Journal: Tuesday 11 January 2011
It was mid-morning before Sam and I were awake but we didn’t see Fiona or Malcolm until lunchtime, which actually became a late breakfast for us all. We decided on an easy afternoon and asked Abdul to drive us in his minibus to Deir el-Shelwit.
This little Roman Temple of Isis is on the edge of the cultivation beyond Medinet Habu. As usual the temple itself was locked up and no key was available (or ever has been the few times I’ve visited), but we wandered around the temple grounds for a while taking pictures. The most interesting monument here are the two tall walls of a propylon gate, which are covered in good quality reliefs depicting Roman Emperors, Vespasian, Otho, Galba and Domitian before various deities. To the north-west of the temple is a tiny sacred lake, or more probably a well, which looks like it has been cleared since I was last here. The square-shaped temple is undecorated on its exterior walls, except for a few blocks which obviously don’t belong, as some of them are upside down. We could peer through the grid of the gate into the temple to see the blackened walls with unfinished cartouches in the sanctuary. The few Romans mentioned inside the temple include Hadrian and Antonius Pius.
One of the most surprising things we found here is a new gigantic modern wall, about 3 or four metres high, that has been built around the site. A team of painters were engaged in painting it – I wondered how long that would take. Presumably the wall is to protect the monument, but it is a bit of an eyesore. We were soon to discover that the wall continued several kilometres all the way to Medinet Habu.
We stopped a couple of times on the track leading back to Medinet Habu to see if we could identify an area known as Kom el-Samak, part of the vast city complex of Amenhotep III which was excavated by the Japanese in the 1970s. Of course this would be now all covered over and from the road, one sandy mound looks very much like another.
Back at Medinet Habu we sent Abdul off to see if he could find the gafir for the little hidden temple of Qasr el-Aguz – I say hidden because it is almost impossible to find amongst the houses of the village of Kom Lolla. I’ve only been here once before and have wanted to see it again for years, but it has always been locked up. Fortunately the temple is currently being cleaned and the gafir was found and was able to open it up for us.
This is a rare temple of Thoth, miniscule in size, from the time of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II. Parts of the outer wall are still complete and a gate leads into a wide courtyard. There are some beautiful and impressive cornices and lintels with winged serpent motifs on the doorways into three further chambers. These rooms are lit by small apertures high on the walls, throwing the remaining hieroglyphs into relief. Some of the reliefs are unfinished revealing red-painted outlines.
On my last visit many years ago the walls inside the temple were blackened and neglected and almost unreadable. What a surprise to see brightly painted deities now looking down from the walls.
When the visit was over we had a coffee at Ahmed’s Hapy Habu cafe (a new one to me), before driving along the monument road at dusk as the new lights on the Theban mountain began to glow. I’m not sure how I feel about the new lights which span the whole length of the monument area and floodlight tomb entrances and the surrounding hills. Perhaps a bit touristy? I’ll reserve judgement for now.
We all had dinner later at Tutankhamun Restaurant on the West Bank. I haven’t been here for years but it is just as I remember it – more food than we could possibly eat and a magnificent view from the roof across the river to Luxor.