Journal: Sunday 24 October 1999
Yesterday Jenny and I spent the day with friends. We took a bus to el-Arabet and visited my friend David in his house there, spending a lovely morning with him drinking his coffee while he read us some of his fabulous short stories about life in an Egyptian village. Later back in Luxor we met up with my friend Sam who had just arrived here with a couple of other friends from England and we hoped to do some trips with them before we leave.
Today we got down to some ‘work’ at Luxor Temple. I wanted to photograph the Opet reliefs of Tutankhamun. Luxor Temple, anciently known as ‘Ipet-resyt’ or ‘the Southern Opet’, served as a focal point for the Opet festival. Once a year the divine image of Amun with his consort Mut and their son Khonsu would journey in their sacred barques from Karnak Temples to the temple at Luxor, at some periods overland and at others by river, to celebrate the festival. Opet’s primary function was religious but the festival was also significant in maintaining the king’s divine role. On the west and east walls of Amenhotep III’s tall colonnade are the superbly executed reliefs of the Opet procession to and from Karnak. Depending on the time of day, the shallow carvings can look insignificant, but when the light is just right the shadows throw them into a dazzling story in sharp relief. Unfortunately, when one wall looks good, the other is in deep shade and they are probably best viewed in their complete state at night when the temple walls are lit from below.
Opet was one of the principle festivals of ancient Thebes, taking place in the season of Akhet, the season of inundation. It commemorated the annual Nile flood with its symbolism of renewal, both for the land of Egypt and the king himself, the great procession and following ceremonies recreating the drama and mysteries of the god Amun and his consort Mut. During the Dynasty XVIII reign of Amenhotep III, the barque of Amun containing the statue of the god was carried by priests from his shrine at Karnak, first to the Temple of Khonsu, then to the Temple of Mut, where it was joined by the statue of the goddess in her own barque and that of their child Khonsu, to journey together to Luxor Temple. It is likely that at this period that the king himself also took part in the ceremonies.
The west wall of the colonnade is not well preserved, but some of the remaining reliefs are beautiful. Here the story unfolds: preparations are made for the feast, beasts slaughtered and altars piled with offerings. Crowds of onlookers watch as acrobats and dancing girls accompany the priests who carry the barques to the Nile where they are towed upstream. Finally offerings are made to Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The east wall depicts the return journey of the barques to Karnak amid much celebration, culminating with more offerings and thanksgivings at the temple.
It is not certain just what took place while the god and his consort were enshrined in the inner depths of Luxor Temple. It is likely that the king would have undergone a repeat of the coronation ceremony to be rejuvenated for another year and that the deities, Amun and Mut would have performed the divine rite of union which kept the world in balance. It is a lovely thought that the festival in modern times, under the Islamic guise of a celebration of the birthday of Sheikh Abu l’Hagag, is still carried on in Luxor every year when model boats (barques) are carried out of the Abu l’Haggag mosque to tour the town on floats.