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.
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:
We made our way to the main structure in the complex:
|The little room in the center looks a bit like an outhouse. It wasn't.|
The temple has the typical structure of a series of linear rooms.
|Our guide (in the red hat).|
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:
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.
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:
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.)
This final courtyard had a roof supported by enormous pillars. Only the bases remain:
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.
. . . and we saw one last ancient Egyptian artifact as we made our way to our bus: