Monday, November 10, 2008

The Amazing Karnak

We cue up
to pass through a drawbridge immediately preceding the lock at Esna. Two cruise ships can fit into the thing at a time and it seems some other boat has cut in front of us and our captain is laying pretty hard on the air horns. This is what wakes me. I think his protestations it would carry a bit more weight though, if they didn’t sound like the eight opening notes of that drunken wedding reception standard The Chicken Dance. Then again, what is more intimidating than Aunt Amy strutting around bouncing and flapping her wings in some puffy sleeved chartreuse bridesmaid dress? Compared to the driving on the streets though – the river traffic is sedate and this little outburst is the first sign of hackles being hoisted, in fact I have noted the ships taking turns leading down the river like considerate bicyclist trading drafts.

As exciting as a an altercation between two 200 foot boats may sound it is really rather boring, sort of like a sumo wrestling match where the combatants are required to strap fifty pound bags of onions to each of their ankles along with the stipulation that they are not allowed to touch each other – there’s a lot of grunting but nothing happens very quickly. So, I head below deck for breakfast. When I come back up almost an hour or so later I see that we are through the bridge and heading into the locks and we are now ahead of the other boat so victory is ours! Once we’ve cleared through the gates we are headed to our last stop Luxor.

Luxor was the capital city of the Egyptian empire from 1500BC until 300BC. Alexander the Great called the city Thebes. There are two big temple sites in the city and Magdi loads us into a shuttle van to head to the first one, Karnak a name made familiar to me by a fortune telling character played by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.

Karnak Temple is the largest temple in Egypt – in fact it is more of a conglomeration of many temples on a sixty acre site – kind of an Egyptian god’s one stop big box shop. The principle deity here is Ra, the grand Pooh-Bah of the old and middle dynasties. Once again I am blown away at the scale of the architecture – these Egyptian cats thought big. One attribute of these temples that I haven’t mentioned yet is their color. All the hieroglyphics, columns and walls were brightly colored in – they were not the tan sandstone that we, for the majority, see today but a mix of vibrant shades. Amazingly enough, some of the coloring is still visible – three thousand years old and the pigments survive – Sherwin Williams should be so lucky.

There is a double row of sphinxes leading into the temple where we pass through a hall of columns, 134 massive stone structures arranged in sixteen rows ranging from thirty to over sixty feet tall and up to nine feet in diameter. The site boasts some pretty huge statues too over thirty feet tall and one big ass obelisk over sixty feet tall and weighing sixty thousand pounds approximately the height of three telephone poles stacked on top of each other end to end and the weight of twenty automobiles. All the sandstone to build this place came from quarries over a hundred miles away south on the Nile. How did they erect these things!?

Magdi squats down on the ground and draws a diagram of the most commonly accepted method for lifting these massive stone monoliths involving ramps and sand pits. After our guided tour portion of the visit we are cut loose to wander around the site for an hour or so and then we head back to the boat for lunch before we visit our last temple of the tour, the Luxor temple, that afternoon.

Magdi explains a cartouche


Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Sounds like the trip of a lifetime. Visiting ancient locations really puts the world in perspective. I've only been to the Luxor in Vas Vegas....

michael salinger said...

Yeah, today I saw a Sarah Vowell speak at the Cleveland Public Library, she mentioned being somewhere in the States that had 400 years of history behind it and I was thinking that's a drop in the bucket sweetie.

Kelly W. said...

I saw a documentary about one of these theories on NGC. So fascinating!