Journal: Sunday 19 March 2000
This is our last day in Luxor and at breakfast this morning we couldn’t decide how to spend the day. We’ve had quite a busy couple of weeks, but the last few days with both of us having colds, have been tiring. Eventually we opted to take a felucca trip this morning, a restful interlude which gave us time to think about what to do later.
Down on the Corniche we sought out a felucca captain we knew, Yousef, and told him we would just like to be on the river, not going anywhere particular and definitely not Banana Island. In the end we spent three hours just drifting lazily in the slight breeze, watching the world go by but feeling remote from the activity on the banks. There were several feluccas out this morning and we saw a beautiful old-style cruiseboat. I wasn’t sure if this was really an old boat which has been renovated, or a replica made to look old, but it was very nicely done.
At lunchtime Yousef dropped us off on the West Bank and Jenny and I went to the Africa restaurant for some lunch, a welcome bowl of lentil soup and delicious warm crusty bread. We were both feeling a bit chilled after being on the water for so long. Afterwards we caught an arabeya to the ticket office and bought tickets for the tombs of Neferonpet, Nefersekheru and Djutmose at el-Khokha. I had forgotten just how beautiful these little nobles’ tombs are.
It now seems to be a forgone conclusion that when we’re on the West Bank, we will end up at Medinet Habu and today was no exception. I wanted a last look at the temple and went to take more photographs in the shrines of the God’s Wives of Amun, the Divine Adoratirix that have become a study theme for me on this visit.
There are four chapels at Medinet Habu dedicated to the God’s Wives. The earliest belongs to Shepenwepet I who was appointed by her father Osorkon III during the last years of Theban independence before full Nubian control. Little is left of her chapel, but the burial shaft still gives access to vaulted chambers below – not open to the public however. The next shrine is that of Amenirdis I, the successor to Shepenwepet and daughter of Nubian King Kashta. This is the best-preserved chapel and has many interesting reliefs, though it is very dark inside. A forecourt fronts Amenirdis’s chapel, the four columns now reduced to stumps, but there is still a black granite offering table in situ. Inside the shrine, a free-standing sanctuary surrounded by a corridor whose walls are adorned with excerpts from the Pyramid Texts and reliefs of Amenirdis I and her successor Shepenwepet II (who built this shrine for her aunt), before various deities. The walls are now blackened but little square openings in the roof send atmospheric shafts of light down onto the scenes. The workmanship is really beautiful here.
In due time Shepenwepet II adopted Amenirdis II, a daughter of King Taharqa, as her successor, but her rule was ill-fated as by then the Nubian Dynasty XXV came to an end with the Assyrian invasions of Thebes. The Theban priesthood was forced to accept an heiress from the Saite dynasty of the Delta and it was Psamtik’s daughter Nitocris who became the next God’s Wife of Amun, after being adopted by both Shepenwepet II & Amenridis II. It was Nitocris who completed the chapel for Shepenwepet II after her death, adding to the burial chambers to provide for herself and her birth mother Mehytenweskhet. The fourth chapel is now gone, but is thought to have belonged to Ankhnesneferibre, a daughter of King Psamtik II, who was the last holder of the office of Divine Adoratrice at Thebes and who also took the title of High Priest of Amun. Her beautiful sarcophagus, found in a shaft at Deir el-Medina after being re-used during Roman times, is now in the British Museum.
Over the doorways to these chapels is a kind of threat, written as an ‘Appeal to the Living’, which consists of words to be uttered by people passing by. The text more or less states that anyone not participating in the mortuary cult by repeating the prayers will be cursed by the ‘Mistress of the West’ who will cause sickness to their families. I always bear this in mind, saying a little prayer of my own for the souls of the powerful ladies once buried here.
When the temple closed, Jenny and I once more found ourselves in the Rameses Cafeteria where we said a sad farewell to our many friends here. We stayed for most of the evening as people we knew came and went, stopping briefly for a chat. We even went to have a look at a nearby apartment which is available to rent – a possibility for our next visit. It was late when we crossed back over on the ferry to Luxor, soaking up the what would be our last view of the river for a while.