Archive | December, 2010

Off the Deep End, Part 13

29 Dec

By Eric Shipley

The city Luxor lies in an area that was first inhabited as early as 3200 BC. It is on the site of the ancient city Thebes, which was the capital of ancient Egypt from 2055 to 1000 BC, and it contains the Luxor and Karnak temples.

On our first day of sightseeing, we focused on the Luxor temple, which was founded by the pharaoh Amenhotep III around 1400 BC and was later completed by Ramses II. Like almost everything we saw in Egypt, it was incredible. Leading up to the entrance is a processional way, known as the Avenue of the Sphinxes, that once stretched to the Karnak temple a mile away and is lined with miniature sphinx statues. The front part, including the temple entrance, was built by Ramses II and comprises a wide, thick pylon that towers 75 feet into the air. Originally, there were six massive statues of Ramses II arranged evenly in front of the pylon on either side of the entryway, but only two statues survive. They are seated but still look to be at least 30 feet high. Also, a pair of red granite obelisks (about 78 feet tall) inscribed with the story of the battle of Kadesh (where the Egyptians under Ramses II defeated the Hittites in 1274 BC) once flanked the entrance. Today, only one remains. The other was given to France in 1829 as a gift.

Just inside, we found the Abu Haggag mosque, which dates back to the 13th century. I was distressed to see it sticking out like a sore thumb among the ancient ruins, but it was built before most of the temple was unearthed, and the locals were adamant about not tearing it down when the Luxor temple was discovered underneath.

Beyond this is a processional colonnade (built by Amenhotep III) lined by massive columns carved to look like Papyrus stalks. This leads to a courtyard (also built by Amenhotep) surrounded by more huge columns—they looked to be 40 to 50 feet tall and at least 5 feet in diameter. (Amenhotep apparently had a thing for columns.) It was all very impressive. Not just because of the size of the columns, but also because they’re amazingly sculpted—there are dozens of them and they are all detailed and proportioned exactly the same. Standing among them makes a person feel insignificant, which may have been the intention.

I also remember seeing yet another statue of Ramses (What an ego!) as well as statues of Tut and his sister/wife Mut. And as you’d expect, there were hieroglyphs everywhere, some of them with remnants of color. In fact, we saw traces of color elsewhere too, but mostly it has been worn away by time and the elements. It’s interesting to see pictorial (theoretical) reconstructions of these ruins. They’re thought to have been very colorful.

One of the last things we did at the temple was take pictures of the Avenue of Sphinxes. At what is now the end of the avenue, is a raised area where an armed guard sat. He appeared to be ignoring us, but he gestured for Charlotte to come up and take pictures from his platform. I was a little uneasy about the guy with the machine gun taking an interest in my wife, but it was clearly safe, and the vantage point from the platform was great. So she got some excellent pictures. And we discovered that even the police expect tips. Sheesh! (Or rather, Bakseeskh.)

Still it was an amazing day, and we went back to the hotel with our appetites whetted to see Karnak.

Next: The Karnak temple and sound and light show

The Obelisk

Statues of Ramses II

Avenue of the Sphinxes

Tut and Mut

Amenhotep's courtyard

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