Journal: Friday 22 January 2010
Anyone who’s been to Luxor has probably seen the famous avenue of ram-headed sphinxes that lead to the first pylon of Karnak Temple. This western approach to Karnak was appropriately called ‘The Way of the Rams’ by ancient Egyptians and has been attributed to Rameses II because the statuettes between the sphinxes paws bear his cartouche.
Many scholars suggest that an earlier name may once have been carved here and it seems likely that the sphinxes themselves were the work of Amenhotep III who inaugurated many of the processional ways associated with Karnak. These sphinxes, though not in their original position, would once have extended as far as the second pylon, the main entrance to the temple at that time. They were moved to the temple approach by Pinudjem I and each of the sphinxes has his name carved on the base. The sphinxes in the forecourt were moved to each side to make way for the monuments of Taharqa and Sheshonq I and they remain today on the north and south sides of the forecourt. These are all ‘crio-sphinxes’ having the head of a ram with the curled horns of Amun, a nemes head-dress and the body of a lion.
Today, Sam and I were looking at the sphinxes around the Temple of Mut where two processional routes converge. We walked around the corner from the Villa Mut and along the road north of Abu el-Gud, where all the houses are being demolished. The processional way here is currently being exposed and many of the bases for sphinxes are in situ, but there are few remains of the actual sphinxes. We also saw what looks like it might be a barque station, perhaps one of the six mentioned by Hatshepsut along this north-south route. Where this part of the avenue ends it turns at right-angles towards the entrance to the Mut Precinct. Turning right, we met the gafir from the Temple of Mut and he showed us the sphinxes as we walked together down the paved dromos of the processional way. A lot of restoration has been done here and many of the sphinxes are in good condition. These are human-headed statues with a lion’s body and they bear the cartouche of Pinudjem I. The gafir showed us that the sphinxes were interspersed with trees and shrubs and he showed us the excavated wells and water channels that provided a self-watering system – it must have looked spectacular when in use during the processions to Luxor. At the end of this avenue, where it meets the entrance to the Mut Temple, we again turned northwards towards Karnak’s tenth pylon. Here the few sphinxes that were preserved enough to tell, had rams heads and I recognised the cartouches of Horemheb on most and Seti II on one base.
In ‘Karnak, Evolution of a Temple’ by Elizabeth Blyth, the author suggests that it may have been the young Tutankhamun who initiated this avenue. She suggests that the sphinxes had rams heads added to the bodies and a statuette of Tutankhamun placed between the paws (though I could see no evidence of this). The original heads of the crio-sphinxes had been human and remains have been identified as portraying Akhenaten and Nefertiti, shown in equal size, which would therefore make them unique. Latest research shows that these sphinxes may have been transported from the Temple of Amenhotep IV on the eastern side of Karnak, since a possible processional way has been found there.
We had arrived at the Tenth Pylon. Before the southern face of the gateway there is a plinth on which stood a massive colossus of Amenhotep III. Today only the feet of the statue remain, but it is said to have been the largest royal statue ever erected in Egypt. In an inscription on a private statue of Amenhotep Son of Hapu, Amenhotep’s architect claims that this mammoth statue was carved for the king from a single block of red quartzite. Another plinth exists on the western side of the gate but archaeologists are uncertain whether a pair of colossal statues were ever erected here.
A couple of local ladies helped us up the bank and over a wall by their house. They had been tending their little flock of black goats that were scavenging around the feet of Amenhotep. They offered us a cup of tea which we politely declined and it was sad to think that their homes too would be scheduled for demolition in the near future. Continuing along the enclosure wall we soon came to Karnak’s Khonsu gate. Standing in front of the gate and looking south, another row of sphinxes ran along the western side of the road.
This is thought to be the oldest part of the processional way linking Karnak and Luxor Temples. The road is lined with figures of seated rams. Not really sphinxes, the ram statues are larger than the crio-sphinxes of the other avenues. They each bear the cartouche of Pinudjem I on the plinth but they are known to be the work of Amenhotep III, perhaps being brought from the Mut Precinct where other similar ram statues have been found. Like the western approach to the Mut Temple, this avenue too was once planted with trees, but today it is in a very ruinous state.
The day was very hot and we had been out at the hottest time with the sun blazing down from a cloudless sky and no shade to be found anywhere. I would have liked to walk further and look at the rest of the sphinx avenue that carries on through Luxor to the temple. I had already caught brief glimpses of the 100m wide swathe that has been cut through the centre of town to expose the sphinxes, looking like bulldozer archaeology at its finest. Walking southwards again, we decided to leave sphinx avenue part 2 for another day. Today I had been endlessly plagued by both children and flies so by mid-afternoon, not knowing which was worse, we headed back to the Villa Mut. The electricity was off again until 6.00pm, so we sat on the roof terrace until dark.