Journal: Tuesday 7 March 2000
This morning dawned clear and warm, like a glorious summer’s day in England. Perfect! I was woken early by the call of the muezzin ‘s prayer to discover that a mosque is right next door with a loudspeaker on the minaret pointing straight at our window. While some might find this noisy awakening annoying, I have come to love the gentle sound of the day’s first call to prayer, ‘Allah’u Akhbar’, echoing off the rooftops and merging with other calls from the mosques all over Luxor. It’s a great way to wake up and I knew instantly I was in Egypt. I mused that if an alarm clock was made with this sound I wouldn’t mind getting up in the mornings at home. Jenny and I had breakfast downstairs on the paved terrace next to the tiny swimming pool – which was newly built but not yet filled and I could see that the little garden around it had been planted up so that in a year or two it would be very pretty. A standard breakfast in an Egyptian hotel usually consists of bread (in this case, fresh white torpedo rolls), a hard-boiled egg, little triangles of soft processed cheese and individual pots of fig jam or honey. Sometimes there may be thin slices of a hard cheese and tomatoes and often pickled gherkins or carrot (something I’ve never fancied first thing in the morning). The coffee was instant powdered Nescafe, but being somewhat of a coffee snob I’ve learned never to travel without my real filter coffee bags.
With breakfast over, Jenny and I went out to wander around, seeing many local people who recognised us and we were welcomed back by everyone we met. It was one of those mornings of endless cups of tea with the stallholders in the suq, but all we actually bought were bottles of water. After lunch I phoned my friend Robin who now lives here on the West Bank and she met us later in Luxor Temple.
Being only five months since I was last here, nothing much had changed in the temple, which in the early afternoon was fairly quiet. Entering through the massive pylon of Rameses II, we wandered the open halls and colonnades through to the southern end, looking at various reliefs on the way. There is always something in every site that I have never noticed before, no matter how many times I’ve visited and today I spotted an Amarna block with a relief of the Aten, stacked with others behind a metal gate in one of the small side chambers. I wonder how it got there. While Jenny and Robin carried on looking around, I went to take pictures in the ‘Birth Room’. Last time I was here I had looked at the detail of the Opet Festival scenes on the walls of Amenhotep’s colonnade. The ‘Birth Room’ however, is deep inside the inner part of the temple and has a sequence of scenes depicting the divine birth of Amenhotep III, rather similar to those of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri.
The reliefs are very shallow and worn and also pock-marked by later re-use of the temple, so they are not easy to photograph clearly. This room used to be open to the air and much lighter than it is now with its wooden roof. On the west wall, the lower register shows Amenhotep’s mother, Queen Mutemwiya, sitting on a bed with Amun-re, their divine union having been consummated. Amun-re then instructs the ram-headed god Khnum to fashion the baby Amenhotep and his ka out of clay on his potter’s wheel. The scene above shows the queen with Thoth, being led to the birth chamber by Khnum and Hathor where she gives birth to the ka of Amenhotep while seated on a block throne. The goddess Hathor presents the child to his father, Amun-re, who embraces the boy while Mut and Hathor watch over him. In the register above, Amenhotep is suckled by thirteen goddesses. The future king’s reign length is determined by an assembly of deities. This whole picture of divine birth is a royal propaganda myth, told on the walls of the king’s temple in order to legitimise his reign, just as Hatshepsut did before him at Deir el-Bahri. But the scene may also relate to some esoteric ritual of the Opet Festival, in the form of a ‘divine marriage’ perhaps performed annually here to symbolise renewal and strengthen the rulership.
By the time the crowds began to filter back into the temple in the late afternoon we were ready to leave. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was going down over the Theban mountain, setting the river alight with ripples of orange like tongues of flame as we walked around the corner to have a meal together at the Amoun Restaurant.