Our holiday in Egypt is rapidly drawing to a close, with only three more days before we fly home. During another misty breakfast time on the roof terrace Sam and I decided to spend another day at Karnak, the fourth day there this trip, but as I’ve said before, there is always plenty to look at. Today we arrived a little earlier, around 11.00am and we were amazed at how quiet the temple was compared to the other days we have visited. That’s because it’s Friday and many tour leaders and coach drivers have the day off. Something to remember for the future!
We started by walking around the north side of the hypostyle hall, having another look at the gap between the third pylon and the hypostyle hall where we had discovered you could see the flagstaff niches. Curious that we had never noticed this before. Turning around we saw that the barrier blocking off the track to the Temple of Ptah and the shrines of the Divine Adoratrix was not present today as it had been on previous days, and I had really wanted to see those shrines again. As we walked into the first shrine a gafir came rushing down towards us and I expected to be thrown out, but he just hung around for a while and left again when we ignored him. He was trying to get us to visit the Temple of Ptah (also officially closed).
The office of Divine Adoratrice, or ‘God’s Wife of Amun’ is one that has fascinated me for a long time. Although the position of God’s Wife had been held by royal females since the Middle Kingdom, these ladies came to be supremely important during the Late Period and usually acted as the king’s surrogate in Upper Egypt. The power and wealth of the reigning Divine Adoratrice is said to have exceeded even that of the High Priest of Thebes. By the Late Period the God’s Wife was usually a daughter or sister of the reigning monarch, unmarried, but with the power to ‘adopt’ her successor from within the royal family. Their names were written in a cartouche and the ladies wore regal iconography, crowns with a uraeus and a feathered headdress.
Of the three existing shrines in the northern part of Karnak Temple (there are more in the Montu Temple and also to the north-east of the precinct) we went to look at each one in turn. I have always found them a little confusing because there are several king’s cartouches as well as the God’s Wives cartouches on the monuments, so it’s not easy to work out who built or dedicated the shrines without referring to books. My favourite is the third and probably the least well preserved shrine, which belongs to Shepenwepet II. Inside the sanctuary to the north is a tiny room with a doorway no more than about a metre tall. I just managed to squeeze into this chamber to take some pictures, though there was very little room, but the reliefs inside are very interesting. I would love to know what this tiny chamber was for but can find no reference to it in the books.
When we had finished we walked up to the Temple of Ptah, which is covered in scaffolding and currently closed. The guards however, were very keen to show us inside. Sam and I have seen the temple several times before so we didn’t bother to take more than a cursory glance through the entrance gateway. Now if they had offered to let us into the Montu Temple to the north, it would have been a different matter. As we walked back through the Hypostyle Hall there were only half a dozen other people around and the cafeteria, where we headed next, was deserted.
We wandered again along the transverse axis of the eighth to tenth pylons and had a look at the block fields around the Temple of Khonsu. After many years of being officially closed, the Khonsu Temple is now open and for the first time ever, it is being properly cleaned with a great deal of beautiful colour showing up. I remember from past visits the
beautiful reliefs hidden by centuries of soot and grime and wondered why nobody bothered about this lovely temple. Work is now being carried out by the American Research centre in Egypt (ARCE) under the auspices of the SCA and involves conservators of several nationalities, including Egyptian. ARCE have set up a conservation school close to the temple especially to train Egyptian SCA students. Overseeing work within the Khonsu temple is British archaeologist Pamela Rose and a team of stonemasons, epigraphers, and conservators. One of the most important aspects that is affecting many monuments in the Luxor area due to the rising water table, is the dewatering program. The stonework inside the Khonsu Temple must be properly dried out and the salts removed in order to preserve both the structure of the temple and the reliefs. The SCA are hoping that eventually more tour groups will stop at this little visited monument.
Walking back towards the main entrance I stopped to take a sneaky peek through the window of a nearby storage building which houses around 16000 talatat blocks taken from various Karnak monuments. Here ARCE are photographing and stabilising each block before they are moved to more suitable storage facilities. Sam and I also walked along several rows of the block field north of the Khonsu Temple where there are many exquisite Middle Kingdom blocks stored on plinths.
The end of another great day at Karnak – Friday is definitely the best day to visit the temple when it’s so much quieter than normal. We arrived back at the Villa Mut just as it was beginning to get dark, only to discover that (surprise, surprise), the electricity was off again.