Journal: Wednesday 1 December 2004
At breakfast today Sam & I decided to drive up to Esna as neither of us have visited the temple there for a few years. Because the tourists are all south of Esna (at least the ones on cruiseships) the police have temporarily stopped the convoy between Luxor and Esna for the duration and we could drive there at our leisure. It was a lovely drive along the east bank – hardly any other vehicles on the road. We passed el-Moalla tombs and also saw Gebelien Hill in the distance.
Sam only got a little lost in Esna but that was due to the one-way system – an unusual experience in Egypt. The entrance to the bazaar leading to the temple is not easy to find when you’re driving past as it’s a very narrow lane and the temple is not signposted. We eventually found it by parking on the Corniche and walking. Got a little side-tracked in the bazaar while Sam bought a lovely bright red scarf and I tried on a really nice linen galabeya. Unfortunately they only had the particular galabeya I liked in extra large which was much too big for me. I told myself I really didn’t need it – I’d already bought a beautiful and very expensive ‘suede-look’ galabeya in Cairo. I have a passion for galabeyas which I wear all the time at home and have several winter ones from Cairo which are velvet or linen and warm enough for England. I don’t like the tourist ones you see in Luxor with lots of garish embroidery. We also found a lovely wikala very close to the temple. This is a medieval trading post and a sort of inn where merchants would stay and trade their wares. This one, hidden behind a stall in the bazaar, was a bit derelict but had some lovely carved woodwork.
We managed about an hour and a half in Esna Temple before the first lot of boat people turned up and took over the temple. First we walked around the outside walls looking at the reliefs of Roman emperors before various gods. Kings named are Titus, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Caracalla. They wear an amazing array of decorative crowns. Divinities include Neith, Sobek, Khnum & Menhyt.
Inside the temple there has been quite a lot of restoration and cleaning done since I was last here and although it was very dark many of the reliefs were quite easy to photograph. There is also much more colour showing in some parts than I remember seeing before. These weird and wonderful Roman hieroglyphs continue to defeat me and I find it almost impossible to recognise and identify the names of the deities. I’m always intrigued by the crocodile and ram ‘cryptograms’ (or calendars?).
There are some lovely temple ritual scenes with some unusual deities – mostly upper Egyptian gods and many of the Elephantine deities are depicted. On one pillar there is a relief of four Meskhenyts with the same headdress we found on a god in the Seti Temple at Qurna. Another column has a curious relief of a king in an odd pose which looks like he’s dancing. He wears a long diaphanous kilt. The astronomical ceiling and the column capitals are particularly beautiful, as is the relief on the north wall of the king, Commodus hunting with a clapnet in the marshes with Khnum, Horus, Thoth and Sefkhet-wert.
After leaving the temple we walked back down through the bazaar and went to a coffee shop we’d noticed near where we parked the car. All of the cruiseboats are lined up along the corniche and occasionally a group of brave tourists will venture off a boat for a short stroll. As we were sitting (among the men) drinking our ahwa and Sam was having her shoes polished by a little boy, we noticed one cheeky bunch of tourists taking our photograph and videoing us. Yes, we’re the floorshow yet again!
We had a lovely leisurely drive back to Luxor. Thought about stopping at el-Moalla but decided that we probably wouldn’t be able to visit Ankhtifi’s tomb as there has been a lot of excavation there recently. Last time we went there we had to wait hours for the gafir with the key and it was pitch dark by the time we got into the tombs. They were very helpful on that occasion as they dragged a generator up the hill and we saw the reliefs by torchlight. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures then. Wish I had! We also stopped so that I could take a picture of the distant hill of Gebelein with it’s distinctive sheikh’s tomb on the top – a site I have yet to visit.
Arriving back in Luxor around 5.00pm, Sam and I later went out to eat at Farag’s (green) restaurant on Yussef Hassan St. This is an Egyptian restaurant and the only veggy food they had was a tuna pizza (which was horrible). I should have stuck to my usual rice and vegetables, but it gets a bit boring by the third week. After we had eaten, our friend Salah phoned and invited us to the Etap where a friend of his from Cairo was singing. Her name is Maha and she has a very good voice – especially when singing Arabic songs including some Omm Kulthoum numbers. Bed by 2.00am.