The Temple

The entrance to Karnak Temple Yes ! I was there as well Amongst the ruins The central pillars are crowned by an open papyrus Cartouche of Ramses II Looking towards the great hall Cigarettes ! The fallen obelisk
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture The mark of Ramses again Page 3

All the world is a stage

19 November 2006

Our first afternoon commenced with a visit to the great temple complex at Karnak a few kilometres to the north of Luxor (Not that you would realise that you had left Luxor). Obviously for some of these places this was my third visit but they are still impressive.

Mina soon proved himself to be not only an excellent guide but also someone who had a good sense of humour and the rare ability of being able to impart knowledge in a down to earth fashion. History made accessible.

Egyptian history is pretty complicated covering dozens of dynasties and modern history is changing the way we look at things as well.

To get us going Mina gave a longish account of Egypt's early history enlivened by his pulling out members of our happy band of voyagers to represent groups of people, gods or simply periods of time. You are alive: Left foot forward, fists clenched by your sides - now you are dead: feet together, cross your arms, like the pictures of Osiris.

In this way he would talk us through the history of a site, walk us through the buildings giving a running commentary and then leave us for perhaps 30 or 45 minutes to dander about and take our photos and video.

He would ask questions from time to time to make sure that we were listening and in that way we paid attention and he wasn't having to chase people to keep up.

Our group was a good mixture of ages me at the older end and JJ at the younger and thankfully all of us in pretty good health.

Egyptian temples were created inside out as it were. The further you advance inside the further back in time you go. The local deity for Thebes (Luxor) was Amun-Re, the king of the gods, and Karnak is his great temple and the largest religious complex in the world.

Pharaoh and column

Here you can get a better idea of the size of the columns

All of the main characters from Egyptian history that we were going to hear about over the next six days were represented in one way or another at Karnak. Ramses II the great builder, Hatshepsut the queen/pharaoh, even wee Tutankhamun donated a small statue of a ram - the animal form of Amun.

The entrance way is flanked by a row of rams headed sphinxes originally starting from the Luxor Temple some kilometres away.

It is the intention of the town council to knock down everything between the two temples and re-create the original road between these two great sites dedicated to Amun-Re.

The walkway leads through the first pylon or outer wall with its ramp of mud bricks behind, giving an indication as to how the ancients built the thing 3000 years ago.

The Great Hypostyle Hall was started by Ramses I, continued by Seti I and finished by his son Ramses II.

There are 132 columns in total with the central sixteen being about 25 metres high and 10 metres in circumference.

The size of the columns and their weight makes you realise that the foundations must have been pretty solid as well.

Immediately after the hall are three obelisks; two of them standing. The queen Hatshepsut raised two great obelisks at Karnak but one now lies broken and the other was covered up by her son and heir Thutmose III (later played by JJ). Good old Thutmose III decided to obliterate his mother's name from history. In the case of the standing obelisk however, he didn't dare destroy the name of god, so took the next best step and walled the obelisk in sand almost to the top. Today you can still see the colour change.

It is in part due to the obelisk that we know that she exists. Egyptians believed that words were sacred, thus if you effaced the hieroglyphs depicting the name of someone you stopped them from being able to enter paradise because they no longer existed. On the base we can now read how it took months to transport the 30 metre block of granite down the Nile from Aswan and drop it into place.

The giant scarab near the lake is considered a symbol of good luck and a number of the group walked around it three times to increase their luck (anti-clockwise by the way). Some even did so seven times to ensure a happy marriage. According to Mina if you do it in the opposite direction seven times you get a divorce (perhaps without alimony if it is supposed to be a lucky scarab).

One of the problems with being in Egypt in November is the fact that the sun sets at about 1730 and when it does - bop ! there goes the lighting. By the time we had moved the few kilometres down the road to Luxor Temple (also dedicated to Amun-Re) it was night.

The temple is well lit by flood lighting but I reckon it is a bit pointless to try and take photos. The visit did however give Jean-Jacques the chance to see the sister obelisk to the one we have in Paris.

According to Mina, France was supposed to have received both obelisks but the cost of transporting the first was so high they left the second in place. They have only recently signed a deal with Egypt allowing the Egyptians to retain possession of the one at Luxor.

By now it was late and I was starting to suffer with a very severe headache. Once back on board our boat I left JJ to go and watch the musicians and the whirling Dervish and I went to bed. My head was whirling quite well on its own accord.

Page 1 Anubis AnubisPage 3


See also

Les pages de Jean-Jacques

Jean-Jacques: Armistice 2006