Journal: Tuesday 18 January 2010
Today had been set aside for Abydos, but last night we decided to postpone the trip until we were both feeling more lively. This morning however, Sam and I were both much better and over our early morning coffee on the roof terrace, with the tenth pylon tantalisingly close, we could feel Karnak Temple beckoning to us.
Knowing what Karnak is like in the mornings when a sea of coaches descends on the car park and thousands of tourists cram into the temple, we waited until late morning to set off, Sam driving the car the short journey to get there. Sam has already seen all the changes over the last couple of years, but I hardly recognised the place as we pulled into a new parking area to the south of the temple. Here a new bazaar with stalls selling everything a tourist could want and much that they don’t need, lined the walkway towards the temple. The entrance is now through a new modern visitor’s centre where an impressive wooden model of the temples is set up in the middle of the huge hall. To one side, rows of seating offer a place for visitors to sit and watch a video of the history of Karnak before going in and around the walls there are many old excavation photographs and history boards. I have to say the authorities have done a good job here. We bought our tickets – now 65 EL – fended off a few local guides and set off across a sea of landscaped concrete paving towards the row of ram-headed sphinxes at the entrance.
The area that used to be the old coach and caleche park is now an empty space from the temple all the way down to the river – much as it would have been in ancient times. The only thing I felt missing was the canal that would have once been there. In front of the temple a lot of clearance work has been done and the ancient quay, or tribune, has been uncovered. It would have been from here that the statue of Amun on his sacred barque was taken to Luxor Temple for the Opet festival by the river route. In other periods of history the god travelled by land down a route lined with the sphinxes which are currently being exposed right through Luxor.
After going through security I looked towards the first pylon and could not believe how many people there were in the entrance. Even though we had left it until mid-day when it usually quietens down, I have never seen the temple so busy in all the years I have been coming here. Fortunately the thousands of people were all coming out, but I didn’t see how we would ever be able to get into the temple.
Pushing against the crowd, Sam and I went straight to the fourth pylon where we wanted to have a look at some reliefs Sam had been reading about and we walked around the area of the fourth, fifth and sixth pylons in front of the Sanctuary of Alexander. Last time I was at Karnak, much of this area was closed off for restoration, so it was good to spend some time re-visiting the Tuthmose III and Hatshepsut monuments here. At some point Sam and I lost track of each other, so I went off to have a look at the rooms on the northern side of the Middle Kingdom court which had also previously been locked up. Today nobody stopped me, so my camera was working overtime. These rooms carved with reliefs of Tuthmose III, contain some very interesting scenes, particularly those depicting the hippopotamus hunt.
I went on into the Akh-Menu, the festival temple of Tuthmose III. At least there were no changes here. By now Karnak was much quieter and I saw only a few visitors in these parts. After a look at the ‘botanical reliefs’ which are among my favourites, I went over the wall to the back of Karnak. I was hoping a guard would be around to let me into the little temple of Osiris Heka-djet and was amazed and delighted to find the gate open and nobody in sight. I spent a long time systematically photographing the walls of this little chapel built during Dynasties XXIII to XXV. Here the Divine Adoratrix Shepenwepet and Amenirdis are depicted before the deities in many interesting and often unusual reliefs.
I lost track of the time as I picked my way carefully though the prickly camel thorn at the northern edges of Karnak, looking at the remains of each of the tiny buildings I found and trying to work out what they were. Walking back through the Temple of Amun about 15 minutes before closing time I realized that this area was again very crowded and people were still coming in. I wondered how people thought they could see Karnak in the quarter of an hour before closing. I had lost Sam hours ago, but she was waiting at the car when I got back to the car park, having given up the battle with the crowds a while ago.
We hadn’t really eaten much over the past couple of days, so in the evening Sam and I treated ourselves to another great meal at Maxim’s and later still went to the Horus coffee shop in the bazaar. We had intended to walk the couple of kilometers home to the Villa Mut, but as it was midnight by then, a friend insisted on giving us a lift and wouldn’t take no for an answer.