Saturday, August 22, 2015

EGYPT: TEMPLE OF RAMSES III (AKA HABU TEMPLE)

Our next stop was the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, also known as the Habu Temple. 
Much of my visual preparation for Egypt came from Hollywood, and I thought the Nile would be lined with temples and monuments, somewhat like the castle portion of the Rhine in Germany. But I also had the competing image of the Great Pyramids of Giza, definitely situated in the desert. 

As I've thought more about it, the annual flooding of the Nile would destroy anything built within its reach. It was important to build far from the Nile's vengeful fingers, which meant in the lifeless desert. The change from the verdant Nile Valley to the barren desert is incredibly dramatic. It is literally a line in the sand.
On the far side of that line, there are no palm trees, no wildflowers, no grass--just hard, monochromatic dirt.
At first the temples seem to blend into the endless swath of desert brown, highlighted only by the obviously man-made shapes of walls and pillars. 
Aerial view of the temple. Picture from Wikipedia
Within these particular walls, however, we found surprising amounts of color. First, however, some background information.

The Temple of Ramses III, one of the best-preserved of all the pharaonic temples, was built during the reigns of several kings and queens and finished in the 12th century BC; it was excavated almost 3000 years later between 1859 and 1899. The large footprint of 690,000 square feet was once enclosed by massive mud walls (35 feet thick by 60 feet tall), the remnants of which are still visible. 

We entered through the migdol gate, a kind of  watch tower typical in the Middle East:
The walls are covered with bas reliefs showing Ramses conquering his enemies:

This leonine lady is Sekhmet, the goddess of war and healing whose breath formed the desert:
Looking back at the entrance, we had a better view of the windows, which must have been the box seats for whatever festivals happened in the courtyard. Some think this tower housed Ramses's harem. I think it makes a great Rapunzel setting:
We made our way to the main structure in the complex:
It was a warm day, and I was feeling more like the palm tree below than the tree above:
The little room in the center looks a bit like an outhouse. It wasn't.
There are inscriptions everywhere, literally covering every square inch of the walls and ceilings:
The pylons on the left and right of the main entrance show yet more pictures of Ramses slaying his enemies, a favored theme here:

The temple has the typical structure of a series of linear rooms.
Our guide (in the red hat).
The hieroglyphics were in amazing condition and seemed to be carved more deeply into the stone than at previous places we had visited:

Later, I learned that on earlier temples, the images were raised, but Ramses II developed a method where the images were carved deeply into the stone to prevent desecration, and it looks like his successor Ramses III followed his example at this site.

Inside the entrance to the temple is a large open courtyard. On one side is a series of colossal statues of Ramses. Egyptian pharaohs had the "selfie" figured out centuries ago.

I think we were about the size of Ramses's legs, but probably bigger than those little figures carved in stone next to him:
The row of statues dead ends at this wall. There is so much writing on it that I figure it has the be the Egyptian version of the OED, so of course we needed our picture in front of it:
 
I'm not sure what happened to the fourth couple in our group:
Not all of the statues have all of their parts.  This one reminded me of the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. (Note: Ozymandias is another name for Ramses II, the predecessor of this temple's honoree. His temple is Abu Simbel, located near the Southern border of Egypt, close to Sudan. We didn't go that far south.)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said:--Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
No thing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

On the other side of the courtyard is a row of simple, uncarved columns:
The columns are perpendicular to this wall, which shows Ramses (yet again) on the right wearing the Egyptian crown:

Each succeeding courtyard had its own unique design:




As we continued moving into the succeeding courtyards, we began to see a little bit of color on the lintels at the top of the tall doorways:
. . . along with color on the walls and ceiling:



It's incredible to think these hues have survived for 3,000 years when my own house needs to be painted every 10 years or so.
Some of it was pretty spectacular, "as if painted yesterday," according to our guide:
If these walls could talk, the stories they would tell. Wait a minute. I think they are talking, but not in my language!


 

  

It was nice to see Egyptian families enjoying the tourist sites as well. They have a right to be proud of these monuments. What a heritage!



 
Sixteen years ago we visited the British Museum, and I remember being bored by the huge Egyptian collection. I've also wandered unappreciately through the Egyptian sections of the Louvre in Paris, New York's Metropolitan Museum, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and even our own LA County Museum of Art. (For a list of museums worldwide with over 1,000 Egyptian artifacts, go here.)
Seeing the artifacts in situ is a completely different experience. The enormity of what was accomplished by those ancient engineers and artists is overwhelming--as you can tell from the hundreds of pictures I took! It's almost impossible to process it all.

This final courtyard had a roof supported by enormous pillars. Only the bases remain:




This beam was one of my favorite parts of the temple:
I love the dancing baboons:
In Egyptian mythology, baboons guard the gate of the underworld.

The oval designs below are cartouches. They indicate that whatever is inside them is a royal name, and we saw them all over this and other temples. A shop on our cruise boat was selling custom-made cartouches as necklaces, and many of the women in our tour group bought one.
Instead, I bought a lotus flower pendant. The lotus flower closes at night and reopens in the morning, making it the symbol of rebirth and regeneration:


Sekhmet, who welcomed us at the entrance, was also near the exit to bid us farewell:
We did fare well; outside the temple we found a vendor selling cold drinks and frozen treats, perfect for a hot day:
. . . and we saw one last ancient Egyptian artifact as we made our way to our bus:

4 comments:

  1. I never saw your lotus necklace. I love it!
    You've captured some great pictures of Habu. Interesting to learn why they are still so deeply carved. I wondered that myself.

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  2. Some great pictures. My favorite element of the Egyptian art is the animals: baboons, cobras, crocodiles, ibis, lions, jackals, etc. I wish those indigenous animals were still around, but sadly, most of them are now extinct in these areas. I think the quantity and style of these glyphs may rival for my favorite.

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  3. Beautiful Egypt pictures , these are very helpful for new travelers,
    You gave great information along with pictures nice to know you
    thank you
    keep exploring
    keep posting new things

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  4. I agree--seeing the relics in situ gives you context and perspective, something that a single item hanging on the walls of a museum can not. My mother went to Egypt and brought all of us girls a cartouche with our names--she gave hers to Barbara last week in the IG photo you saw. I love mine, but your lily is really beautiful.

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