Journal: Wednesday 23 November 2005
By 7.00 this morning our little group was leaving Luxor and travelling towards Edfu. The police convoy is still obligatory on this route and we were one little minibus among what seemed like hundreds of vehicles snaking our way through Luxor, past the checkpoint by the bridge and speeding up on the road south. There was a lot of honking of horns and overtaking until the convoy settled down into a natural order – the speedy ones at the front and the dozy ones, like us (what’s the hurry?) bringing up the rear and being herded like sheep by occasional police trucks. Our driver Abdul really hates the convoys.
The familiar road, first alongside the Nile and then a canal, follows the railway line and leads past the site of Middle Kingdom tombs at el-Moalla. I would have loved to stop and visit the tomb of Ankhtifi, but a quick glimpse of the hill as we sped past was all I got. After about an hour and a half we all stopped at ‘The Black Horse’, where the Luxor police change places with the Edfu police. I can never remember the proper name (Sharaola??) for this well-known checkpoint because I’ve always known it as the Black Horse but never knew why it was called that. The taxis and coaches disgorged their passengers who made as one for the coffee shop and toilets and both had very long queues within a couple of minutes. I got out to stretch my legs and took a few pictures of the surrounding fields of green crops and a bored-looking policeman in his concrete tower. A large poster of President Mubarak smiled down at us all from a hoarding.
After a ten minute break we were off again, this time passing by el-Kab, which we had visited a week ago, and eventually arriving at Edfu at around 10.30am. I haven’t been to Edfu since the entrance was changed and as soon as we pulled into the large new coach park I could see the difference. Before, we approached from the back of the temple, walking along by the huge enclosure wall and around to the front pylon. Now the new entrance with its long and wide paved walkway leads straight to the front entrance and the pylon gate looks magnificent and much more impressive from a distance. I also noticed the new open-air museum on the western side of the path which hadn’t been there before.
Fiona, Malcolm and I stopped first at the mammisi, which I’ve never had time to visit before. This little colonnaded building unique to Graeco-Roman temples, is a birth-house, built to celebrate the divine birth of Horus and is the prototype for the ones at Dendera. We spent a long time looking at the reliefs, some of which are quite unusual and many depicting birth-scenes of Ihy, the son of Hathor and Horus as well as my favourite little god Bes.
On the massive twin towers of the pylon, the king strikes the traditional pose of smiting his enemies before Horus, and I could imagine the bright flags which would have fluttered above the gate when the temple was in use. The grooves for the flagpoles can still be clearly seen. Guarding the main gateway, two statues of Horus as a falcon are still in situ and are an instant identification of the temple. Of course everyone has to stop and have their picture taken with the big birds. For the rest of the morning I stayed in the portico of the first court taking photographs of the scenes of the ‘Feast of the Beautiful Meeting’, the important festival in which the cult statue of Hathor travelled each year from Dendera to Edfu on a barge to reunite with her consort Horus.
We had all arranged to meet up at lunchtime in the cafeteria, so I went off to find my friends. The temple itself was quite busy by this time, but after an hour or so most of the other tourists had left and we had the temple almost to ourselves. I revisited each of the familiar chambers, all very similar to Dendera and tried to work out the names of each room from my copy of ‘Porter and Moss’. One thing here I love is the reproduction of the barque of Horus standing on a low pedestal in a chapel behind the sanctuary. This full-scale model was built for Arthur Weigall early in the 19th century, who used it in a re-enactment of a Horus Festival, and it is beautiful.
For the rest of the afternoon, I walked around the ambulatory corridor of the inner enclosure walls, where the whole myth of the battle of Horus and Seth is depicted in relief. The Edfu Drama, or the ‘Triumph of Horus’, tells the story of Horus’s mythological triumph over Seth which was celebrated each year as a mystery play. Another important ritual celebrated at Edfu and depicted on the ambulatory walls was known as the ‘Installation of the Sacred Falcon’ in which a live falcon representing both the god Horus and the king, was crowned.
Too soon it was time to leave and by 4.30pm we were once more driving with the convoy back towards Luxor as the sun began to set.