Last year on my way to the Cape Town Book Fair I missed my connecting flight in Joburg because of bad weather. I ended up missing the first day of the fair so when I finally got there I rushed to the first author talk going. It was South African writer Marie Heese reading from her novel The Double Crown, Secret Writings of a Female Pharaoh. I hardly knew anything about Egypt and its history but suddenly here was an intriguing novel about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (Hat-shep-soot- more than anything I'm writing that pronunciation for me as I am struggling to keep it in my mind.). A little less than a year later I stood in her temple and had my photo taken next to her bearded statue. And who said life does not have a plan for us?
(Excuse the photo- my aim was coolness and comfort- I believe I have officially become a middle aged woman.)
Yesterday at 5am we set off for Luxor, a town along the Nile River. It's a fascinating drive as you head south along the Red Sea coast and then head west across the desert, passing through beautiful mountains.
Then suddenly like magic everything turns green. Bougainvillia and oleander bloom along the road and channels direct Nile river water to the rich dark soil in the tidy plots where crops grow.
Then we arrive in Luxor. The name is synonymous with the ancient Egyptian artifacts, the Valley of the Kings, but it is a town, large and modern, home to over 300,000 residents. In Botswana, many people build houses and then in the hope that more money will come and they will be able to extend it, they leave connecting bricks sticking off to the side where the next room can be added. Here people build upward, but with the same idea. The tops of many of the houses look unfinished, they are waiting for the money to build the next floor. Our tour guide, Marea, told us families often build flats for their children when they get married, on that unfinished roof. In the meantime it is a place to position the TV satellite or string the clothes line.
Our first stop was Queen Hatshepsut's temple. It's an impressive building built into the hill, behind the Valley of the Kings. It's three platforms up to the top.
Hatshepsut was pharoah from 1473-1458 BC, in the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt. She was the regent for her stepson Thuthmose III, but after a few years of acting as regent, she declared herself king. Her reign was a peaceful one with an unprecedented amount of building. She also commissioned many expeditions. One of the most famous, depicted on the walls of her temple, were to the Land of Punt (now believed to be somewhere around Somalia) in five, 21 metre long boats. They brought back all sorts of exotic plants and animals including 31 myrrh trees which were planted in her temple. At the time, the temple must have been a lush place with many trees and ponds.
In many of Hatshepsut's statues she is depicted with a beard and in the kilt of male pharoahs. We discussed this at the temple and Seni made the observation that it was likely not much different from today where women who want to be taken seriously in the corporate world must dress in the clothing of men- power suits.
After Hatshepsut's death, her stepson, Thutmose III, attempted to destroy all references to her legacy. A symbol called a cartouche is like a pharaoh's stamp with his or her name on it. Thutmose III tried to remove all Hatshepsut's cartouches as well as removing the faces of all images in her temple. One cartouche remained. Below is a typical image of Hatshepsut wearing the clothes for a man, her face has been removed.
We later went to the Valley of the Kings and visited three tombs which I have no photos of as it is illegal to take photos there. It is amazing the bright colours and clear depictions on the walls of the tombs thousands of years old. They're beautiful.
From there we went for a boat ride on the Nile River to cross to the East Bank for lunch at the St. George Hotel.
I have to be honest, by the time we finished lunch my energy was dropping and I couldn't retain a lot of what we were told about Karnak Temple. Luxor needs, at the very least a week, there is just too much to see and trying to do so much in a day leads to information overload. Below are photos from Karnak Temple.
This obelisk is the largest surviving obelisk in the world and was made by Queen Hatshepsut. It is made from a single piece of rock, over 29 metres high (97 feet).
This is a piece of an obelisk also commissioned by Queen Hatsheput. It depicts the god Amun-Ra blessing Hatsheput, who wears the clothing for a man and has a distinctly male shape but up close the carving shows a beautiful female face.
So that was my trip to Luxor. I hope to go back one day.