Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream...

And they poked all their eyes out…

Our last visit on the east bank of the Nile is the Luxor temple. So far all the temples we have trekked through can be classified as cult temples – temples erected in honor of a certain Egyptian deities, places where offerings can be brought. The east side of the Nile, where the sun rises, is considered a place of birth. Tomorrow we visit the west side, the land of the sunset where the end of the mortal coil is unwound into the afterlife.

Along with the colossal scale of the sites we have visited I am also astounded at the preservation of so many of the artifacts and carvings. Of course a great deal of credit is due the Egyptian government’s Council of Antiquities but perhaps even more gratitude is due the obstinacy of sand and wind. Most of these sites lay buried under tens of feet of sand until excavated within the last century and a half preserving much of the historical record like an insect in amber. At one location our archeologically omniscient guide Magdi informs us if not for the relentless removal of sand the site would be buried again in only fifty years. This is apparent in the photo of the 14th century Abu al-Haggag Mosque, the arrow points to street level at the time of its construction, now the door opens into space twenty five feet above the ground.

After the decline of the Egyptian empire these temples came into varied uses. Coptic Christians hid from Romans within their walls, during the Middle Ages they were used as shelter by squatters who simply moved into the places blackening the ceilings with fires they lit to cook and stay warm during the desert nights, some even became stables for livestock. Long after the identities and narratives of those depicted in carvings and statues in and around these structures were forgotten they still made an impression on the folks who saw them. These artifacts scared the bejesus out of the later residents of the locations. “Who are these crazy folks with crocodile or falcon heads, these giants with squared off beards, and why are they staring at us? “

So, true to human nature when encountering the unknown many attacked what they did not understand. Eyes were gouged out of the carvings; statues’ heads were knocked off arms and legs chipped away from figures on walls all to render these very frightening images defenseless. But, remember the desert, the sand and wind? In some of the sites one can see a definite line of demarcation where the artifacts were protected underground. Above this line: defacement, below a whole mythology waited to be uncovered. What man didn’t have the foresight to preserve the Arabian Desert graciously intervened serendipitously in his behalf.


kathy said...

Fantastic reading, especially about Hannah. Ever envious of your experiences.

smith said...

you've convinced me - we want to sail down the Nile.

michael salinger said...

Yep Steve,

I highly recommend the trip - the school we were working at set it up and it was really affordable and super interesting and now I can make experienced recommendations.

Oh and Kathy - feel free to grab photos for The City from my Flikr page if you's like.

Hope you two are doing well, we've got to come down there and bug you once the snow flies up here for good!