Journal: Monday 22 April 2002
We woke up in Luxor this morning, after sailing through the night and docking in the early hours. I felt a little cheated – only the fifth day of the cruise and already we back in the place I know best. For some reason we didn’t call at Esna as I had done on previous cruises and I missed the little temple. Early his morning we were on the coach bound for Karnak Temple, which the rest of the passengers were dying to see, but I prefer a more leisurely wander of that vast place. No doubt I would go back there next week anyway.
So today, as our groups went around with the guides I spent my time taking photographs. Being there so early in the morning meant the light was perfect for a couple of places I wanted to see. The first was the ‘Busbastite Gate’. I’d recently been doing some work on the Third Intermediate Period and I wanted to see the reliefs on the outer wall of the First court and on the gate itself. The Dynasty XXII king Shoshenq I was a military leader, a Libyan chieftain and nephew of Osorkon ‘the Elder’. Because his family were associated with Bubastis in the south-eastern Delta, Shoshenq’s reign is usually described as ‘Bubastite’ and as founder of Dynasty XXII, inscriptions at Karnak still refer to the king by his traditional Libyan title of ‘Great Chief of Ma’. Shoshenq’s building works at Karnak were intended to be the construction of a great court with the huge gateway we call the ‘Bubastite Gate’ in its south-east corner. There are records that he began quarrying at Silsela to obtain sandstone for his Karnak building, but he probably didn’t embark upon this until towards the end of his reign and only the decoration around the gateway was completed. This however, provides one of the most important sources of history we have for the period – the interpretation by some scholars of reliefs on the gate, naming Shoshenq as the ‘Shishak, King of Egypt’ of biblical fame, who sacked Jerusalem in the reign of Reheboam, though there is no mention of Jerusalem in the names of cities which can be read. It is clear that the decoration of the exterior walls was intended to show Shoshenq’s military might, but only one scene was craved depicting his Palestinian campaigns, and of the 150 or more places named only a few are well-preserved. There are few other building works attributed to Shoshenq. The second thing I wanted to see in the low morning light was the back of the Third Pylon, which is supposed to have a depiction of Amenhotep IV on the barque of Amenhotep III. The pylon wall was beautifully lit as I had expected and I did see a tiny figure of a king which may have been what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure and will need to do more research on this.
It felt like we had only just arrived at Karnak when, after an hour and a half it was time to leave. I tagged along behind the rest of the group on our way back to the coach muttering ‘been there, done that, didn’t have time to buy the T-shirt!. The truth is that I’ve been spoilt having so much time to spend at Karnak in the past. Thank goodness Mary and I are here in Luxor for another week at the end of the cruise. With this thought I didn’t bother going into a very crowded Luxor Temple with the others for a scrum, but wandered up the length of the avenue of sphinxes which thankfully was deserted. By lunchtime the day had become very hot and we were all glad to be back on the air-conditioned coach and on our way back to the Commodore.
While we had lunch, the Commodore was off again, this time cruising north towards Qena. I began to feel better about the cruise seeming so short – I had forgotten that we were to visit Dendera Temple, or at least forgotten that we were cruising there. The cruises I’ve done in the past were never allowed to go north of Luxor, though I had been to Dendera on a smaller boat. The scenery north of Luxor seems different to the south. There are more little villages on the banks, more people using the river to wash clothes and animals. It’s also not so wide on this part as some of the upper parts of the river. The colours seemed different too, less of the sharp blues and greens we saw nearing Aswan and more browns, the land is the colour of straw baked in the sun. The air that was clear and fresh going south was muggy and dense here, especially as the sandstone cliffs on both banks of the river closed in on us and then opened out again as we neared Qena. As the river widened we were met by a police escort in an inflatable boat who guided us into the newly built dock just as the sun was setting. I wondered at the police escort and it turned out that we were not allowed off the boat at all – not even onto the dock, where armed police were on guard throughout the night. The security people were obviously still being very cautious here.
But we filled the evening with an organized quiz – the same teams as last night – we were the ‘Eyes of Horus’ again and this time we came first, answering correctly 60 out of 65 questions. The prize was three bottles of Egyptian wine that we shared between us at the end of the evening and went off to bed happy.