“In my time, we would have built this all in the studio. Is better!" shot Bette Davis. The insinuating-eyed actress was filming “Death on the Nile,” the Hollywood version of Agatha Christie's police classic.
To be fair to him, at the time, Luxor was not like the majestic Thebes that dazzled Alexander the Great and troubled successive Roman emperors and generals. It didn't compare to the current city either. The homonymous temple, for example, was lost among crowded bazaars and the unruly development of the center had resulted in chaos.
Faced with the importance of the area, however considered the largest open-air museum in the world, the UNESCO validated the drastic solution that followed without ceremony. Suddenly, the local governor ordered the demolition of hundreds of houses and shops to restore the place to its historic purity.
The heart of the complex became the Temple of Luxor, admirable from any perspective, extending to the Avenue of the Sphinxes. The works sacrificed the lives of the residents who could do little against the ridiculous amounts they received in compensation.
They also horrified the archaeologists who saw bulldozers “take care of” the excavation of the sphinxes. And they were precariously interrupted at the time of the Egyptian Spring Revolution. Agatha Christie could no longer narrate any of these crimes.
Even taking all the cares into account, Luxor is Luxor. Anyone who calls himself a traveler and even the most disinterested tourist knows that, on Earth, there is no equal.
Discovering Ancient Egypt at Luxor
We landed at the city airport with enthusiasm to match. We install ourselves aboard one of the cruises that sails up the Nile and the Nile down.
The next day, the sun was still resting in the east, we were already walking along the lane lined with sheep sphinxes and then in front of the Karnak temple, ready for the moment when their uncompromising guardians in turban and jilaba would allow us entrance. .
Gradually, the sun's rays filtered by the morning mist hit the tangle of columns, small sub-temples, pestles and other elements that form what is considered the second largest ancient religious site in the world, surpassed only by Angkor Wat, in Cambodia.
The complex was built between the Middle Egyptian Empire until the Ptolemeic period. It arose in the center of the former Ipet-Isut "The Highest of Places", place of worship of the triad of gods consisting of Amon, his consort Mut (the replacement of the previous half of Amon, Amonet) and Khonsun, their son .
During the XNUMXth, XNUMXth and XNUMXth dynasties, around thirty pharaohs continued the work.
At the same time, they made Thebes a vast, diverse and supreme capital unique in ancient Egypt, scattered across the desert on both banks of the Nile: most of the city and the temples of Karnak and Luxor to the east.
A huge necropolis formed by private and royal cemeteries in the west.
Luxor's Reason for Being
The function of the temple at Luxor was quite different from that of Karnak. It was not erected in honor of a god. It served the divine rejuvenation of royalty and it is very likely that it welcomed the coronation of various pharaohs of Egypt, always validated by the divine triad.
The Egyptians still considered it the "Southern Harem". It is believed that, with the Nile flooding in full, the Optet festival entered the scene. In a first phase, the effigies of Amon, Mut and Khonsun will have been carried along the Avenue of Sphinxes from the Temple of Karnak to that of Luxor.
Along the way, they stopped in chapels erected for the event and filled with offerings. At the end of the ceremony, they returned by boat.
Later, they also started to make the outward journey on the Nile, in a kind of river marital celebration in which a small fleet of barges escorted the sacred barge.
This celebration will have admitted several days of popular debauchery in Egyptian fashion.
The Temples of Luxor and the Prolific Cosmogony of Egypt
The ancient imaginary of the Egyptian cosmogony has always proved inexhaustible. It changed and enriched itself in such a way that, at least, for a period equal to that of its formation, archaeologists will have new tombs and secrets to unravel.
Two opposing axes regulated the life of ancient Egypt: the flow of the Nile, from south to north, through the Sahara Desert. Above, the sky in which the crucial movements of life took place. The one of the Sun that ascended from one direction in the desert and plunged in the other, towards the rival sands, today, Libya.
During his journey, there was a nocturnal journey through the unknown and uncertainty. The reappearance of the sun represented the renewal of life. Long imbued in the population's mind and always urgent, this notion made each day something very special.
The paths of the Nile and the sun were regular and ubiquitous. For this reason, all works of art and monuments are related to them in some way. The Nile floods fed the nation.
Its long stream united the inhabitants of Upper and Lower Egypt, otherwise self-enclosed.
The Existential Threshold of the Nile in Thebes
In Thebes, the Nile still separated life from afterlife. We soon crossed it to the west and found the place that most contrasted with the Temple of Luxor. If this celebrated the renewal of earthly life, the Valley of the Kings and Queens was excavated and sealed in order to guarantee the preservation of the bodies of the pharaohs.
Their souls were supposed to revive to meet the Gods in the next life.
The Valley of the Kings was inaugurated by Pharaoh Thutmose I. It is said that he was well aware that the fact that their backgrounds were buried in great pyramids made their tombs and treasures easy targets for profaners.
We do not comment on the encounter with the gods. We and dozens of lucky visitors came across Tutankhamun and other iconic pharaohs of Egypt. For a mere ten minutes, it has to be said, and no photo rights.
The suitors are so many that the authorities control the number of people and the time inside the tombs.
Valley of the Kings and the Mysterious Tomb of Tutankhamun
We are still far from summer in these remote parts of Africa. Even so, the heat that roasts us as we climb the dusty trails of Vale dos Reis is death and the dryness of the air worthy of Sara. The desert's aridity has always favored the conservation of sphinxes.
As we have been able to see, Tutankhamun, the boy king who ruled from nine to nineteen until he perished for reasons as or more debated than the finding of his tomb, still has his abode here.
As for the controversy, on the one hand, there are apologists that the 3200-year-old discoverer of the tomb, the British archaeologist Howard Carter, deceived the Egyptian authorities, misappropriated a good part of the riches and simulated the previous desecrations of the tomb, the the first of which he claims took place shortly after Pharaoh's funeral, followed by a second fifteen years later.
On the other side are defenders that, as claimed by Carter, the tomb had already been stolen several times before the archaeologist's find, considered the greatest archaeological triumph of all time.
The Unlikely Egyptian Tomb Hunt Napoleon Bonaparte
In large part, the mentor of the fever of Egyptian tombs and treasures was Napoleon Bonaparte.
After the conquest of Italy, the rulers of the Directory of the empire, began to pressure for France to invade England. Napoleon objected. With the support of Foreign Minister Talleyrand, he managed to impose a campaign across Egypt to affect the prolific English trade routes with his Crown Jewel, India.
By that time, Egypt was under the control of the Egyptian Mamelukos. In 1798, Napoleon's forces managed to avoid Admiral Nelson's armada, land on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, and win several decisive battles, including the Battle of the Pyramids.
But, furious that the French armada had escaped him, Lord Nelson did not rest until he corrected the flaw. It finally detected the 400 enemy ships and destroyed them at the Battle of Aboukir. This action left Napoleon's forces “stranded” in Egypt.
Napoleon: From Conqueror to Obsessed with Egyptian History
The Emperor tried to make the best of his unexpected situation. It was rumored that the Turkish army was preparing to attack him. Napoleon tried to stop him by attacking the Ottomans in what is now Syria and Palestine.
Only he found himself surrounded in the British-controlled city of Acre.
A few months later, he was forced to return to Egypt with his forces weakened. In the meantime, the war had spread to Europe and France found itself increasingly vulnerable.
Napoleon decided to return. He again avoided Nelson's armada and focused his efforts on removing the administration he considered "a bunch of lawyers." It was not long before he replaced it with a Consulate of three consuls of which he himself became the leader.
Napoleonic troops surrendered to the British in September 1801. In the three years he spent in Egypt, the French Emperor became obsessed with the nation's millenary history and culture.
It encouraged around 150 scientists, mathematicians, engineers and artists to study ancient monuments, terrain, flora and fauna as well as society and various other aspects of Egyptian civilization. The result of their work was a huge illustrated compendium called “Description of L'Égypte".
Howard Carter: The Famous English Tomb Hunter
This work generated an almost insane Egyptology that would last for at least another two hundred years. It also simplified the studies and searches of explorers who joined the movement. Howard Carter was just one of the explorers who gave himself to him.
In 1922 – the year in which Egypt declared independence from the United Kingdom and in which Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamun – a law came into force in which Egypt sought to defend itself from this new fever. The law dictated that any archaeological find of an intact treasure would have to stay in Egypt while if the treasure was already violated, it could be divided between Egypt and whoever found it.
Every time an object appears on the face of the Earth that Egyptologists are certain belongs to Tutankhamun's treasure, the strife re-emerges. Who finally opened the tomb for the first time? Whether or not Carter was able to transport the treasures out of Egypt.
In any case, in the end, the Egyptian authorities, anxious for emancipation from the British settlers, refused to divide the spoils.
There remains, on the sidelines, the prolific theme of Tutankhamun's curse, covered in countless documentaries, movies, books, computer games and a little bit of everything else, and with a growing list of victims from various countries and walks of life.
Distinguished notorious pharaohs are Tutankhamun's neighbors, including nine Ramses. These days, the deceased member of Egyptian royalty with the most sumptuous mortuary halls is by far Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the second regent in the history of Egypt and one of the “great women in history that we are aware of” as described by the Egyptologist James Henry Breasted.
The Sumptuous Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
To celebrate it, we join dozens of other curious people from Egypt and walk along the long lane that leads to the almost vertical cliffs of Deir el Bahari. From flat, the boulevard slopes towards the blue sky.
He points to the top of the colonnaded terraces that we reach almost thirty meters high.
The temple's axis appears to have been purposefully aligned with the position of the sunrise on the winter solstice (December 21 or 22) when sunlight falls on one of the statues of Osiris on either side of the entrance to the second chamber.
Scholars have further noted that a light box placed to reveal how the light moves away from the central axis and illuminates the statue of the god Amon-Ra (however, the Egyptians merged the deity of Amun with that of the sun god Ra), the pharaoh Thutmose III and then the god of the Nile Hapi.
On the Path of the Controversial Colossus of Memnon
We left that hyperbolic mortuary temple with the sun still high. From there, we returned closer to the irrigated banks of the river in search of the Colossus of Memnon.
Erected in 1500 BC as guardians of the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhoep III, the statues are XNUMX meters tall and show the Egyptian king seated with his hands on his knees.
We thus find them effortlessly even though they were displaced after superlative floods from the Nile destroyed one of Egypt's largest and most opulent pharaonic complexes and successor monarchs began to use their stone blocks in other constructions. Although portentous and intimidating, the statues also did not avoid the colossal misunderstanding of their baptism.
In 27 BC, an earthquake destroyed the colossus north of the ancient temple. This statue started to make a strange sound. It usually happened early in the morning, it is now said that due to the sudden increase in temperature and the evaporation of dew in the crevices of the monument.
Now, the phenomenal sound became so famous that it attracted Roman tourists (including emperors) and Greeks of the time who took the trouble to travel for days to reach the place and to inscribe at their base whether or not they had heard the sound. They had no idea it was a statue of Amenhoep III.
The Greeks, in particular, began to attribute the sound to the laments of King Memnon's mother.
Memnon was a king of Ethiopia who led his army up Africa towards Asia Minor to help defend Troy from attack by the Greeks. Despite his bravery, he was killed by Achilles. It would not have served as a great compensation, but, when he died, he conquered the status of a hero among the Greeks.
In 20 BC, the historian Strabo, who lived in Asia Minor, arrived better informed than his Hellenic countrymen and described the sound as a kind of coup. To the traveler and geographer Pausanias, a lyre string broke. Still others narrated it as a blow on copper or an unusual whistle.
To be honest, we didn't hear anything and didn't have time to wait. In a few hours, the cruise on which we embarked would start the navigation up the Nile, closer to Aswan.
We had much more of the Nile and Ancient Egypt to unravel so we left Memnon and the colossus that was never his handed down to history.