Journal entry for Thursday October 22 1998
This morning Kit and I had arranged to meet Sam and go to visit some of the West Bank temples – Kit’s first taste of Egyptian archaeology. After stopping at the ticket office to buy our tickets we went first to the Qurna Temple of Seti I, which is near the end of the road that branches off towards the King’s Valley. The morning was already very hot and we were all grateful to hurry up to the facade and straight into the cool dark shade of the hypostyle Hall. This was not a temple I knew very well, so I had almost the same expectation of discovery that Kit was feeling as we walked around looking at the reliefs. The temple was as usual, empty, as few tourists ever had the time to visit this lovely monument. The building was begun by Seti I who named it ‘Glorious Seti in the West of Thebes’ and dedicated it to the god Amun-Re as well as to the cult of his father, the deified Rameses I. After Seti’s death, the building and decoration was completed by his son Rameses II and like many of the West Bank temples, it saw a great deal of re-use after the New Kingdom. Since 1972 the German Archaeological Institute had undertaken investigative and restoration work but there was a lot of damage here during the floods of 1989, which set the work back many years.
Beyond the columned portico Seti’s hypostyle hall has six elegant papyrus columns and very good quality reliefs, characteristic of the reign of Seti I, although decorated during the later period of co-regency of Seti and his son. I could see some resemblance in the reliefs to Seti’s Abydos temple, but these were not quite so finely worked. The main hall is surrounded by six smaller chambers dedicated to various deities, but some of these were very blackened and worn. Behind the hypostyle is the sanctuary area, a triple shrine dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khons, with a pedestal for resting the barque of the god still in situ. On the walls the king celebrates the temple rituals before finely carved altars bearing food offerings. To the south of the hypostyle hall was a series of chapels associated with the royal mortuary cult. The central chapel was dedicated to Seti’s father Rameses I and has a beautifully-preserved false door at the rear showing Rameses I in a kiosk with a falcon above it. There was a lot of preserved colour in these rooms, especially on the ceilings.
The area to the north of the hypostyle hall was a court dedicated to the solar cult which was unmistakably decorated by Rameses II, with less subtle reliefs than those of his father. This now roofless court originally had ten pillars, which have gone, and a large solar altar in the centre, unfortunately now broken. Around the walls, depicting scenes of Rameses II offering to various deities, were niches which would once have contained statues of the king. The arrangement of the royal and solar cult chapels in Seti’s Temple is similar in many ways to the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir el-Bahri. Behind this court is the remains of a staircase which went up to a roof sanctuary. We thought the Solar Court was well named as the sun was scorching hot in here.
By 1.00pm we were all wilting. Only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ etc…. so we decided to walk along to the Ramesseum Cafeteria for a break. This was much further than we thought and we were even hotter by the time we collapsed around a table in the shade of the garden at the back of the cafe. After an hour or two of discussing the Seti Temple and several cold drinks later we went into the Ramesseum, probably the most famous of the many temples of Rameses II scattered throughout Egypt. I was surprised that I had never been inside this temple before until I remembered that it had been closed on my previous visits. It was Champollion who first gave it the commonly used name of ‘The Ramesseum’ and the English poet Shelley who immortalised it in his poem ‘Ozymandias’ in 1817, the name presumably taken from Rameses’ throne name, Usermaatre.
The temple is in a fairly ruined condition, with its first pylon almost collapsed, and although the guard was keen for us to climb up the pylon, which looked very unsafe, we politely declined. On the remains of the second, better preserved pylon, are scenes from Rameses’ most famous Battle, Kadesh, which was fought against the Hittites in Year 5 of the king’s reign. On the western side of the first court a gigantic seated granite colossal statue of Rameses II, once around 20m high, but now toppled to the ground and lying face down in fragments. I was particularly captivated by the gigantic detached stone foot of Rameses, complete with toenails. It was this fallen statue that had inspired the romantic poets.
The hypostyle hall still has a roof supported by 48 elegant papyrus columns. There are more reliefs showing Rameses’ military exploits such as his victory in the Battle of Tunip and the capture of the city of Dapur in year 8 of his reign. The king’s mother Tuya, his wife Nefertari and some of his children are also depicted here. The wall on the western side of the hypostyle hall shows Rameses taking part in various ritual functions before the gods and many of his numerous children are again depicted in the registers below.
Behind the hypostyle hall is a small chamber known as the ‘Astronomical Hall’, probably once a barque shrine as there are many scenes depicting barques of the Theban Triad, Rameses and Ahmose Nefertari carried by priests. This chamber is famous for its astronomical ceiling which represents the constellations and 36 decans of the night sky. The king offers to the gods of the months in a lunar calendar around the edges. Presumably this celestial calendar would have been used to calculate the timings for the annual festivals and it was this ceiling that Rameses III copied in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.
We left the Ramesseum in the late afternoon, as a deep golden sun was casting long shadows across the sandy ground. This is probably the best time of day to visit this temple as the light is particularly beautiful and the stately statues of ‘Rameses the Great’ looked stunning.