Karnak’s Colored Columns

One of the things that struck me most on my recent visit to Luxor was to see just how much work the Egyptian authorities have done during the pandemic to clean, conserve and restore Egypt’s ancient monuments. In the almost-two-years since my last trip, it was great to see the opening of the Avenue of Sphinxes, the excavation of the Memorial Temple of Amenhotep III and the cleaning of Esna Temple to reveal its wonderful colored columns and ceiling. I have posted separately about all of these recently.

It’s fair to say though that seeing the work at Karnak Temple possibly impressed me the most.

I first visited Karnak as a 17-year old in 1984. I remember being staggered by its unimaginable size and the sheer gigantic scale of everything. Naturally, the Hypostyle Hall with its 134 towering sandstone columns made the biggest impression on me. I recall our guide telling us the temple was originally fully painted. I craned my neck back and peered up at the undersides of what remains of the roof, squinting to see the remains of the original color on some of the reliefs shaded from the bleaching effects of the sun. I tried to imagine what the entire temple must have looked like painted in bright hues. Tried, and failed.

Well, I’m happy to report that it no longer needs a stretch of the imagination to picture what it must have looked like. The authorities have used the last number of months to work on the enormous columns of the central colonnade to restore some of their color. It’s been subtly done. This short video shows you what it looks like now:

It’s not just the columns of the Hypostyle Hall that have been lovingly restored. I was also pleased to see the ram-headed sphinxes lined along both sides of the Open Court had received some much-needed attention. Our Egyptian friend told us that it was only when two of the sphinxes were removed and taken to Tahrir Square that the authorities realized quite how much they were in need of some TLC.

As ever, a visit to Karnak never disappoints. So, hats off to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry for all the effort they continue to put into making the open-air museum of Luxor such a thrilling and rewarding place to visit.

With apologies to my English readers for the spelling of the word C O L O U R !! The text automatically converts to the American spelling, even when I try to change it back 🙂

Fiona Deal, author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – Mysteries of modern and ancient Egypt – all available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both Kindle and paperback.

Esna Temple Cleaning and Conservation

There was a time not so long ago when a fair amount of imagination was needed to picture what the ancient Egyptian temples must have looked like when originally built and painted. Over recent years, however, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism has led major programs of work to clean, conserve and, in some cases, renovate and restore the temples.

On my recent trip to Egypt I was keen to visit Esna Temple for the first time to see some of this cleaning and conservation work for myself. Located approximately 50 miles south of Luxor on the West Bank of the Nile, the temple is dedicated to Khnum, a god of the Nile who moulded the “ka” on his potters wheel.

Esna is the last temple built in Egypt in the traditional style, a Ptolemaic temple dating from the Graeco-Roman period. It was completed under the Roman Emperor Decius in circa 250 AD. As with all Ptolemaic temples, it was built on the site of an earlier shrine, this one dating from the reign of Thutmosis III in the New Kingdom. The temple sits in a hollow pit some 9 meters below ground level with the modern town enclosing it on all sides. Only the hypostyle hall has been excavated, with remains of the rest of the temple still buried under the surrounding streets.

This short video clip shows the approach to the temple through narrow streets lined with market stalls, and you can see how the temple sits in a pit surrounded by the modern town.

Arriving Esna Temple

A team was there working hard on the cleaning and conservation work as this next short clip shows:

Cleaning Esna Temple

The work cleaning the capital-headed columns and the astronomical ceiling is revealing some stunning colors as this gallery of photographs shows. So it’s no longer necessary to use your imagination to see what the temple must have looked like when originally carved and painted.

What also sets Esna Temple apart is some of the unique reliefs carved into the walls and columns. On the northern wall the pharaoh is shown hunting wild birds, beautifully carved in raised relief into the sandstone.

These next carvings are unlike anything I have seen on temple walls before… as I understand it depicting a hymn to Khnum.

There is also a depiction on one of the columns of the Emperor Trajan dancing before the goddess Menhet, and another of an Emperor presenting a garland. And finally, on the outer wall apparently the only image in Egypt of a man riding a horse.

All in all, a fascinating visit to an atmospheric and evocative temple being restored to something of its former glory. And, of course, for a writer of fiction such as myself, impossible not to imagine what might be waiting to be discovered buried for millennia under the modern town that surrounds it. Surely, there must be a story there …

Fiona Deal, author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – Mysteries of modern and ancient Egypt – all available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both Kindle and paperback.

Ramses’ Riches Scene Setting

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Ramses’ Riches.

Book 9. Ramses’ Riches.

I have been taking a look at photos that bring back great memories of my travels to Egypt.  Many of the hotels and archaeological sites have provided locations for the key scenes in by 10-book series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt.  All the time it’s not possible to travel freely, it seems to me the best way to get away is to read about foreign places and/or to look at pictures, which help to bring us a bit closer to what we’re missing.

I am now up to Book 9 in my series, Ramses’ Riches.  This novel explores possible links between the court of Ramses The Great and the legendary tales about Helen of Troy.

After a spell in Luxor, Merry & Co decide to travel south down the Nile and then across Lake Nasser.  Their destination is the glorious Temple of Ramses the Great at Abu Simbel.

While on their Nile Cruise, Merry and her friends and associates visit some of the most popular tourist sites along the banks of the river.  What’s so great about a cruise along The Nile is that the ancient temple ruins are dotted along its banks at intervals.  It makes for a leisurely touring itinerary and nothing is too far away from the boat.  Key stops on the journey south to Aswan from Luxor include the Ptolemaic temples of Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo.  Merry & Co visit Kom Ombo at night, soaking up the atmosphere of a full moon.

One of the many pleasures of a Nile cruise is looking at the scenes along the river bank, especially as the dusk sweeps in and the palm trees become a charcoal smudge against the glowing embers of the sinking sun.

The drama really start to heat up once Merry reaches Aswan and visits the island-temples go Philae.  The main temple is dedicated Isis.  Once sited on the island of Philae, the temples were dismantled to save them from the rising flood waters after the British dam was built in the early part of the 20th century.  They have been re-sited on the nearby island of Agilika on higher ground.  Looking at them today, you would never know they had been moved – a remarkable feat of modern engineering to rival the ancient artisans’ skill.  Philae is very beautiful, surrounded by lush vegetation and the blue waters of The Nile near the first cataract.

Ultimately though, Merry’s destination is Abu Simbel.  She is lucky enough to approach over water across Lake Nasser.  Here, the sunsets are also beautiful.  And the approach towards the great temples is breathtaking.  Like Philae, both the smaller temple of Nefertari (dedicated to the goddess Hathor) and the Great Temple of Ramses II were rescued by UNESCO from the rising floodwaters of Lake Nasser, this time after the building of the Aswan High Dam in the mid-1960s.  Every stone was painstakingly dismantled and moved to higher ground close to their original location.  These two originally rock-cut tombs were reconstructed inside huge concrete and steel-enforced domes, like aircraft hangers.  Again, it’s hard to imagine, seeing them so apparently intact today.

Inside both temples, the walls are covered with reliefs.  The smaller temple of Nefertari – a key location in the novel – is covered with intimate scenes of Queen Neferari and her husband making offerings to the goddess Hathor.  Inside the mighty temple of Ramses the Great, the wall scenes depict his war exploits against The Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh.  Ramses claimed this as a great military victory.  In truth, it was more likely to have ended in a stalemate that led to the first peace treaty in history some twenty years after the infamous battle.

Abu Simbel is truly one of the most impressive of Egypt’s ancient temples, dating to the New Kingdom, some 3,000 years ago.  Not as immense as the pyramids, nor as sprawling and neck-craning as Karnak or as beautiful as Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, it has an egotistical majesty that is quite awe inspiring, declaring one man’s power and glory, and his love for his Great Royal Wife.  He called Nefertari “she for whom the sun shines”.

The bulk of the action in Ramses’ Riches takes place once Merry & Co reach Abu Simbel.  The key question is whether something might remain buried behind the inner sanctuary of the temple, protected by the four seated statues of the gods, and whether this might somehow prove a link with the mythical Helen of Troy, or perhaps a more recent news story.

As always, there’s plenty of action and adventure along the way as Merry unlocks more secrets from Egypt’s ancient past.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at my pictures of my visits to Egypt that have provided settings for keystones in my books, and that you might consider reading them for some light, escapist fiction with a dose of ancient Egyptian history thrown in.  If so, I suggest you start with the first in the series, Carter’s Conundrums.  All my books areavaailable on Amazon.

Fiona Deal, Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, fiction books all available on Amazon. To join Merry on her adventures please click on each picture for the link.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Carter's Conundrums

Cover of  Carter’s Conundrums. Book 1 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Tutankhamun’s Triumph.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Tutankhamun’s Triumph. Book 2 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway. Book 3 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Farouk’s Fancies.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Farouk’s Fancies. Book 4 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Akhenaten’s Alibi.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Akhenaten’s Alibi. Book 5 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Seti’s Secret.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Seti’s Secret. Book 6 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Belzoni’s Bequest.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Belzoni’s Bequest. Book 7 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Nefertari’s Narrative.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Nefertari’s Narrative. Book 8 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Ramses’ Riches.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Ramses’ Riches. Book 9 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.