Journal: Thursday 28 January 2010
Sam and I had a late night last night watching DVDs on the television in the villa, not getting to bed until after 2.00am. We were both quite late getting up this morning and met on the roof for breakfast. This morning the weather was still cloudy and hazy and seemed quite chilly. There was a lot of activity going on in the Mut Temple and it felt like watching a stage performance of excavators, men in lines carrying buckets on their shoulders from one area to another. Unfortunately, because of the layout of the temple and the uneven terrain, we can’t quite see what is going on from our grandstand seat.
We decided to spend another day at Karnak Temple as there is always more to look at and photograph and we arrived there around lunchtime as most of the crowds were leaving. I began in the forecourt, photographing the reliefs in the Sety II triple barque shrine that I have never properly looked at before. This was the first free-standing tripartite shrine to be built at Karnak, an evolution of the single barque shrines and way-stations of earlier kings. In Sety’s monument, during the course of festivals such as Opet or the Valley Festival, the ceremonial barques of Amun, Mut and Khons were set to rest side by side within their own chapels, with Amun in the centre. Interestingly, this building was also named by Sety II as a ‘Temple of Millions of Years’ and was used as a place of worship and prayer and functioned as a cult-chapel for the King’s ka. This multi-purpose monument also contains texts that are dedicated to the eldest son of Sety II, Prince Sety-Merenptah, who is given the epithet ‘True of Voice’, suggesting that he is already deceased and therefore it is a funerary monument, a gift posthumously granted to the prince by his royal father.
Nearby a family of yellow dogs were sleeping in the sun, mother keeping a jealous guard over her litter of puppies, so I kept my distance, knowing how fierce Egyptian bitches with puppies can be. I walked over to the opposite side of the forecourt to the temple of Rameses III and the ‘Bubastite Gate’. These are areas that are not on the main tourist path and are usually nice and quiet. The large gateway in the south-east corner of Karnak’s forecourt was built and decorated by King Sheshonq of Dynasty XXII, the first of Egypt’s ‘Libyan’ kings.
Having looked at the Libyan war scenes of Rameses III at Medinet Habu yesterday, I thought it was ironic that Sheshonq’s monumental gateway adjoins Rameses’ smaller Karnak temple. It was Sheshonq’s own ancestors that had been defeated by Rameses III six generations earlier. Sheshonq had risen to become the most prominent military leader in Egypt, advisor to King Psusennes II in the north. When Sheshonq assumed the crown he became the founder of Dynasty XXII and taking power away from the Theban High Priests, his greatest achievement was to re-unite Upper and Lower Egypt, bringing a long period of peace and stability. On the outer wall of his southern entrance gate, Sheshonq is depicted in an important triumphal scene commemorating his victories against Israel and Judah. Sheshonq offers a khepesh-sword to his god Amun who stands before several rows of name-rings that represent a total of 165 captured cities. The goddess Wast, the personification of Thebes, is also shown here. I first became interested in this scene when doing some work on the Third Intermediate Period, for it has long been argued that Sheshonq is the same king as ‘Shishak’, named in the bible as the Egyptian pharaoh who conquered Jerusalem and plundered the Temple of Solomon. If this is the case, it is a valid argument for the shortened length of TIP chronology. Sheshonq’s monumental gate also offers other beautiful scenes of Osorkon offering to and receiving life or heb-sed from the gods, being suckled by Hathor and always with his son Iuput. The unfinished decoration was added to by later kings, especially Osorkon I and Takelot II.
Leaving the Bubastite Gate I made my way to the cafeteria for a drink and was shortly joined by Sam who had had the same idea. She told me that she had been looking at the back (or should it be the front) of the third pylon which didn’t join up against the rear wall of the hypostyle hall as we had assumed. I walked over to the north side of the pylon a little while later and a policeman let me into the gap of around one metre between the walls, to have a look at the hieroglyphs. This would be the original front or western face of the third pylon built by Amenhotep III, long before Sety’s hypostyle hall had been built. I think it must have been cleared in recent years as I have never noticed it before. There are deep flagstaff niches filled with hieroglyphs, and we know from texts that eight mighty flagstaffs were fashioned from a single piece of Lebanese cedar, the lower ends sheathed in bronze and the tips plated with electrum. There is a depiction, the only one we have of Amenhotep’s Karnak facade, in Tutankhamun’s Opet reliefs at Luxor Temple.
After looking at the beautiful Userhet Barque of Amun, carved on the eastern face of the pylon, I also had a good look at the porch that I had walked past so many times. There is a new history board showing information on the third pylon and its court, where the famous wall of Amenhotep IV, now in the open-air museum, once stood.
I walked out through the ‘cachette’ court on the transverse axis, with the idea of photographing the eighth, ninth and tenth pylons again, but the light by this time was gone, so I went along the southern wall to the front of Karnak where much excavation has been done recently. Here the ancient quay, or Tribune, has been uncovered to show an interesting series of wells and water channels. As I left, Karnak’s huge sandstone walls were bathed in the deep golden light of late afternoon and the dome of the old sheikh’s tomb to the south-west of the temple’s entrance shone with deep rich colours. I was glad to see that the tomb at least had not been removed.
Later in the evening I was on the roof listening to the distant narration of the Karnak Sound and Light show when a mighty roar went up all around. Luxor had beaten Algeria 4-0 in the latest round of the All Africa Cup and the town’s inhabitants seemed to be pleased!!