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.