Sunday, May 7, 2017

Snapshots of Egypt - Luxor

Luxor East Bank

Karnak Temple was my first stop on the East Bank of Luxor. Karnak Temple was originally erected during the Middle Kingdom and reached completion during the Ptolemaic Period, with most of the architecture dating to the New Kingdom. The temple complex contains a walkway of sphinxes, statues of Ramses the Great, an obelisk of Hatshepsut, as well as a Sacred Pond that had been sourced by the Nile River. Where as Alexandria serves as a visual history for the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, Karnak is a visual history of the Pharaonic History, containing the building projects of all of the notable pharaohs of Egypt and many who have been lost to history as well.

Karnak Pylons

Hypostyle Hall
 This scarab beetle was erected in front of the Sacred Pool of Karnak Temple. As the legend goes, walking around the scarab statue three times brings good luck, seven times bring marriage, and nine times brings pregnancy. I paraded around the statue seven times making my own wishes as I went.

Lucky Scarab

 One of the most exciting aspects of Karnak Temple was seeing the obelisk at the center of the temple complex. The obelisk, on the left, is the only one of the four "sister" obelisks to remain in Karnak Temple. The other three are located in New York City, Istanbul, and London. Having seen the obelisk in Karnak, I have now seen three of the four "sister" obelisks! I have seen "Cleopatra's Needle" in Central Park, and this semester in Istanbul, I was able to see the third obelisk at the Hippodrome. Now I am on a mission. At some point I will need to visit London so that I will be able to say that I have seen all four of the Karnak obelisks.

Obelisk at Karnak
Obelisk at Istanbul

Luxor Temple was my second stop on the East Bank of Luxor. In Ancient Egypt, Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple were connected by a causeway of granite sphinxes. Luxor Temple was a significant temple during the Pharaonic period, as it was dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship and the place for the coronation of the Pharaoh of Egypt. As a result many of the wall inscriptions and the statues depict the coronation of the Pharaohs or attempts to legitimize their reigns, in the case that they were not the apparent successor to the throne.

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple contains numerous depictions of gods and goddess bestowing their favor upon the recently (and not so recently) crowned Pharaohs of Egypt, as well as blessing their reigns. Often these gods include Ammon Ra, Horus, Isis, Min, Thoth, Sekhmet, and Hathor. However, for the first time I saw a depiction of my favorite Egyptian god(dess), Seshat. Seshat is the goddess of wisdom, writing, libraries, mathematics, and knowledge, and was believed to have had an important role in the preservation of the reign of the Pharaoh, as well as the foundation of cities. Seshat was a pre-dynastic goddess, who pre-dated the both the consolidation of upper and lower Egypt, as well as the establishment of the Pharaonic system of government. Unfortunately, as the history of Egypt progressed, the god Thoth, took over her role as the god of wisdom and Seshat faded into obscurity, becoming the recorder of the Sed festival, which marked thirty years of a pharaoh's reign, along with being an architect of cities. Below, Seshat is depicted on the back of a statue of Ramesses II recording the information of his Sed festival for eternity. 

This semester, I am taking a class on the history of ancient Macedon, and the star of the course is Alexander the Great, who began conquering most of the known world at twenty years old, expanded his empire from Greece, to Asia Minor (Turkey and Armenia), Egypt, the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine), Persia (modern day Iraq and Iran), Bactria (Afghanistan), up until the Indus River (Pakistan), and promptly died at the age of thirty-two. When Alexander came to Egypt, he was depicted on the Luxor Temple dressed as a Pharaoh providing sacrifices to the Egyptian gods as a way of legitimizing his reign to the Egyptian people. As a Classical History major, I often find it disheartening to study about all of these incredible people who have accomplished such incredible things at such young ages. But I beat Alexander the Great to Egypt. He was twenty-four when he first walked along the banks of the Nile and gazed upon the temples and the Pyramids, but I came to Egypt at the age of twenty, and that makes me extremely happy!

Alexander the Great

Luxor West Bank

My second day in Luxor was spent on the West Bank - where the funerary monuments of the Pharaohs, their queens, and advisers are located. My first tour was to the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Personally, it bothers my that we call her a queen, and that we do not give to her, her proper title - Pharaoh. Though Egyptian history is littered with important and powerful women, Hatshepsut is the only women to rule Egypt as a Pharaoh in her own right until the Ptolemaic period. Hatshepsut was originally declared as regent for her son, and then proceeded to become Pharaoh. During her reign she called for successful diplomatic and trade expeditions to Pont, an East African empire, along with commanding military expeditions, expanding the Egyptian border. Her temple is covered with engravings of the success of her reign, but unfortunately, her son Thutmose III, upon ascending the throne, took care to erase her image from history. Fortunately some images remain, albeit often without her face, preserving her reign for eternity.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
My last stop in Luxor was at the famed Valley of the Kings, where the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried. Though the Pharaohs were no longer building pyramids, they chose this location for their subterranean tombs due to the natural pyramid shape of the landscape, which can be seen in the picture below. The Valley of the Kings contains 63 known tombs, but it is possible that the area contains more, as tombs from notable pharaohs are still missing. These tombs include long declines and multiple chambers  decorated with beautifully painted hieroglyphics that lead eventually to the burial vault. I was able to visit four of the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. I visited KV (Kings' Valley) 2 - Ramesses IV , KV 6 - Ramesses IX, KV 8- Merenptah, and KV 62 - Tutankhamen. While each of the tombs were impressive in their own right, to be able to walk into Tutankhamen's tomb and see the wall paintings of the famed Boy-Pharaoh was a pretty incredible experience.

Valley of the Kings

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