Day 6 was our last in Luxor, and we were going to spend some time on the East Bank. After breakfast we made our way down to the river’s edge for a ride downstream. Our destination – the largest open-air temple in the world – Karnak.
It is a great pity that security measures have meant it is now impossible to walk directly from the riverfront to the first pylon. You now have to enter from the side where the coach parking is, and that initial view with the pylon backlit by the morning sun is somewhat diminished by entering through the new security checkpoint. However, given the times, security must be paramount.
That being said, it is still a magnificent sight. There is so much to see in Karnak, that a single morning doesn’t really do it justice, and I can’t help but feel sorry for those tourists who get a 45-minute look-around before being whisked off somewhere else.
Given our time restraint, we elected to walk the West-East axis, which is, in effect, a walk back through the centuries, from the comparatively recent first pylon of the Late Period to the central sanctuary from the Middle Kingdom.
To avoid a rather loud tour-guide we stopped to take in the three shrines to the Theban Triad built by Seti II, and then crossed the Great Court to the Ramses III temple. Walking back along the front of the second pylon, we paused at one of the holes that allow you to see some of the Akhenaten talatat that were used as filler material by Horemheb. It always makes me laugh that the man seemingly hell-bent on wiping Akhenaten from the face of the earth, unwittingly did so much to conserve that king’s Theban structures.
The Hypostyle Hall
Into the Hypostyle Hall and its forest of columns. Although one only sees the all-powerful hand of Ramses the Great on these mighty pillars, it was actually, from a building point of view, the greatest work of Seti I. I think everyone forgets that it really started as an entrance colonnade built by Amenhotep III. I can never enter the Hypostyle Hall without a visit to the little-known kiosk of Amenhotep IV, not that there is anything to see. My highlight of the day, however, was being recognised and greeted by a local Egyptian tour-guide – I couldn’t help feeling that I had “arrived”.
Tuthmose III Festival Hall
Through the Hypostyle Hall to the third pylon and its enigmatic ghost figure on the northern side. The obelisks always astonish first-time visitors. Perhaps it is their seemingly incredible height when viewed from the base, rather than the standard photo view. On to the centre and the holy of holies, although replaced in Ptolemaic times, it is still the heart of this magnificent temple to Amun-Ra. It was also quite pleasant to pause for a while in the shade. East of here lies the remains of the Middle Kingdom sanctuary, and beyond that the Festival Hall of Tuthmose III. The Akh-menu, as it is known, supposedly represents a huge tent shrine, complete with poles. I don’t see it myself. What it is, is one of the few places left in Karnak to retain some of its original colours. It doesn’t get many visitors and so is usually a tranquil place, under the watchful gaze of various Christian saints painted at the tops of the pillars.
Onwards towards the Eastern Gate, past the Botanical Gardens of Tuthmose III and his Chapel of the Listening Ear to the Ramses II temple and finally the Gate of Nectanebo. Beyond lies the erstwhile site of Akhenaten’s Gem pa Aten. But it is time to leave. So much still to see, but that will all have to wait for the next Tombs and Temples Tour taking place in January 2019.
It was time to get the boat across to our hotel and have some lunch. As it was our last day in Luxor, we decided to make it a free afternoon, I knew that the ladies wished to do some shopping at the Souk, while the rest of our group wanted to revisit some of the tombs. Motorbikes were hired and off they went, a return to the Valleys of both the Queens and the Kings. Those that were left headed back across the river to the Souk. I am still not sure who were the braver.
The Souk Squad set off for the national ferry, a stone’s throw from our hotel, rather than utilising our regular boat. The fare, despite the recent increase, is still incredibly reasonable, and it gave us a chance to do as the locals do. Entering the Souk, unaided by a resident, can be an unnerving affair, bombarded, as you are, from all sides with requests to “visit my shop – no hassle”. But the ladies were not to be put off. Determined, they knew what they wanted and refused to be taken in by the wiles of the local shopkeepers. There was a point where I felt we were close to causing an “International Incident”, but mercifully, common sense prevailed, and we all left happy with our purchases. So often visitors get upset by the antics of these merchants, but if they retained their sense of humour, they would soon see that it is all a game. We have a lot to learn.
A caleche ride back to the ferry point, and a return to the West Bank for our final dinner in Luxor. Next stop, Giza.