadn’t visited before. One of the most memorable structures here at the centre of the museum area was the work in progress of a reconstruction of Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel. Many of the red quartzite blocks of this chapel could still be seen stacked on risers in rows at the entrance to the museum, about 300 of them which had been found in the foundations of the third pylon. The French Mission at Karnak was carefully reconstructing the blocks into a representation of the queen’s original barque shrine. The walls were about 6 feet high and it looked like it was quite a challenge to match the jig-saw puzzle of blocks and get them into the right place. The individual reliefs were very delicate, depicting the female pharaoh and her co-regent Tuthmose III with various deities. It was also very interesting to watch the restorers at work. I chatted to one of the team called Hammad for a while and he told me about the reconstruction work. At the back of the museum there was also ongoing work on a reconstruction of a temple portico of Tuthmose IV.
There were also a few other small reconstructed shrines, but my favourite structure in the Open Air Museum was the 12th dynasty barque shrine of Senwosret I. These white limestone blocks had also been recovered from the foundations of the third pylon and the ‘White Chapel’ was reconstructed here in 1938. It has become one of the real treasures of Karnak as there are very few of the Middle Kingdom buildings still in existence. This important structure was decorated with very detailed raised hieroglyphs, the most beautifully carved I have seen in Egypt, depicting scenes of the king, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt and the white crown of Upper Egypt, offering to various deities. Around the base on the outer wall, is a list of the Nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt during the 12th dynasty. By late morning we all met up at the café for a drink and decided we had had enough of Karnak for today. Five hours in this heat and I felt like I had been microwaved – my brain had given up a couple of hours ago!
In the evening we all had dinner together at the Amoun restaurant near the bazaar, a favourite with tourists in Luxor which always offered good food, both western and Egyptian, at very reasonable prices. Their soups are delicious, but tonight I settled for babaganoug and Egyptian salad. I also favour lemon juice as a good refreshing drink on a warm evening. The staff knew us all quite well and were always welcoming. It seemed odd to me that by 6.30pm the darkness had already descended after such a hot bright day. It was still hot, but I was used to the long summer evenings in the UK and nights when the sun sets slowly over the sea and stays just below the horizon so that it is never truly dark. The Amoun is a great place to sit watch the world go by.
Later we walked down to Luxor Temple, which is floodlit at night and open until around 10.00pm in summer. There is a very different atmosphere at night here and many of the reliefs which are in low contrast during the day, stand out beautifully in the artificial lighting. I saw quite a lot of scenes I hadn’t even noticed before. One scene I especially love in Luxor Temple is the birth scene of Amenhotep III, his mother Mutemwiya being impregnated by the god Amun and the king’s ka being fashioned by Khnum on his potter’s wheel. This scene is almost invisible by day but in the spotlights it is very well-defined.
We wandered around the temple until it was closing time, then walked up through the bazaar stopping to chat with stall-holders we had got to know. I love these late Egyptian evenings when everyone is out and about, the town still bustling with life until well after midnight.