Journal: Tuesday 23 March 1999
Probably the one thing I love most about the el-Geziret Hotel is its rooftop restaurant where I could sit at a table in the open air and look out over the terrace wall, across the Nile to Luxor. A leisurely breakfast with several cups of coffee found me gazing out at the familiar sights and sounds of the river bank. The ferry landing to my left at the edge of the river was busy this morning, a boat had just come in and I watched as the big rusting ferry disgorged its brightly coloured multitude, mostly Egyptians but also one or two tourists, who climbed up the ramp to be assaulted by stall-holders and taxi drivers who plied their trades at the dock. Black clad ladies hitched their bundles onto their heads and hurried homewards while others made for the waiting arabeyas to take them to nearby villages. A few metres further along an untidy jumble of red and green motor boats with funny English names were gathered, waiting to attract the tourists who would make their return journey over the river a little later in the morning. For now their captains and crews of young boys lazed happily on the bank, glasses of tea in hand, always keeping an eye open for a likely customer. Other men were gathered around in small groups earnestly discussing the problems of the day, shouting and gesticulating wildly as they pressed a point of view or passed on local gossip. Nobody loves to gossip more than Egyptian men. It was a wonderful scene, one I never grow tired of watching.
I was joined by Robin and together we walked through the streets to her apartment not far away, a lovely spacious airy set of rooms at the top of a house which boasted, to my great amazement, a full-size replica sarcophagus in the centre of the living room, left, I believe, by a previous occupant. She had been living here since November last year and was very happy. After spending a little time making plans for what we would do during my visit, we went back to the main street and caught an arabeya to Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna and the monument area. We wanted to look for the old causeways at Assasif. The ancient causeways were paved processional ways connecting the mortuary or cult temples to their valley temples, most often associated with pyramids. But we had read about the Deir el-Bahri causeways and were determined to find evidence of them. Unlike the pyramid causeways which were originally enclosed, at Deir el-Bahri there were ‘open’ or ‘false’ causeways linking the temples and only a few scattered sections of the fallen walls now remain. There were originally three causeways leading to the temples of Mentuhotep, Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III at Deir el-Bahri, the latter once planted at the lower end with a double row of trees. They would have been used as processional ways during the festivals of Amun and the Valley Festival.
As we wandered around Assasif looking at each of the scattered blocks of stone which still litter the landscape, Robin and I pondered the reason why causeways were built for the Deir el-Bahri temples but not the other mortuary temples on the west bank. Perhaps it was because the first temple to be constructed in this virgin ‘bay’ of cliffs was the Temple of Mentuhotep Nebhepetre, on which Hatshepsut’s more famous multi-level colonnaded monument was said to be modelled. Mentuhotep II of Dynasty XI, who reunited Egypt as first king of the Middle Kingdom, reigned at a time when pyramid temples and causeways had long been the tradition. Unlike the New Kingdom temples, his structure seems to have been designed as a royal tomb – an empty coffin and a large wrapped statue of the king were found here by Howard Carter. Possibly it was simply a continuation of this tradition which inspired Hatshepsut and Tuthmose in their building. On the other hand, these temples are much further away from the edge of the cultivation than other mortuary temples, which had easy access to the Nile floodplain during inundation, or to the river via canals, so perhaps a paved processional route was more necessary.
We had read that Mentuhotep’s causeway was destroyed and we could certainly see no remaining evidence of the long, 16m wide structure which had once led from his valley temple to a tree-lined court in front of the pyramid-style mortuary temple. We had better luck with the causeway of Tuthmose III, sandwiched between the Mentuhotep and Hatshepsut temples. Back towards the road we found the remains of a mudbrick pylon and enclosure wall of the mortuary temple of Tuthmose III, a cleared sandy space with scattered stone blocks, some of which were carved with hieroglyphs. We found one or two blocks with inscriptions overcarved on what looked to our amateur eyes like Middle Kingdom reliefs, but as there is so little information available on these remains, we could not be sure. This temple, however, was separate from the Deir el-Bahri shrine bearing the name of Tuthmose III, which was only discovered in 1962, as it had previously been covered by a rock fall. The causeway we were searching for had connected this shrine to the cultivation and had probably been used during the annual Feast of the Valley, when the statue of the god Amun was transported from Karnak across the river in his sacred barque. We eventually found the remains of the stone walls of Tuthmose’s causeway, which were surprisingly well preserved, though bore no inscriptions of any kind. In the same area there were also several stone-faced tunnels or caves disappearing under the mounds of sand, which looked intriguing. Whether they were tunnels or tombs, we couldn’t tell, though they looked to be of a later date. It was something to find out about.
We walked northwards to the area on my map where Hatshepsut’s valley temple was situated. This was disappointing, nothing more than a levelled patch of sand with no remaining structures visible. But we could see the route the causeway would have taken joining the valley temple to her mortuary temple, now mostly covered by the modern tarmac road. Originally this structure was a 37m wide sphinx-lined route leading from the valley temple to the now destroyed pylons of Deir el-Bahri.
Finally, we could not come up to the monument area without a visit to the Rameses cafe at Medinet Habu, where we had a drink and chatted to the staff there while gazing out at my favourite temple. I also wanted to say hello to Egyptian friends who lived in the village of Kom Lolla, before returning to Geziret for the evening.