Tuesday, March 27, 2007

...My Name Is Ozymandias, King of Kings...

Saturday was given over to the "West Bank" of Luxor, referring to the Western side of the Nile which holds The Valley of the Kings, Madinat Habu, the Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and a whole host of other relics and ruins. We hit the Valley first, which was both an entertaining and frustrating experience. We were part of a 13-person guided tour, one of those where a local guide with a strong accent and peculiar command of English explains the historical significance of every damn lump of stone along the route.

So it wasn't that bad - nevertheless, it could still get pretty annoying, and the Egyptian "th" to "zz" lisp started to drive me insane: "ze Pharaoz zat are buried in ze valley zought zey might be zafe from zieves...." Despite that, the tombs and the valley itself were pretty cool, and the different configurations and evolutions were really interesting. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden in the tombs; on the flip-side, so are tour guides, so they are pretty peaceful places. Disgustingly hot and humid, though - emerging into 90 heat with beating sun never felt so good!

One of the funny things about the tombs was the big pit-traps in the entry shaft of every one, which really reminded me of Prince of Persia or something - I half expected to have to jump over a lattice of extending spikes. Actually, that might have helped impale some of the hordes of loud, obnoxious, and inappropriately dressed tourists that were swarming the place.

Thoroughly tombed-out, we headed towards the Temple of Hatshepsut, the only female ruler of Egypt. It was a fairly imposing but also substantially dull structure, with a breathtaking view of the West Bank valley. The only problem was the haze that hung over the city, making it hard to see beyond the Nile - I don't know whether it comes from pollution, river-fog or some combination. In any event, guide- and temple-fatigue made this sight less than stunning. It also had the world's stupidest tram ride - literally a hundred metres towed behind a forklift. Seriously, what's the point????

After that we visited Madinat Habu, the Pharaonic name of which I don't recall. It was built by Ramses III to commemorate some of his military accomplishment. The sheer scale of the columns and pylons made it pretty damn impressive. Once again, you couldn't help but be awed by the hubris of these men. They were larger-than-life in every sense. I particularly liked some of the details of the carvings - cartouches etched a foot into solid stone, a somewhat ghastly frieze of the Battle of Armageddon/Meggido, the depiction of Ramses's slaves severing the hands and penises of captured soldiers and the giant image of him offering sacrifices to Osiris.

Finally, we visited the Colossi of Memnon. There's a funny story behind these - they're two huge statues of seated men, fractured and broken all over. They were the guardians of the massive Temple of Amenhotep, a complex which once covered 350,000 sq. metres(for comparison the Mall of America covers 230,000 sq. metres). It was destroyed in an earthquake and raided for quarrying purposes - many of Egypt's greatest monuments have been cannibalized by other pharaohs. The Colossi remained broken and were reputed to cause a weeping, moaning sound every morning - some strange effect of the wind and the dew. A Roman emperor re-assembled them on an oracle's instructions and the sound stopped. (N.B. The name Memnon is from the King of Ethiopia in the Iliad - the Greeks assumed that it was to this mythical person the statues were dedicated).

Anyway, a good story for two impressive monuments. I'll tell the last part of my adventure - getting home - tomorrow.

1 comment:

Water Lilies said...

I woulda let the colossi moan.