Journal: Monday 9 October 2000
The ‘Qurna Temple’, constructed by Seti I, is among the earliest of the extant New Kingdom temples on the West Bank and is not often visited by tourists. This morning Jenny and I found it as deserted as usual. The German Archaeological Institute have spent many years reconstructing the monument and each time I have visited I can see that more work has been carried out. The pylons and forecourt are no longer standing and much of the front area of the temple is buried beneath the modern houses of Qurna, but the main part of the monument is surprisingly well-preserved and contains some beautiful and colourful reliefs. It was built by Seti I partly as a memorial chapel for his father Rameses I who doesn’t have his own temple here at Thebes, but was unfinished at the king’s death and like many other monuments of this period it was completed by his son Rameses II.
Jenny and I entered through a gate on the northern side and walked down the processional route to the portico which leads to the hypostyle hall. The first view of the temple facade is reminiscent of Seti’s Abydos Temple, maybe just because what we see is the portico and the top cornice of the facade is missing, like it is at Abydos. There the similarity ends, but some of the workmanship of reliefs is almost as exquisite as it is at Abydos. The hypostyle hall is small, with only six columns, but still roofed over to give a sense of what the temple must have been like when it was in use. Decorated by Seti and his son Rameses it contains scenes of offerings and heb-sed texts. There are four cult chapels on each side of the hypostyle which are dedicated mostly to the Theban Triad, the Osirian cycle of gods and to the deified Seti I. In one of the chapels an iunmutef priest purifies the king who is followed by a female personification of the temple. Another contains a very unusual relief of Osiris as Anjety. At the rear of the hypostyle are the barque shrines of Mut, Khons and Amun (which still contains the pedestal on which his barque rested) and it is here that the finest and most delicate reliefs can be found. Behind Amun’s chapel is the Holy of Holies where there is a very worn depiction of a rite called ‘Bringing the Foot’. Unfortunately the Holy of Holies is now in a ruinous condition.
I was intrigued by the name of this ritual ‘Bringing the Foot’ so much that I had previously set about trying to find out more about it. It is actually part of the extremely vital daily rite in cult temples of feeding and clothing the god. Each day the King, or more likely his appointed deputy the High Priest, presented offerings to the cult statue of the god in the temple sanctuary. Here the god was Amun. Offerings of food from a varied menu were made, which were consumed afterwards by the priesthood and temple staff when the god had finished with them. Each morning the god statue was washed, purified with water and incense and then dressed in fresh clothing. Four different colours of cloth were used; white, green, red and blue, each colour with their symbolic attributes such as protection and health. The statue was then anointed with a special fragrant oil and the doors to the naos once more closed and sealed. The king or High Priest would then retreat backwards sweeping away his footprints with a broom made from a special plant – this was known as ‘Bringing the Foot’. After the daily rituals had taken place the cult statue was ready to receive the earthly presence of the spirit of the God once more. The daily rituals can be better seen in detail on the walls of the chapels at Seti’s Abydos Temple.
In the Qurna Temple there is also a sanctuary area off to the south of the hypostyle hall, entered through a vestibule, which is dedicated to Seti’s father, the deceased Rameses I. This cult chapel still has a lot of colourful reliefs. At the back of the central sanctuary there is a superb false door with cartouches of Rameses Menpehtyre. A double scene shows Rameses I sitting facing outwards in a kiosk with a hawk on top and dedication texts on each side. On the opposite, northern side of the hypostyle hall, is a solar court built by Rameses II. This is decorated with dedication texts to his father, the now-deceased Seti I, and contains offerings to various deities, including the deified Queen Ahmose-Nefertari. The court is open to the sky and in its centre is a decorated altar, now broken.
This afternoon I had a couple of hours rest back at our apartment. I’m feeling so much better but don’t want to overdo things as I still feel very tired, but the air in the apartment felt very hot and stale and was full of mosquitoes again. Jenny had arranged to go for a camel ride along the riverbank this evening so I went down to el-Gezira with her, thinking I could sit quietly by the river and wait while she went riding. Somehow I let myself be talked into going for a ride too – I just hoped that Mohammed the little boy who was in charge of my camel knew what he was doing. Our camels were already sitting down waiting for us to mount, an undignified activity that involves throwing a leg over the camel’s hump and settling into the saddle in one easy ?? movement. Camels are said to be emotional and intelligent animals, though the dull look in my camel’s eye suggested otherwise, while his enigmatic grin looked positively wicked. At this point I remembered my favourite Terry Pratchett book ‘Pyramids’, featuring a camel called You Bastard who was the greatest mathematician on the Disc. Once I was in the saddle with my legs crossed in front of me I found that it was a much more comfortable position than riding a donkey. Then with a shouted command in Camelese from Mohammed, the camel lurched forward and pushed its rump into the air, almost catapulting me over its long neck, then went into reverse thrust throwing me backwards as we launched together into the air. We were off. When walking, camels sway from side to side as a result of lifting both feet from one side off the ground at the same time and I can never work out how they don’t fall over.
Sitting comfortably and relaxing into the camel’s strange gait I began to enjoy the slow gently swaying movement and it was a nice half hour’s walk along the bank of the Nile, with Mohammed chattering happily to me, the camel and himself. As the sun began to set we turned around homewards and Jenny suggested a gentle canter. Not so relaxing this, because trotting on a camel, unlike walking, involves being thrown from side to side and backwards and forwards at the same time. A different ride completely! Eventually we all arrived back in one piece and I could tick this off my list of ‘Egyptian experiences’.