Journal: Thursday 17 November 2005
For today we had planned a trip over the river to the West Bank on the big passenger ferry which runs from the Corniche near Luxor Temple, so it was not far to walk from our hotel. I have seen many ferries come and go over the years, some of them little more than rusting hulks on their final voyages to be replaced by the time I visited again. Now there was another new ferry, shiny with bright white paint and with metal floors intact. We all went up to the top deck and watched as the Corniche and the temple receded as we neared the opposite bank. It was still quite early and we were not bothered by the hawkers and touts I was used to seeing hanging around the dock. Sticking with local transport we caught an arabeya to Dra Abu’l Naga. The six of us almost filled the back of the Peugeot pick-up, but of course there was still room for half a dozen young boys to climb onto the back step and cling on. I’m sure they only came along to look at us, as the stares gradually turned into questions, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Which country?’, ‘Baksheesh?’, ‘Cigarette?’.
Getting off near the junction leading to the King’s Valley, a bargain journey costing only 25 piastres each, we set off walking back along the monument road. Our plan was to look at the sites of all the destroyed temples that line the road, just to see if there are any obvious remains. Just across the road from where we left the arabeya, behind the Temple of Seti I, is the site of the Temple of Nebwenenef, a ‘Prophet of Amun’ and one of the few private individuals to have a mortuary temple in the Theban necropolis. There is now nothing to see here but past explorations have revealed a few Dynasty XVIII or XIX objects found at the site, including two broken pieces from colossal statues of Rameses II. Nearby there was a tiny Temple of Amenhotep I and his queen Ahmose-Nefertari, in which blocks were found that were carved with heb-sed scenes. Three statues of Ahmose-Nefertari were also found here. Again, the site today is just a patch of bare ground.
We walked further along the main road until we came to the site of a colonnaded temple of Rameses IV, just near the end of the Deir el-Barhri causeway. Howard Carter investigated this site and found foundation blocks and some plaques bearing the names of Rameses IV as well as a few other blocks with the names of earlier kings which must have been re-used. The end of the causeway was also the site of Hatshepsut’s Valley temple, but now is a large patch of flat open ground that locals use as a shortcut to the Deir el-Bahri road and boys use to play football. The Valley Temple is known to have been destroyed in antiquity, but Carter discovered foundation deposits from the site during his investigations, which included alabaster jars and tools. A little further along is the site of another destroyed and probably unfinished temple which appears to have been begun by Rameses IV and re-used by Rameses V and VI. Many fragments from the structure have been found. Sandstone reliefs depicting the head of Rameses VI came from the second court and many remains of re-used blocks from other monuments were found including Osirid statues of Amenhotep I and a block depicting Hatshepsut crowned by the god Amun that probably came from her Valley Temple.
To the left and right sides of the road just north of the Ramesseum, is the site of a Temple of Tuthmose III, where at least we could see some evidence of a monument. The modern road now cuts right through this temple and on the left are substantial remains of a mudbrick pylon, while on rising ground to the right the site is marked out by aligned blocks, one or two with some nice reliefs and we saw a couple of column bases and fragments of painted fluted columns. The temple’s ancient name was ‘Henket-ankh’, and it was probably begun in the earlier part of Tuthmose’s co-regency with Hatshepsut. Many of the blocks and objects from here have found their way into museums around the world. Another destroyed temple is situated to the south of the Tuthmose temple, jointly belonging to Kings Merenptah and Siptah of Dynasty XIX. This is now a low mound at the side of the road, with no suggestion of the ruins it possibly covers. It was excavated by Petrie who found foundation deposits naming King Siptah and Chancellor Bay, as well as plaques, jar-sealings and fragments of vessels.
By now we were in the area of the Ramesseum. Just to the northern side of the huge Mortuary Temple of Rameses II, is a ruined Temple of Amenhotep II. Originally excavated by Petrie, it is currently undergoing re-excavation and restoration by an Italian Archaeological Mission. The remains here appear to be quite extensive. Against the Ramesseum’s northern wall was also a chapel of the ‘White Queen’, so named because a white limestone bust of Rameses’ daughter and consort Merit-Amun, depicted in her religious role as ‘Sistrum-player of Mut’ and ‘Dancer of Horus’, was discovered here. This bust is now in the Cairo Museum.
Across the road we had a wonderful view of el-Qurn, the pyramid-shaped mountain peak in which the ancient Egyptians believed that Hathor, the ‘Lady of the West’ resided. At the foot of the Theban mountain between Deir el-Bahri and Deir el-Medina, behind the village of Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna, is one of the oldest of the Theban temples, belonging to Mentuhotep Sankhare or Amenemhat I. It is thought that the structure was never completed and the temple consists today of only a platform and causeway, though very difficult to find. Because Sam and I had looked for it before, we didn’t bother today and carried on walking along the main road. Just to the south of the Ramesseum was a tiny temple in the name of Prince Wadjmose, a son of Tuthmose I. The temple is now completely destroyed, but statue fragments bearing the names of Wadjmose and Tuthmose I were found here as well as various blocks of Tuthmose III and several stelae. The next sites we came to were a destroyed temple of Tuthmose IV, and close by, a temple built for Queen Tawosret, wife of Seti II. This she shared with her successor Siptah. Little is known about this monument but there has obviously been some recent restoration done here.
By now we had reached the end of the Monuments Road, with the Merenptah open-air museum to our left. It took several hours to walk along the road, stopping to investigate any possibility of a monument, even examining odd blocks of stone sticking up out of the sand. We were all hot and thirsty so the obvious next step would be the Rameses Cafeteria at Medinet Habu. But on the way there was still more to look out for. Taking the back road past the ticket office, we still had to pass the site of a temple of Rameses IV known as the ‘North Temple’ but there are virtually no remains to be seen. Likewise a ‘South Temple’ of which little is known beyond a ground plan. A mortuary temple constructed as a gift from Amenhotep III for Amenhotep son of Hapu, the king’s chief architect and scribe, contains more extant remains in the form of a large area of pavement with a few scattered blocks and column bases. Finally we all lined up on a large mound of rubbish to get an overview of the destroyed temple of Ay and Horemheb where a team have recently been doing some restoration work.
The café at Medinet Habu was crowded with lunch-time coach tours, most of the long wooden tables were taken by Japanese tourists eating packed lunches provided by their hotels. We managed to find a free table at the edge of the café and gratefully sat down for a rest and a lengthy lunch consisting of lovely Egyptian salads and yummy garlic bread, washed down with deliciously refreshing lemon juice.
Feeling a little more lively as the mid-day heat began to abate we eventually walked across the road and into the Temple of Rameses III. Now this is what I call a temple – it has long been one of my favourite monuments in the whole of Egypt and it always feels like an old dear friend. Fortunately we had come inside during a lull which often happens in the early afternoon and the temple was very quiet. We each set off in different directions, which meant that the couple of guards on duty quickly gave up trying to follow us and went off for their siesta. The small temple, the oldest building at Habu constructed by Hatshepsut was closed due to the ongoing work by Chicago House. I headed off towards the shrines of the God’s Wives. Only two of the original four chapels still remain, but on a lintel above a doorway there is an ‘appeal to the living’, in which the Divine Adoratrice Shepenwepet II asks that a prayer be said for the occupants of the chapels. The request concludes in a threat – that ‘as for those who do not utter these words, the Mistress of the West will cause them to be sick and their wives to be afflicted!‘ So I like to say a little silent prayer as I pass by, just in case.
I wandered around my favourite parts of the temple for a couple of hours and we all met up again in the hypostyle hall as the first of the coach parties could be seen coming through the huge pylon gate. It was time to leave. The afternoon was drawing to a close and we all decided it would be nice to stay and have an early dinner in the Rameses Café where we could sit and watch the sun go down behind the Theban mountain, while the face of the temple gradually comes alive with the artificial lights playing over the walls as dusk falls.
Eventually we made our way back across the river on the ferry to Luxor. It was a beautiful evening.