Day 2 - The West Bank Temples

Written at 9:30 PM on Nov. 4. Got the 6 AM wake up call and jumped out of bed to the balcony to see the view. Wow, there it is, the west bank of Thebes. All of the daily balloon rides were just taking off and I could actually see Hatshepsuts’ Temple accross the Nile!

What a beautiful day. I went down to the front desk at 6:30 to find out if this morning someone might know something about the time the tour was going to start. They told me “ Oh, look over there. We have a board for Kuoni with schedules.” That sure would have helped last night. The board said the Kuoni representative would be in the lobby everyday at 9:30.

I went back to the room to give our AWT tour guide a call and hoped that the tour group had not already left for the temples. He was very polite and told me that the tour would begin at 10:30 in the lobby area. Now I felt a little better. At least we had not missed anything!

After breakfast we went down to the lobby to talk to the Kuoni representative. It was about 9:15. I requested a change of hotels and told her for multiple reasons (contact with family members in ill health, work and the blog) that internet access was essential and that we were not happy with this hotel. She told us we could go to the Winter Palace to use our computer. “They have wireless there”. A 15 min. walk each way with a laptop in tow every time I wanted to log on. I don't think so. I told her we needed to be transferred to the Winter Palace but she said she could not help. She then went to the front desk and called the representative from AWT (the younger man) to come down to talk to us. We explained that we needed to be moved or some type of resolution needed to be made for daily internet access. He offered to drive us. A very nice gesture but not something I wanted to do every day. He was very polite and we may have to take him up on his offer but not really satisfied with this as resolution for all our complaints. We also told him that we needed to know what times the tour would start and end each day because we had to arrange a time to meet with Mr. Wazery, the director of the Valley of the Kings, to see the tombs of Amenhetep II and Horemheb. We have received antiquity permits from Dr. Hawass to see these two tombs. The tour guide said that he would check and get back to us by the end of the day.

We decided to wait in the lobby for the bus and who do you think walked up and sat down right beside us, none other than Dr. Weeks and his wife Susan. I introduced myself and made a little small talk. As it turned out he was on our bus that day. I was able to sit right across from him during the entire day. We talked about several different areas of excavation currently underway in KV 5 (the tomb of the sons of Rameses II).

After getting on the bus we then went to the Winter Palace to pick up other people. I could not believe this was actually happening. After being told by AWT that for “group integrity and insurance purposes” we must all stay at the same motel, here we are stopping to pick up 4 people at the Winter Palace. Well, I wasn’t going to let it ruin the rest of my day but it really made me mad.

After about a half hour drive south of Luxor and over the bridge to the ticket office just past the Colossi of Memnon, the busses stopped to let the guides out to go get our tickets for the day. The first stop was at the northern end of the west bank – Sety I’s temple. When everyone got off of the busses and gathered in the first courtyard of Sety I’s temple Dr. Weeks gave a small explanation of what we would be doing the rest of the day. He is not allowed to explain about the things we would be seeing.

Only Egyptian guides may describe and explain the history of Egypt and we had a terrific guide. He was a very learned man and I suspect a professor from the way he handled himself and our group.

Much of the temple enclosure wall has been reconstructed after a bad flood in 1994 ravaged the temple but it did not destroy the west portico,

(That’s Medhat, our guide, in the red shirt. I learned so much from him. He was fantastic.)

the 6 pillar hypostyle hall

and the Rameses I suite which are mostly intact.

The next stop was the Ramesseum, the temple of Rameses the Great. The busses park just north along side the front of the temple and you walk down a path and some stairs into the first court behind the badly degrading first pylon. Even so, it is a massively impressive structure. As you walk from the busses towards the temple you can get a good overview of the entire complex because the enclosure walls are nearly gone and not reconstructed like those of his father, Sety I. The temple has a very similar floor plan as his fathers’ temple. Seeing it for the first time (just like everything I am seeing) it causes a welling up of emotions inside. Hard to explain but I’m sure many of you understand what I mean.

The feet

and torso of Rameses II which originally stood more than 57 feet high.

Stairs leading from the 2nd court to the hypostyle hall.

Osirid pillars in the 2nd court in front of the portico.

Much of the color still remains on the tops of the columns in the hypostyle hall.

Part of the west wall of the hypostyle hall

The cartouche of Rameses II in color. (Usermaatre Setepenre)

After once again having an exciting, informative and educational tour by Medhat and then allowed to wander the site for an hour or so, we headed back to the busses. I forgot to mention that the tour consists of about 48 people divided onto 2 busses. My wife, Viki and I are on the Horus bus.

We next make a short trip to the Temple of Merenptah. This temple of the third son of Rameses II is no where near as structurally complete as the previous two we have visited but it does have a small museum with some beautiful pieces in it. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in any Egyptian museums anymore so no pictures of the museum pieces but you can find them on the web if you look.

After you exit the museum near the first pylon and proceed past the second pylon you find to the right and left partially submerged rooms with some beautiful reliefs in them.

There is also a nice collection of large and small sculptural pieces in a partially covered open air museum in the rear of the temple complex.

After our tour of the Merenptah temple was finished we headed to one of the most intact and well preserved temples in all of Egypt – Madinat Habu. This temple, built by Rameses III, is such a massive and awe inspiring structure. After passing through the ticket booth we gathered at the High Gate (71 feet high). While listening to Medhat tell us the history of the Sekmet statues in either side of the gate and the explanation of the reliefs, I again felt the emotions welling up inside. Well, yes, I may have even wiped my eyes a little. When you think of all of the pharaohs and other people who have walked these very stones in antiquity how can you help but get emotional? What a tremendous experience.

After you pass through the Gate you are next confronted by the enormous First Pylon (88 feet high and 211 feet wide). We couldn’t even fit it all in one picture frame.

Once through the First Pylon you enter the First Court. Here, at an opening (window of appearances) in the center of the south wall, is where Ramses III would observe the preparation of ritual offerings. To the south of this opening lay the pharaohs palace.

From the First Court you move west into the Second Court. The colors on the columns and ceilings here are very vibrant. You just want to stand there and take them all in. Once again, very beautiful and moving.

Through the second court you move into the first hypostyle hall. Only the lower portions of the columns remain. After Medhat finished with explaining the functions of the encircling rooms around the mostly removed hypostyle halls we went back through the temple, outside of the first pylon and to the south of the temple to see the royal palace area.

On the rear wall of the south section of the first pylon is a dramatic and intricately detailed relief of Rameses III hunting wild bulls in the Nile marshes.

Medhat explained in detail the reliefs on this wall and the southern wall with its massive lists of temple ceremonies with details of the amounts and kinds of offerings given.

We then went back to the bus for the drive back across the Nile. It was almost 3:30 PM, my feet were sore from walking so much but I could hardly notice it because my mind was still racing, going over all of the things which I had seen and trying to burn each into my memory. What an amazing day. I still can’t quite believe that it is all really happening. It’s an almost surreal experience.

We were very hungry when we got back to the hotel so we went straight away to The Oasis. A small (only 4 tables in the smoking room) but cozy and clean restaurant which was only a 5 min. walk right around the corner from the hotel. The food was good and relatively cheap. It only cost 105 LE (about $19) for dinner meals and drinks for us both.

Walking to the Oasis I noticed a little place called The Net. Have to check it out later to see if it might be better than the hotel facilities for internet access. At least I wouldn’t have to bother our AWT guide for rides to the Winter Palace.

The reception was at the hotel bar in the outside covered area that evening. We got down there a little after 6 PM and were not sure we were in the right place. We saw one of the gentlemen from our bus and asked if we could sit with him. Johan was from Belgium and had been here several times before. He and I hit it off from the beginning both having a passion for the ancient Egyptian culture and monuments. We could see Dr. Weeks with his wife at the far end of the bar but he was sitting with a small group of people so it didn’t seem right to go over and interrupt. I had a couple of rum and cokes and Viki had a glass of Obelisk wine. I only saw a couple of people get up and go over to Dr. Weeks and they just wanted to have books signed. About 8:30 Dr. Weeks and his wife got up to leave. As they went past our table he stopped and pulled out 3 copies of a package of papers and told Johan and us it would be useful in the coming week’s lectures.

We left the bar shortly there after. Not the type of reception I was used to for sure but at least we got to talk to him a little. Most people in the bar never got up at all.

It is now 11: 30 and I am going to try to get some sleep. Once again I feel like a kid on Christmas eve. Tomorrow we go to the Valley of the Kings.

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