Thursday, January 20, 2011

On to Luxor

From Dendera, there we proceeded to Luxor, about an hour and a half to the south. Driving through the small towns of Egypt is a wonderful way to really see the countryside We enjoy seeing the many varied means of transportation, and wares for sale along the road.

We cannot see but this load (not sure what it was) might be
hauled by a donkey cart, a small truck, or even a man a scooter or bike.

The oranges were just being harvested and they were wonderful
Dates are extremely popular in Egypt
Crops in front, a pyramid in the distance

In Luxor, we leave our driver and check in on the boat, and have lunch. Jim checks in, and Dalia tells Eloise to go to the dining room to be sure we get some lunch, since it is late - well after 2 pm. The maitre d' seems a bit dubious that anyone so covered with dust and mud could actually be a cruise ship patron, but we are allowed to have lunch. (They quickly become accustomed to our less than "dressy" appearance.)

After lunch, and settling into the stateroom, which will be our "hotel" for the next four days, we meet up again with Dalia to see the great temples of Luxor and Karmak.

These famous New Kingdom temples are two miles apart and once were connected by the avenue of the sphinxes. The existence of this avenue of sphinxes has only recently been rediscovered. It lies some 20-plus feet under the current street level, and is being uncovered and restored, little by little with the help of UNESCO which is also helping to fund purchase of the properties under which it lies.

Dalia suggests we visit Karnak first because Luxor can be seen at night but Karnak is closed soon after 4 pm in order to prepare for the sound and light show, a popular tourist attraction.

Our transportation is by horse and carriage. Our particular horse looks reasonably well-fed and in decent condition, but some are little more than skin and bones, lame and with sores. We cannot understand why the drivers cannot see that proper care of their horses just makes good economic sense, regardless of whether they care about the animal.

Karrnak is not a single temple but a complex spanning several dynasties, with each pharaoh adding his (or in the case of Hapshepset, her) part of it. Here are some of the great obelisks still remaining in Egypt and some of the most monumental statues.

It was built over 1300 years, beginning in the 11th dynasty. Many of the kings felt it was more important to build BIG here rather than with the highest quality so although each addition seems to be larger than the last, the better quality workmanship is likely to be found in temples closer to where the pharaoh lived, in his own mortuary temple or in temples dedicated to whatever god each individual most favored.

This is what the Great Hall
looked like in the 1830s

Today, with some restoration and on-going work of stabilization, this ancient wonder should last for some more generations
revisionist history over the centuries and millennium meant some parts were defaced, or cartouches erased, particularly for Hatshepsut . It is a matter of current scholarly debate whether is was Tutmoses, her nephew and successor or Rameses II who made the most concentrated effort to erase her from history. How ironic that she and Tutankhamun, both of whom later rulers attempted to erase from history, are today among the best known of all Egyptian rulers.

The iconic entrance gate to Karmak was built by Ptolemy II. Hatshepsut had two obelisks erected here. They were walled in by later pharaohs, maybe Amenhotep II, maybe Rameses II, and only uncovered by archaeologists in modern times. The result is they are in very good condition. One is broken and lying on the ground. The other still stands and was partially (and deliberately) concealed by the obelisk erected by Rameses II. When he could not conceal it in its entirety, he covered the top with wood, which is why the top is of a different color and better preserved. Like all Egyptian obelisks, these are made of a single piece of stone. So too as are traditional Egyptian columns, unlike Greco-Roman ones, which are constructed in segments.

We walk through crowds in the Karnak temple in late afternoon It is too large to describe accurately and actually incorporates many temples, many shrines, many obilisks built by many pharaohs over many centuries. It has been called the largest religious site on the earth. There are nine or ten pylons built on two axes and many obelisks have been removed.

By the edge of the several acre ceremonial pool is the largest known scarab representation – the only larger beetle we have ever seen has four wheels. Egyptians made a god of Scarab beetles, Khefre, because they found the rolling of a dung ball, and the later emergence of the beetles that had been nourished within it to be miraculous. It became part of their creation myth. Many exquisite pieces of jewelry and art are in the form of scarabs.

From here we go to Luxor Temple. While the sphnixes at Karmak generally have a ram head, here the heads are mostly human.

Luxor Temple is dedicated to the local triad of gods, Amun, Mut and Khonsu. It was mostly completed by Amonhotep III (father of the heretic king, Ankenaten) but added on to (inculding the great gates) by Rameses II.

It was later a Roman camp and here as elsewhere there are many fragments from Roman era pottery. Just inside the walls is a 13th century mosque and recently a proposal to remove this as part of the Pharaonic era restoration led to huge street demonstrations. That proposal has now been abandoned in favor of the alternative concept of preserving the mosque as itself being part of the site's history.It is still in active use.The call to prayers echoes above the 18th and 19th dynasty religious monuments.

This mosque, built in the 1200s AD, is inside the walls of
Luxor. It is still use today.
Among the most impressive elements at Luxor are the huge columns (Amunhotep III) that look like huge papyrus bundles.

So we finish up this amazing day that has taken us from Abydos to Luxor to return to the ship, on the way driving past the illuminated temple complex (below). That's a full moon over the mosque, though in athe photo it looks like a street light. It's a balmy evening along the Nile, and It has been yet another day filled with wonders.

We enjoy a nice dinner - our choice from an extensive buffet. We return to our stateroom, to find our cabin boy is an amateur sculptor, employing linens - in this case towel and a pillow - with remarkable creativity.

We take the opportunity of some time this evening to catch up on our journals and enjoy the view out our window of the moon over the Nile, before settling down for a sound night's sleep.

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