Journal: Thursday 13 January 2011
Another day, another speos. This morning found us back on the road south following the route to Edfu that we had taken yesterday. Sam and I had visited Kanais last year, but as Fiona and Malcolm had never been there, I was keen to re-visit this little temple of Seti I in the Eastern Desert. Sometime in the past year I had heard that the inner chamber of the speos was now open and I was keen to see Seti’s important inscription in which he details the building of the temple. Sam decided that she would rather spend the day in Edfu Temple, so we crossed the bridge into the town to drop her off there before continuing eastwards 50km along the Wadi Abbad and the road through the desert from Edfu to Marsa Alam.
I recognised the location of the temple, on the right-hand side of the road, by the three tall aerial masts on a hill just before the site.Two guards were waiting for us when we arrived. Fiona, Malcolm and I went straight to the temple and I was delighted to see that the inner chamber had a gate rather than the bricked up entrance of last year. The guard opened the gate for us without being asked. When I went inside the reason it is now open became obvious from the scaffolding that filled the space, the walls and ceiling of this lovely little temple are being cleaned and conserved. Although some of the reliefs are quite worn and damaged, the cleaned walls look stunning. The colour is typical Seti I, grey-blues on a white background and the ceiling is particularly spectacular with yellow stars in a blue sky and a fabulous winged vulture motif down the centre isle.
In the entrance to the rock-cut chamber is the first part of Seti’s long inscription, dated to Year 9 of his reign. The text tells the story of how the king stopped here while making an inspection of his gold mines, from where the gold to furnish his Abydos temple was acquired. His journey had been long and arduous in the heat of the desert and the king decreed that a well be dug to quench the thirst of all desert travellers and for the gold-miners who must pass this way and a shrine that they may praise the gods and the king. To the right is the second part of the inscription, devoted to blessings on those who look after the shrine and the mines with which it is associated, and threatening those who allow it to fall into neglect with curses. A third inscription, to the left of the doorway, was intended to echo the dialogue of travellers who have benefited by the king’s benevolence.
The walls on either side of the chamber depict the King offering to various deities, while nine engaged seated statues are ranged in three alcoves on the far end wall. There are four square pillars in the centre, also with reliefs of the King and gods, though some are very damaged. The temple is dedicated principally to Amun-re and to Horus of Edfu, but the seven main deities honoured here are the same gods who have shrines at Seti’s Abydos temple.
Needless to say, we spent a long time looking at the reliefs, while the guard waited patiently outside.
While Seti’s speos is really lovely, the site at Kanais has another attraction. The high cliffs and large boulders surrounding the temple are covered in ancient reliefs and graffiti. Near the temple, high on the cliffs there are three stele belonging to men from Seti’s reign: Anena and Nebseny, Yuni and Panub.
I particularly wanted to have another look at Panub’s stele in which Panub is kneeling before an un-named goddess who is probably Astarte, mounted on a galloping horse brandishing a shield and spear. I had missed photographing this last year. This part of the stele is very worn but I managed to get a photograph through a long lens.
Meanwhile Fiona had gone off exploring and I eventually spotted her half way up the cliff face perched on a ledge looking at some high graffiti. Malcolm and I stuck mostly to the lower levels. Ancient carvings suddenly appear everywhere when you begin to look. My favourite ones are the very early depictions of curved boats. There are also lots of animals, particularly elephants (brought through this wadi by the Romans), gazelle and birds. I could spend a whole day looking at these pictures, carved, painted or bruised by ancient travellers who have passed through the wadi. Of course there are quite a few more modern graffiti too.
Finally we had a look at the deep well said to have been dug on Seti’s orders to sustain travellers and workmen on the way to his gold mines. There is also a Roman fortified water station consisting of the lower parts of an enclosure wall in which a few chambers can still be seen. The sandy floor is covered with broken pottery sherds.
After thanking the guards and giving them their baksheesh, we set off back towards Edfu, collected Sam from the car park in front of Edfu Temple and then continued on the long drive back to Luxor in the glow of another beautiful sunset.