Journal entry for Tuesday 3 November 1998
After meeting my friends at the Amoun Restaurant for a breakfast get-together, Kit and I took a caleche to Karnak, where we bought tickets for the open-air museum. It had been a couple of years since I last had a good look around here and there were many changes. The biggest change was that the blocks from Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel were no longer sitting on concrete risers where they could be easily seen, because most of them had now been incorporated into the rebuilding of the monument in the centre of the museum space.
The Red Chapel or ‘Chapelle Rouge’ was a barque shrine built for Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III towards the end of the Queen’s reign and originally stood at the centre of the Temple of Amun. However, the shrine was not destined for a long life and was eventually dismantled by Hatshepsut’s successor, Tuthmose III, who reused some of the original quartzite and diorite blocks in a monument of his own. While other blocks were found scattered throughout Karnak, many more were recovered after being used as infill for Amenhotep III’s Third Pylon. By 1995 more than 300 blocks from the Red Chapel had been located and were stored in the open-air museum. The rebuilding of the chapel began in 1997 by a team of French and Egyptian restoration experts, who have had the difficult task of piecing together the remaining blocks like a jig-saw puzzle. New red-coloured concrete blocks have been made to fit the spaces left by missing blocks and so far it is looking very good.
Another important reconstruction in the open-air museum is the Portico Court of Tuthmose IV, probably the major monument of his reign, which once stood in front of the Fourth Pylon in the Temple of Amun. The blocks from this monument were also re-used by Amenhotep III in the Third Pylon. The Portico is very long with large square pillars and the painted reiliefs on the sandstone blocks, having been protected from the elements for so long, are superb.
My favourite monument in the museum is the white limestone barque shrine of Senwosret I, a beautiful open structure on a raised platform with steps leading into the shrine. Once a way-station built for the king’s jubilee festival, the detail of the carved hieroglyphs is the finest I have seen anywhere in Egypt. This restored monument is a survival of the Middle Kingdom monuments at Karnak and depicts the god Amun in both his anthropoid and Ithyphallic forms.
Nearby, for fans of Akhenaten, there is a very large but very shallow and incomplete relief of the king as Amenhotep IV smiting captives, before he shunned Amun. This was once in the vestibule of the Third Pylon.
Kit and I left Karnak mid-afternoon and went back to our hotel on the West Bank to shower and change. After meeting up with Robin, we took a service car to Kom Lolla and Nubi’s house where we had arranged to meet Mr Abdul Fetuh, an Antiquities Inspector who was going to take us on a tour of Malqata. The walk across the fields from Medinet Habu was especially lovely in the early evening with the sun just beginning to go down behind the Theban Mountain and a light breeze blowing over the long grass before it meets the harsher terrain of the desert. Everything was tinged in the palest pink glow and a bright full moon was rising in the east. We were shown all over the site of Malqata and although I had been here several times before it is one of my favourite places on the West Bank. There are no grand temples or pylons, only very low remains of walls which once contained the palace and town of Amenhotep III, but the whole site for me has a magical atmosphere. We walked in the desert as far as the Japanese excavation site at Birket Habu before returning to the French dig house for tea. While sitting with Abdul Fetuh and the guardian, Nubi entertained us with stories of the horned vipers hereabouts which can jump three metres in the air (and out of trees) as well as the many scorpions during the summer months. I made a note to only visit Malqata in the winter in future!