Karnak Temple 1993
I first visited Egypt in 1993, when we saw the Pyramids, the Cairo Museum and took a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. In 1998, we took the Lake Nasser cruise to Abu Simbel, followed by a cruise from Aswan to Luxor. In 2006, our cruise ship called at Alexandria. Unfortunately, the English-speaking tour of the city was full, so … we went to see the Pyramids.
And, there’s no sense of ‘been there; done that’ about it. I want to return, and take some digital video (I have analogue video, but no means to convert it, so I can share) and, inspired by a Lenhert and Landrock print I was given, do some black and white photography.
While being shown around the Karnak Temple, near Luxor, in Egypt, a strange thought came to me. If, in 4000 years’ time, all that remained of our town was the church, would a 25th Century archaeologist be able to form a picture of life in our time from what was within?
And, I thought of Stonehenge, near my home, which is about the same age as some of the temples.
‘This is Stonehenge. We’re pretty certain when it was built, and have a good idea who built it. We have a theory about how it was built, and your guess is as good as mine as to why it was built. But, it is jolly interesting, isn’t it?’
In contrast, here was our guide, who looked about fourteen years old … but must have been older, because she told us she had a university degree … talking about gods, pharaohs, priests and temple-builders like other people gossip about their neighbours.
The design of Karnak, like the many other temples visited shows the importance of the river Nile. The temple layout, which was fairly standard, depicted Egypt in microcosm. The central aisle represented the Nile, the pylons, or walls on either side of the entrance, were the low hills on its banks, and the pillars in the hypostyle hall, which you’d encounter after passing the pylons, represented the trees and reeds.
As worshippers approached, the aisle, like the river, became narrower, and fewer and fewer people were allowed through. Finally came the inner sanctum, where the god lived. Here, only the High Priest and the Pharaoh could enter.
Those ancient Egyptian priests and builders were accomplished showmen, and, like modern tour operators, knew exactly how to extract the maximum awe and reverence from the worshipping masses. Temples were designed to be approached from the front, and most were laid out so that the image of the god the temple was dedicated to was lit by the rays of the rising sun on Midsummer Day.
In exactly the same way, the midsummer sun falls on the so-called Altar Stone at Stonehenge, and on that day, you’re actually allowed into the stone circle. And, looking at the stones through half-closed eyes, maybe they’re reminiscent of the hypostyle hall of an Egyptian temple.
Is that too fanciful? Or, is it possible the builders of Stonehenge tried to reproduce something they’d seen in Egypt?
29th August 2007.
In the comments below, Su mentioned her site about Egypt, which I really recommend for a well researched, detailed piece of work. If you want to know more about Egypt and its monuments, go to http://www.egyptsites.co.uk/