Journal: Monday 25 January 2010
Sam and I didn’t feel like going too far today, so we spent the afternoon in Karnak temple again. It’s so convenient being practically just around the corner and even if we went every day there would still be plenty to see. It’s a bit of a hike now from the car park, having to go through the new visitor centre to buy tickets and out across the wide stretch of empty plaza that now fronts the temple.
I’m still not sure if I like the re-design – it all feels sort of ‘sanitized’ now, an archaeological theme park with the sole purpose of getting the dozens of coach-loads of tourists in and out as quickly as possible. While I understand how vital tourism is to the Egyptian economy, on this trip and especially around Luxor, I’ve been forming the impression that Egypt no longer has a place for, or an interest in, the serious student of Egyptology. This saddens me.
We managed to escape the noisy jostling crowds in the Amun Temple by going into the open-air museum, which was practically empty. Tickets for the museum cost 25 EL on top of the temple ticket price of 65 EL. It’s been three years since I was last here and the museum has changed a great deal. A row of black granite Sekhmet statues still guard the museum entrance and nearby, a new barque shrine has been erected that bears cartouches of Rameses II as well as Amenhotep II. Behind the barque shrine is a block field with some beautiful blocks from various periods. Opposite this there is a very large area fenced off where a concrete base has been laid for something obviously important. I wonder what this will be. Hatshepsut’s ‘Chapelle Rouge’, completed a few years ago, has pride of place in the centre of the museum area.
I followed the neatly paved path that winds around the museum, looking at some of my favourite, more familiar monuments, such as Senwosret’s beautiful barque chapel and some of the lovely blocks and lintels from Medamud. The huge porch wall of Amenhotep IV that once stood before the third pylon is in an area of the museum that has been opened up, displaying various doorways and statues that are now much easier to see. Not everything is labelled, but there are more information boards than there used to be. A couple of new barque stations are being put up, though they seem to be mostly constructed from new concrete with a few lonely pieces of relief cemented onto the walls and I wondered what was the point when there were so few original remains. I suppose it gives the visitor some idea of what the original monument would have looked like.
Finally I arrived at the back of the museum where the portico of Tuthmose IV has been reconstructed and this at least looks magnificent, with it’s colourful portrayals of the King before various deities on the pillars. I met up with Sam again in the cafeteria. Even this has been smartened up with even higher prices to reflect the changes. After parting with 20 EL for a small bottle of cold Pepsi, we went and sat out by the lake under the shade of the trees – our favourite place to take a break. I had a moment of panic when I found two sets of my rechargeable camera batteries were corroded (one set brand new and as yet unused), but luckily Sam had a spare set I could use for the rest of the day.
After a while we skirted the ninth pylon and walked down towards the little jubilee temple of Amenhotep II, between the ninth and tenth pylons, probably the only monument at Karnak I’ve never actually looked at properly before. The temple, though reconstructed is in a fairly derelict state, but there are some very nice reliefs which still have some colour. I had read that this was not in its original location and that the temple had once been in front of the eighth pylon, probably removed and rebuilt by Horemheb and the decoration completed by Seti I, who re-used it as a barque shrine to Amun. Today, a ramp leads up into the raised temple which is fronted by a portico of square pillars. The square decorated pillars continue inside where a series of rooms lead off in different directions. On the eastern wall there is a large false door stele and to the south, remains of a large ruined statue stands forlorn among patches of overgrown camel thorn. I decided I would need to learn more about this interesting little temple.
On the way out of Karnak I walked over to the older shops to the right of the new plaza that advertise Camera batteries. I eventually found some rechargable AA’s but I could not get the price below 100 EL for two (I needed four) and these were an unknown brand. At around four times the price I pay at home I decided not to bother. When we arrived back at the Villa Mut at around 5.30pm, the electricity was still off. We’ve decided that the power cuts could be linked to the nearby demolition of houses as it is always off during the working day, though not on a Friday when the bulldozers stop for the morning and the workmen go to the mosque. Or perhaps it’s Luxor council’s way of persuading the residents of this area that they must move out as the homes here are also scheduled to be demolished within the next six months. The electricity came back on as it got dark, much to Sam’s delight as she wanted to watch Egypt play Cameroon on television in the All Africa Cup. Egypt won and as we went out later to eat at el-Hussein Restaurant in Karnak, there was much celebration in the streets.