29/10/91

TOMBS AND TEMPLES We were up at 5:30am and ready to leave at 6. After collecting our hired bikes, Linda, Nicky and I cycled down to the Corniche and caught a ferry across the Nile to the western bank. The three kilometre ride up toward the Valley of the Kings took us through the fertile, irrigated farmland bordering the river where fullahins [peasant farmers] were busy at their work: cutting forage, herding their stock and tilling the earth in the hazy morning sunlight. And ahead of us, bathed in a golden haze of light and shadows, the Temple of Ramses stood like a sentinel guiding us forward.

At the ticket office we tried to wrangle student discounts for the temples and tombs using our YHA cards but they were wise to that scam so we had to pay full price, which still wasn’t a great deal! Our first stop inside the temple complex was the Rammessium, the enormous temple built by the egotistical pharaoh Ramses II in honour of himself. Much of it is in ruins these days (probably much to Ramses’ eternal chagrin but, hey…easy come easy go eh Rammy?) and the huge statue of Ramses himself lies toppled on the sand, its 200 tonne head staring forever at the sky where Ramses no doubt assumed he’d be eternally rubbing shoulders  with the Gods. Its state is apparently the fault of the Romans who obviously took a dislike to Ramses and his egotistical pretensions of greatness by lighting fires against the base then pouring water on the heated stone causing it to shatter.

As if that wasn’t enough to erode Ramses’ immortality, 2000 years later the English poet Percy Bysse Shelley wrote Ozymandius, a schathing poem about the great king’s obvious mortality:

I MET A TRAVELLER FROM AN ANCIENT LAND

WHO SAID: TWO VAST AND TRUNKLESS LEGS OF STONE

STAND IN THE DESERT…NEAR THEM ON THE SAND,

HALF SUNK, A SHATTERED VISAGE LIES, WHOSE FROWN

AND WRINKLED LIP, AND SNEER OF COLD COMMAND,

TELL THAT IT’S SCULPTOR WELL THOSE PASSIONS READ

WHICH YET SURVIVE, STAMPED ON THESE LIFELESS THINGS,

THE HAND THAT MOCKED THEM, AND THE HEART THAT FED.

AND ON THE PEDESTAL THESE WORDS APPEAR: 

“MY NAME IS OZYMANDIAS, KING OF KINGS;

LOOK UPON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR.”

NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS. ROUND THE DECAY

OF THAT COLOSSAL WRECK, BOUNDLESS AND BARE,

THE LONE AND LEVEL SANDS STRETCH FAR AWAY.

After the Ramessium, we cycled up to the Temple of Hatshepsut, a tourist-clogged disappointment, most of which could be seen from the road without paying to get in. Back at the ticket office we bought tickets for two of the Tombs of the Nobles: Sennofer and Rekmine. These small tombs of unknown royal hangers-on were set into the foot of the vast cliff which backdrops the entire Thebes necropolis.

The first tomb, that of Rekmine, featured two adjoining chambers adorned with paintings of giraffes, leopards and humans leading to a long third chamber with a roof slanting up to a height of 10 metres. Next door, so to speak, the tomb of Sennofer, a royal gardener, was accessed via a steep set of stairs hewn into the solid rock and leading steeply down to an ante-chamber decorated with grape vines.  The tomb itself featured paintings of Sennofer and his sister in amazingly good condition.

Back out in the fresh air we walked back down to the main road through a cluster of filthy shanties then cycled back to Luxor where we spent the rest of the day asleep in the hotel.

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