Monday, April 15, 2013

Preparing for Egypt, Part Nine (Temple of Karnak, Valley of the Kings)

The Temple of Karnak is, behind the Giza plateau, the second-most visited tourist site in Egypt. It’s huge, a sort of “everything goes” kind of temple to which, over a period of some 1,300 years, every different Pharoah seeking glory or to please a god added sections, whereas other Pharoahs knocked down sections belonging to kings they didn’t like.  So it morphed over the generations. What remains is a huge, fabulous, yet haphazard Winchester Mystery House of a ruin. The basic rule of thumb is this: entering from the western side, the farther you go into the labyrinth that is the temple, the older your surroundings will be. Problem is, not all parts of the temple are open as sections remain under restoration.
Amenhotep III planned the Hypostyle Hall, but it was Seti I who actually built it.  It’s a massive hall, over 5000 meters, with 134 enormous columns set up in rows of 16. Ramses II added reliefs and decorations to these.  Even Queen Hatshepsut got into the act by adding obelisks and a red chapel, though one of the obelisks broke. A third was being constructed to replace it when that job got interrupted due to a fracture in the rock being quarried—and hence visitors to Aswan, if they have the time, can take a side trip to the quarrying site and see how obelisks were carved out of the rock. Beating them out with harder stone was a process that took far too long, so it’s theorized that fire was used to heat the rock around natural fissures, then quickly cooled, and the expansion and contraction made it easier to chip away at the rock.
The temple of Karnak is largely seen as being dedicated to Amun-Ra, but since at least thirty different pharaohs modified it, there are sections dedicated to others gods and goddesses as well, including Mut, Sekhmet, and Monbu. And let’s not forget the Avenue of the Sphinxes that led to Luxor Temple.
Amenhotep IV (Ahkenaton) also built a new section of temple to the east of the main complex, but it was destroyed after his reign. This is the section of temple that the Canadian archaeologist was attempting to excavate pieces of in the video on Ahkenaton I posted about a week ago here.
The same day we visit the Temple of Karnak, we also head across the Nile to the West Bank to see The Valley of the Kings. This, of course, is where Howard Carter famously discovered the untouched tomb of King Tut. The riches that tomb surrendered—for such a minor king—can only give us a sense of what the tombs of the more important Pharaohs must have been like, but their tombs were all broken into and robbed during ancient times. To date, about 63 tombs in the Valley have been discovered and excavated, yet because tourists disturbing the air (we do have to breathe) does, over time, damage some of the inner artwork, the tombs are open or closed on a rotating basis. At any given time, about twelve are open to be viewed. You pick three. Tut’s is always open, as is Ramses VI’s, and will set you back a little more money, as they are not allowed to be included in your three choices. I guess I will find out when I get there which tombs are open at present.
 Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that a rather remarkable 3D mapping project of the Valley of the Kings has been going on—and in so doing, it was discovered that the KV 5 tomb was way larger than originally thought (the tomb for the many sons of Ramses the Great). The following video is as excellent an introduction to the Valley of Kings as anything I’ve seen. (The first part is here; it's in six parts on Youtube.)

On the way back to Luxor, we’ll also take a brief stop at the Colossi of Memnon. They’re all that remains of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple. The reason they got dubbed “Memnon” is that the northern statue used to “talk” (well, it made a low wailing noise in the morning, it’s said), which made the Greeks associate the statues with the Homeric character Memnon, whose mother was the goddess of the dawn. Of course, the moaning was a totally natural and serendipitous event: later, a Roman emperor repaired a crack in the wailing statue, and the wailing stopped. Oh, well. Sometimes broken things don’t need fixing.


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