Journal: Monday 2 October 2000
Feeling well-rested (after another night with my nice new soft pillow) I woke early this morning and looked out of my bedroom window over the green cultivated fields of the West Bank, towards the river. It was a beautiful morning, still cool and with clear skies of the sort of palest powder blue of a summer’s day when the heat hasn’t yet begun to create a haze. I made coffee and went to wake Jenny. By 8.00am we had walked along the road to the Ramesseum, for once managing to avoid the little herd of children who usually come running down from the village at the first sight of foreigners on foot.
We spent the morning looking at the reliefs carved onto the walls of the Temple of Rameses ‘The Great’, at first still gold-washed in the early morning light. He certainly liked to promote himself, favoured by numerous deities and always victorious in his battle exploits. Well, I suppose no king is going to go to the trouble of carving his less fortunate moments on the walls of his ‘Temple of Millions of Years’. Today I was looking mostly at the various offering scenes in the hypostyle hall and surrounding chambers and especially at the different types of offering pots, of which there is quite a variety. I really do appreciate being here with a good friend who shares the same level of interest in the ancient monuments as I have. Jenny and I toured the temple together, discussing hieroglyphs and scenes, taking turns at looking up new words in the mountain of books we each carried with us. We were lucky this morning to have the temple more or less to ourselves, with only a few small tour groups arriving and leaving again after half an hour or so, with little time for more than a cursory glimpse of the temple’s wonders.
By mid-day the sun was burning down from directly above and as soon as we moved out of the shade of the temple the temperature was unbearable. Sayed, the mudir of the workmen at the Ramesseum, a kind man who I have met a couple of times before, invited us into his little tent in the palace area for tea. He has a little English and a little French and with my bit of Arabic we managed to cobble together an interesting conversation while he busied himself boiling water on a camp stove. While the water was heating he rinsed out a couple of glasses in a dubious looking bucket and added powdered tea and masses of sugar to his brew, which he then boiled together for about five minutes. This Egyptian tea bears little resemblance to an English cup of tea. It’s a strong syrupy beverage but very welcome on a hot day and much more refreshing than a cold drink. When the other workmen began to arrive for their lunch break Jenny and I thanked Sayed for the tea and left the Ramesseum.
On the way back to our apartment at Kom Lolla we bought some bread and falafel for lunch and enjoyed the delicious make-shift meal. Later in the afternoon a taxi driver friend took us to the Temple of Deir el-Shelwit, which is right at the southern end of the monument area, four kilometres along the desert track past Habu and Malqata towards Armant. The little temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, dates from the Roman Period and has a propylon gateway decorated with deeply carved reliefs by the Emperors Galba, Otho and Vespasian, who appear before various deities. A large court was once surrounded by walls which no longer exist, but there were remains of a doorway bearing a cartouche of Caesar at the centre of the court. The main temple structure is usually kept locked and we had hoped that there would be a gafir with a key, but he was not around and we had to be content with peering through a grill covering the doorway into the dark interior. Consulting ‘Porter and Moss’ we read that the temple has a narrow hall and a sanctuary, decorated by Emperors Hadrian and Antonius Pius, surrounded by six small chambers and a staircase to the roof. The decoration includes interesting reliefs and inscriptions concerning rituals of the deities acknowledged during the Roman Period, at a time when many of the old rituals were becoming difficult to understand. But as we strained our eyes looking into the blackened interior, we could make out little of the decoration.
As the sun began to drop behind the Theban Mountain, Jenny and I once more set out for a walk, this time taking a picnic over the fields to Malqata. As the shadows lengthened and the desert turned gold we sat in the courtyard of the French dig house at Malqata and shared our little meal of bread, cheese and bananas with my old friend the gafir, who in return made us a cup of his delicious shai bi nana (mint tea). For some reason the mint tea here always tastes much nicer than anywhere else.
The evening was still very warm and we stopped at the Rameses Cafeteria on the way back, staying for several hours discussing Egyptology with Nubi and Salah. The Temple of Medinet Habu was as usual floodlit and looked glorious. Tonight there was something going on in the temple and a large group of people arrived in coaches. Soon there were camels parading up and down and music coming from inside – all very entertaining to watch!