Early morning in Luxor, during the winter months, is a revelation after the modern day rush and activity of Cairo and the other large towns of Lower Egypt. Occupying a beautiful position on the east bank of the Nile, surrounded on every side by gardens and palm-groves, and overlooking the magnificent Theban hills and the emerald border of palms and vegetation of the farther bank, the Luxor of today can justly lay claim to being "the Jewel of the Nile valley".
Although well supplied with excellent hotels, rivalling even those of Cairo, where one's every comfort is catered for and anticipated, the town of Luxor itself is typically oriental.
The narrow tortuous streets, the merchants' booths and open-fronted shops, the primitive native houses - which, here and there, through a half-open door allow one a glimpse of the picturesqueness of eastern life - are not without their charm to one steeped in the modernity of the Western world.
If time permits, a morning's ramble through the town itself is of greatest interest, and will stamp a profusion of eastern scenes on the memory, not likely to be forgotten during one's lifetime.
Everywhere is met the greatest hospitality and politeness, and should one venture to enquire regarding some curio, antiquity, or work of art that has caught the eye, immediately chairs, cigarettes and the inevitable tiny cups of sweet Turkish coffee will appear from nowhere, while one examines the object or wares that attract.
Even so, it is in no way incumbent to purchase, for the civilities shown, being an ever-recurring part of the oriental dealer's day, are simply the expression of an hospitable "good morning", and their acceptance is expected, irrespective of whether a "deal" is brought off or otherwise. In the East there is always "tomorrow", and the word "bukhra" will invariably please the dealer with its indefinite meaning of probability, while the visitor is free to return or not at his will.
Experience has taught that a pleased and interested "looker" will, sooner or later, become a "buyer" and to this end, time being of little object, the tenets of oriental hospitality are practised for one and all.
Having had our fill, for the moment of modern day eastern scenes, we went on and proceeded to lift the veil of Egypt of some 4000 years ago.
A few minutes walk from the centre of the town, on the border of the Nile, north of the imposing building of the Winter Palace Hotel, stands the temple of Luxor, the only monument so far discovered in the immediate vicinity of the modern town.
The temple of Luxor alongside the Nile
Until some fifty years ago, the temple was completely buried under a hill of rubbish, covered and surrounded by native houses and hovels, the whole having an appearance similar to the hut covered hillocks still existing on the north and east sides of the temple.
The existence of the temple was by chance discovered when a drainage-shaft was being sunk from a house then situated right over the top of one of the main columns, and the matter was reported to the Department of Antiquities. Permission having been given to Prof. G. Maspero to conduct excavations, in which he was assisted by certain British officials of the Egyptian government, the hill of rubbish was entirely removed, and the work of two years revealed the magnificent edifice as it now stands.
Certainly the best time of the day to visit the temple of Luxor is the afternoon when the soft light tends not only to greater impressiveness, but also allows the reliefs to be more easily distinguished. During the morning hours many of these, bathed in sunlight, are somewhat hard to discern.
Entering the temple area by the modern entrance, after mounting a slight incline where a portion of the original wall is broken away, we find ourselves in the forecourt of Amenophis III. This forecourt, with all the courts and chambers together situated to the south, was built during the reign of this Pharaoh, and constituted the original temple.
The temple of Luxor was dedicated to the trinity of Theban gods; Amen-Ra, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu.
It will be seen that the columns of the forecourt with the exception of the section at the north end where the original gateway of the temple stood in the time of Amenophis II, are in an excellent state of preservation. Always open in the centre, the blocks forming the roofing round the sides of the forecourt, supported by the columns and back-walls, have now entirely disappeared - many having doubtless fallen at the time of the great earthquake which visited the area in BC 27, when a great deal of damage was done in the neighbourhood. The fallen blocks were probably carried off by the local inhabitants, at the time, for the building of houses and other of their requirements, and from the shape of many of the blocks of stone that, to this day, can be found in the courtyards and interiors of many of the native mud, brick houses, no longer used, it is practically certain that this was their end.
The Pylon and obelisk of Ramses II at the temple of Luxor
Originally highly coloured, traces of which still remain here and there, the inscriptions on the columns, roof and walls must have been most magnificent. It is interesting to read that, even to this day, the composition of the paints used, which retain their original brilliancy after thousands of years exposure to the elements, has not been discovered, or equalled by anything we have in our world today.
From the former gateway in the north wall stretched the impressive avenue of sphinxes, connecting Luxor temple with those at Karnak - the route followed lying roughly under the present-day road to Karnak, and under which this self-same avenue of sphinxes, in all probability, still lies. In fact the approach to Karnak, on both sides of the carriage road still bears traces, here and there, of some 15 or 20 sphinxes, though in nearly every case the figures have crumbled away, leaving little more than rectangular piles of stone blocks marking the original positions.
Leaving the forecourt of Amenophis III, and keeping as an objective the original temple as constructed by this Pharaoh, we turn our backs, for the moment, on the former temple gates in the north wall. Proceeding to the south end of the forecourt we at once enter the Hypostyle Hall, sometimes termed the Festival Hall. The roof here was originally borne upon 32 columns, but only the latter remain today. The walls are in a much damaged condition, and the reliefs executed in the reign of Amenophis III have many cartouches of Ramses II, who reigned some 240 years later, added.
In the centre of the south wall of the Hypostyle Hall is the entrance of the first vestibule. This originally possessing eight pillars, in later times, utilised as a Roman temple, of which the small recess at the south end, flanked by the pink granite pillars, still remains in testimony. The walls here also are very badly preserved and only here and there can traces of the reliefs be distinguished. The first vestibule was dedicated to the god Amen-Ra to whom homage was first made on entering the precincts.
On either side, to the east and west, (entrance being made from the Hypostyle Hall) lie the shrines of the lesser deities; that on the east being dedicated to the goddess Mut, and that on the west to the lesser god Khonsu. These three deities formed the Theban trinity, or "patron saints" of the temple of Amenophis III.
The remains of the Roman temple at the south end of the first vestibule now blocking the entrance to the inner temple chambers, we proceed through the opening in the east wall of the Hypostyle Hall and turning to the right, under the hut-covered rubbish hill which here encroaches on the temple walls, enter the Birth Room, which lies immediately behind the shrine of the goddess Mut. Here the reliefs depict the story of the birth of King Amenophis II, who, not being royal by direct descent, sought to convince his people and pacify the orthodoxy of the high priests by declaring his origin miraculous, choosing the god Amen-Ra as his father. The latter is supposed to have met his (the king's) mother by chance and fallen in love with her.
Leaving the Birth Room by the opening in the south wall, we enter a small chamber, now much damaged, similar in design to the Birth Room. The reliefs here are difficult to distinguish, but that on the north wall being in a rather better state of preservation, is of considerable interest, depicting the king in a boat pulling up reeds which he offers to the god Min. This is thought to constitute some religious ceremony connected with the Nile.
Proceeding, we pass through a doorway in the west wall and enter the later sanctuary. The original sanctuary was situated at the extreme south - or inner - limit of the temple, and the later sanctuary then formed one of its vestibules, but was itself, however, later used as the sanctuary of the temple. The shrine of stones which occupies the major portion of the later sanctuary was erected by Alexander the Great. The reliefs on the walls depict Amenophis III in the presence of the gods, the sanctuary being dedicated to the Theban trinity Amen-Ra, Mut and Khonsu.
Passing through a small opening in the north wall of the later sanctuary, we now enter the second vestibule situated behind the Roman recess and pillars, just previously visited, in the first vestibule.
Here are four beautiful pillars supporting the roof, and the reliefs on the walls again depict the king in the presence of Amen-Ra and other gods.
Passing out by the opening in the west wall - on the left hand of the doors by which we entered - we now traverse the ruins of two chambers which now contain nothing of interest, and, turning to our left, find ourselves in a long open hall which lies crossways to the later sanctuary we have just seen, and immediately behind it.
Here are twelve graceful columns originally supporting the roof of the hall. Apart from the reliefs facing one, on the left side of the farther wall, which are truly artistic, the remainder are much damaged and of little interest. In the centre of the south wall of this hall is the entrance to the original sanctuary of the temple, which is a small shrine with four columns. On the walls, right and left, one here again finds reliefs depicting the king in the presence of the god Amen-Ra.
Having now reached the inner limit of the temple as built by Amenophis III, we now return to the forecourt and, passing through the opening in the north wall - the gate of the temple, as originally built - find ourselves in the wonderful Colonnade of Horemheb, which is certainly the most impressive portion of the whole temple area. Consisting of seven columns of gargantuan dimensions on either side of the way, these supported the roof, since fallen and vanished. The walls flanking the colonnade were originally double their present height and the reliefs thereon highly coloured. Traces of colour still remain on the capitals of two or three of the columns and give a very fair idea of how brilliant the whole must have appeared thousands of years ago.
King Horemheb, after whom the colonnade is called, reigned some 25 years after the death of Amenophis III, there being, in the interim, Pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamen.
The former totally renounced the city of Thebes and its worship of Amen-Ra, and the temple consequently received no additions during his reign. The walls of the colonnade were decorated by his successor Tutankhamen, however, and it would therefore appear that the original plan of this section, and the early stages of the work itself, were made during the reign of Amenophis II himself, the builder of the earlier temple area.
The reliefs on the walls behind the two rows of columns are particularly worthy of note, representing, on the west wall, the offerings of fruits, flowers and beasts to the shrine of Amen, groups of dancing girls bent backwards almost double in their dance, accompanied by other girls shaking sistrums and men beating drums. Here are also seen groups of slaves preparing the meats, incense and flowers for some important feast in the temple. Butchers are depicted in the act of slaughtering and cutting up oxen.
Further on is a very beautiful representation of the ceremony of the annual procession from Karnak to Luxor, and its return. Headed by soldiers bearing shields and spears, there next follow two chariots of the king being led empty. Next, men are seen straining on a rope which was attached to a sacred barque - the latter, however, being on an upper part of the wall is now missing. Further on are groups of Negroes, women shaking sistrums, and another group of men towing a second sacred barque, which is itself also being towed by a galley, it being remembered that from Karnak to Luxor one is forging upstream, more soldiers then follow and lastly groups of priests, each party carrying a model of a sacred barque and before each of which incense is being burnt. The whole procession is shown issuing from the gateway of a temple, on each side of which are flagstaffs. The temple doubtless being that at Karnak.
On the east wall very similar scenes are found depicted. The artistic reliefs are well worth studying.
At the north end of the colonnade are four much damaged statues in cream marble, representing, on the right, Ramses II and the goddess Mut, and opposite, the god Amen and the goddess Mut again.
Statues of Ramses II
Passing through the gateway in the north wall one now enters the Forecourt of Ramses II the greater portion of which is now taken up by the mosque of Sheikh Abu-el-Haggag, built on a mound composed of the rubbish of an earlier village on the spot. The forecourt is surrounded by a double row of columns, and on the three sides of the south end - or entrance - colossal polished granite figures of Ramses II, eleven in all, are interspersed between the front row of columns. The third figure on the east side is perfectly preserved and is most impressive. Against the first figure on the east side is a very beautiful miniature statue of Queen Mut-Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II. The majority of the remaining statues are now, however, much damaged. The visitor's attention is next called to the two seated colossi of Ramses II, in black granite, situated on either side of the entrance to the Colonnade of Horemheb. These are likewise now considerably damaged. The reliefs on the sides of the thrones are, nevertheless, particularly interesting; that of the left figure is a representation of the union of Upper and Lower Egypt, in the form of the binding together of the lotus and papyrus plants - the symbols of the two kingdoms - by figures of the Nile. Below is depicted a row of captured Asiatic nations, the name of each being inserted on oval shields partly covering the figures. At the sides of both of the seated colossi beautiful statuettes of Queen Mut-Nefertari are placed; that on the left is the better preserved.
Nefert Ari, the wife of Ramses II
The reliefs behind the eleven standing figures of Ramses II are also of interest, and include amongst other scenes, a representation of the front gateway of the temple (often described as the 'plan' of the temple by illiterate guides), towards which are walking 17 sons of Ramses II, followed by nobles leading oxen. N.B. Ramses II is known to have had 111 sons and 67 daughters, and very probably even more.
At the north end of the forecourt stand three chapels, dedicated respectively to the three Theban deities, Amen-Ra, Mut and Khonsu - that of Amen-Ra being the centre chapel. The reliefs on the walls represent Ramses II making offerings to the particular deity of each chapel.
Leaving the forecourt by the gate in the west wall - or right on leaving the three chapels - one passes around the front or main entrance. This consists of two high pylons, one on either side of the gateway - the intervening space being at present, however, occupied by the elevated roadway leading into the mosque in the forecourt. Before each pylon were originally a colossal seated figure of Ramses II, two standing figures and one obelisk. The second obelisk stands today in the Place de la Concorde, in Paris.
Temple and obelisk of Ramses II
On the face of the pylons, though somewhat hard to distinguish, are depicted scenes from the wars between the Hittites and the Egyptians, during the reign of Ramses II.
Leaving the front and returning along the outside of the west wall of the forecourt, towards the modern entrance of the temple area, we can devote a few minutes to the excellent reliefs, representing various scenes from the wars of Ramses II, that cover this wall.
The many short and slender columns that are scattered, some still standing, in the area between the temple walls and the modern roadway bordering the Nile, originally supported the roof of a small Coptic church which stood on this site.
I hope that I have not bored you by this lengthy description of these ruins, but I thought it best to pick on some spots and tell you fully about them so as to give you a true idea of what we saw.
From the temple of Luxor we went to the Nile and boarded two sailing boats or dhows. They took us for about an hours trip on the river, the fishermen performing, for our benefit, some of their native dances to the tune of whistle-pipes and tom-toms.
Shadouf, or irrigation pump, on the Nile at Luxor
This was very interesting, though not very tuneful, and eventually we returned to the shore, and after looking at some of the wares for sale in the shops we made our way to the hotel for dinner, changing back into battledress again for the evening, as it was now turning colder.
Having had a rather restless night in the train and a full day of sightseeing I did not feel like doing anything very strenuous in the evening, and so after writing for a while I went off to bed and slept soundly.
Now we come to Sunday the 18th. when I wore my KD from early in the morning, being very glad of it as the weather was extremely warm.
Having had breakfast we set off walking through the town to the Nile, where we got into sailing boats and crossed to the opposite, or west, bank.
The water in the river was rather low and there was a big sandbank which we had to cross, so we mounted onto the backs of donkeys and crossed in grand style, making a race of it.
Arrived on the bank proper we found some very old Ford cars waiting for us, and the guide gave them a name which I thought was very appropriate for they were very dubious starters. His name for them was "American donkeys".
There were three cars and after much persuasion we all got going but before we had reached our destination by way of rough tracks through barren and stony hills, the one I was riding in broke down and refused to go any further, so we got out and half of us went to each of the other two cars. I finished the journey sitting on the back mudguard and hanging onto the side.