Journal: Saturday 14 October 2000
Every morning when we leave our apartment it’s difficult to ignore the lure of Medinet Habu just around the corner. Today we felt he strong pull towards the temple so we walked the long way around to the ticket office to get a glimpse of the carvings on the facade….. and ended up spending an hour inside the temple, so inviting in the quiet of the early morning. Jenny and I have been in the temple several times over the past few days and have never again encountered the ghost that we both saw a week ago, but we thought we’d come and check the rear chambers again just in case, but no luck. I had an interesting conversation with a man called Nubi, who was grinding rock to match the colours in the restoration work he was doing in the second court. It was fascinating to watch him work as he explained the different types of natural pigments he used.
A little later we caught an arabeya to the turn-off for Deir el-Bahri and walked up the road through Asasif leading to the Temple of Hatshepsut. By 10.00am the car park was already packed with coaches and we decided to avoid the crowds of tourists by first visiting the nearby tomb of Pabasa (TT279), as Jenny hadn’t seen it. Just outside the entrance to Deir el-Bahri, Pabasa’s tomb still has a large mudbrick superstructure and a steep flight of stairs leads down to the entrance to the subterranean levels. Pabasa held the title of ‘Chief Steward of the God’s Wife Nitocris’ (Neitiqert) during the reign of king Psamtek I of the Saite Dynasty XXV. On the lintel above the tomb entrance is a fine relief of a barque, adored by the souls of Pe and Nekhen, by the God’s Wife, Nitocris and by the deceased, her steward. The tomb is similar to that of Ankh-Hor, who inherited the title of Chief Steward after Pabasa’s death and like Ankh-Hor’s tomb the most interesting feature is the Solar Court which is open to the sky. Many important scenes decorate the large square pillars, giving us a great deal of detail about the daily activities in the estate of the Divine Adoratrice. Most famous of these are rare scenes of beekeeping and viticulture, as well as scenes showing a bedroom being prepared, men spinning, netting and cleaning fish and catching birds with a throwstick. Around the walls of the court, Pabasa is shown in many offering scenes with long texts, finely carved and beautifully painted with hieroglyphs. Beyond the sun court is a hall containing eight pillars, part of which was decorated but is now very damaged. At the rear of the hall a decorated niche contains Pabasa’s burial shaft. His granite sarcophagus is now in Glasgow Museum.
By lunchtime most of the tourists had left Deir el-Bahri. The afternoon is generally quiet here on the West Bank as most people consider it too hot to be out and about but for Jenny and I this is the best time to have the monuments to ourselves. Today was no exception, though quite unusual at Deir el-Bahri, which is the one place that tends to be busy throughout the day. However, today was very hot and before long, even the guards and tourist police had retired into the shade for a siesta. The Temple of Hatshepsut was built on three terraced levels, with a causeway leading down to her Valley Temple (now lost) which would have been connected to the River Nile by a canal. Gardens with trees were planted in front of the lower courtyard and we stopped to have a look at the remaining tree-pits.
Approaching the first court we went first to look at the reliefs in the southern lower portico which are very shallow and often difficult to see, but if the light is right they are very interesting. They show the transportation by ship of two obelisks with their escort from the granite quarries at Aswan, bound for Karnak Temple and further along is the dedication ceremony performed by Queen Hatshepsut to the god Amun at Karnak. Unfortunately when the light is right, early in the morning, is when the temple is at its most crowded and by the time we were there the reliefs were in shadow and did not show up well. Walking up the steps to the second terrace, past the crouching lions carved on the bottom of the ramp, we next looked around the Hathor Chapel with its beautiful Hathor-Head pillars and fine reliefs.
In the southern colonnade of the second terrace are the famous scenes of Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt. The exact location of Punt is unknown, though it is thought to have probably been south of Egypt on the east coast of Africa and several Middle Kingdom kings had already sent expeditions there, involving a long journey by sea. Hatshepsut’s reliefs of Punt at Deir el-Bahri are very finely carved in great detail and were once beautifully painted, though now much of the colour has gone. Here the rich rewards of Hatshepsut’s expedition are listed on the walls of her temple. Ebony, ivory and cattle, precious resins and minerals (including gold), were traded by Parahu, the Chief of Punt, with the Egyptians and I wondered what the Egyptians had to offer in exchange. Animals and skins and treasured incense trees and perfumes were brought back for Hatshepsut, whose sylph-like figure is shown rather differently to Parahu’s obese wife. The famous relief of this lady called Ity, the ‘Queen of Punt’, is now in Cairo Museum and the block has been replaced by a reproduction. But the land of Punt is shown as an idyllic place, its dome-shaped houses on stilts with ladders to access them, surrounded by exotic trees with wonderful birds flying above. On the western wall elaborately-rigged sailing boats get ready to bring the tribute back to Egypt, including incense trees with their roots contained in baskets, and animals such as giraffes, not native to Egypt. Further along there are scenes of the transplanted incense trees having arrived at their final destination in the gardens at Karnak and the produce from the expedition is weighed and counted by scribes before being presented to Hatshepsut as an offering to her ‘father’ Amun. These superb scenes are my favourite reliefs at Deir el-Bahri. By 4.00pm the crowds were beginning to filter back into the temple as the day cooled and we decided it was time to leave.