Page images
PDF
EPUB

a staircase with a slope so gradual that it runs for half the length of the temple in the thickness of the wall. These two staircases are as good as a book. Following the Egyptian precedent, they present upon their walls the entire New Year's procession, which passed up one and down the other

The splendid flat roof built of stone, and commanding the great view up and down the river, has two minor temples built upon it-one dedicated to the death and resurrection of Osiris, with three chambers for the various forms under which he was worshipped in Upper Egypt, and three for the various forms under which he was worshipped in Lower Egypt; the other a dear little hypæthral temple in the Greek style.

Not less interesting are the vaults of the temple, which contain some of its best sculptures and paintings. Here, as in the Dwelling of Hathor, King Pepi I. of the sixth dynasty, who lived three thousand years before the Ptolemies, and was one of the most munificent patrons of Denderah, is kneeling before Hathor, and here he is offering a golden image, which indicates that the treasures presented by him to the temple were kept in these vaults which, even in December, have a temperature of about 100° Fahrenheit; I thought that they might more appropriately have been decorated with scenes from the lower regions.

Such is the interior of the first Egyptian temple I saw, a congeries of noble halls and little shrines and vaults and passages, all with their paintings and sculptures comparatively uninjured-even the roofs were decorated with the signs of the Zodiac, and the heavenly goddess Nut, with her elongated body folded square round the whole sky. The painting has faded from the exterior, but it is still covered with sculptures-inside and out. Five Roman emperors contributed to its decoration : Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, and Hadrian added a pylon.

But the most interesting decoration of the exterior is on its back face, in the Ptolemaic style, for here the famous Cleopatra-Cleopatra VI. of Egyptian history-caused the

images of herself and Cæsarion, her son by the immortal Julius Cæsar, to be carved.

The witch of Egypt has little beauty of face or figure in this conventionalised carving, but the Temple of Denderah is more closely connected with her than any existing building.

Within the lofty wall of crude bricks which surround the temple proper are subsidiary temples, the chief of which are the temples dedicated to Isis, and the Mammisi or birth-house of Horus; and all round the temples are remains of the houses and tombs of ancient Tentyris. One of the temples of the group was long used as a Coptic church : the crosses may still be distinguished.

The Temple of Denderah may be of only Ptolemaic antiquity-it may have no gigantic pylon, no dromos of sphinxes, no colonnaded court, but it is so unusually perfect and so brilliantly decorated that visitors are always impressed by it apart from its connection with Cleopatra.

CHAPTER XXIX

Luxor, the City of the Lotus-eater

[ocr errors]

UXOR is the city of the lotus-eater. Here the scenery

and climate of the Nile reach perfection. It is the place to dream away the rest of your life.

But the British residents are no dreamers, though they may have dreams-imaginings like those which come in subconsciousness to sleepers. For Luxor is the headquarters of excavation. He who wishes to disturb the dead, to make them tell how they lived, goes to Luxor as his base, and from it descends upon Thebes or Abydos.

Luxor is the chief centre of the conspicuous ruins of ancient Thebes. It has itself the finest temple actually on the banks of the Nile, and away in the palm groves of Karnak, and across the broad waters at Thebes, are the most splendid groups of temples in all Egypt. The effect would be much greater if ancient Thebes was not divided under three names now. In ancient days Thebes was Western Thebes, and Luxor and Karnak were Eastern Thebes. If the whole place were now called Thebes, visitors would be thunderstruck with its vastness.

Luxor is an unimaginably beautiful place. There are houses in Luxor with exquisite riverside gardens, from which you look down upon Luxor's mighty temple, aggrandised by Egypt's rulers from Rameses the Great to Alexander the Great, and across the river at all the temples of Thebes, with the rim of the Sahara behind them.

Those riverside gardens of Luxor! I know of nothing quite so beautiful in their way. Take the garden of the Savoy Hotel, for instance. Green lawns and flowering

[ocr errors]

shrubs of tropical luxuriance are divided from the river by a high terrace to guard them from the annual inundation. Along this terrace runs a snow-white pergola, roofed from the sun, and with its white columns curtained by a crimson bougainvillea. On the other side broad steps lead down from the terrace to the Nile, running many feet below. Across the water is Thebes, spread out for the eye. At the foot of the steps lie two or three Nile galleys, as classical in outline as if they had belonged to the ancient city, with their white-robed crews lazily executing Nubian dances, or plaiting fantastic fly-switches of palm-leaves, to lure piastres from the pockets of the visitors, till some one wishes to cross to Thebes or go for a sail on the Nile.

But it is hard to leave that terrace. I could sit all day long, all the winter through, at the openings of that pergola, watching the fishermen plying their primitive craft and the huge gyassas which carry on the trade of the Nile drifting down the swift current or running before the strong north wind, with their cargoes of golden grain or piled-up pitchers of white clay.

Once in a way one of Cook's tourist steamers comes merrily up from Cairo-a thing of beauty, with its gleaming white hull and its decks as gay as a garden-party, with men in light flannels and women in summer splendour.

The soft air and golden light of the Egyptian winter make everything seem like a dream; and the dragomans in their fine Arab robes, and the statuesque donkey-boys, and the swaying camels complete the picture. Luxor is ancient Egypt redivivus, and it is not without its illusions of the Middle Ages, for it has a very ancient mosque imprisoned in its temple, and a wonderful school built out of Pharaonic stones.

But never go south of the temple unless it is to hurry through to the cool halls and classical terraces of the Winter Palace Hotel, for the plage of Luxor, where the principal shops are situated, is the Egyptian Margate. There is hardly a shop but has its tout entreating you to have kodaks developed or buy films and postcards and

souvenir jewellery and ostrich-feather fans. You can hardly go a yard without being pestered to hire a dragoman for a day and a donkey for a month. The Egyptian is a born tout, and this is the chief station for touts. Cash bookmakers at the Derby are nothing to them, except that the one is addressing the crowd and the other a single victim ; and the voice is used at a different pitch. Nothing equals the Egyptian for persistence and impertinence in touting. He sees what you are looking at, and interposes his person; he perceives you talking to a friend, and does something to show you that your attention must be transfered to him; he interrupts you all the time that you are doing anything else, till you hire him or his donkey, or buy his sham antiquities, or insult him, or damn him, or push him away. The only way in which you can protect yourself is to give an unlicensed guide a shilling for the morning or afternoon, if he does not speak till he is spoken to, and does not let any other Egyptian come near you.

It is a form of blackmail ; but he can carry your camera, and is probably as good a dragoman as any but the best, though he is not allowed to call himself one.

I shall not easily forget our first hour in Luxor. Our steamer ran alongside just as the last rose of sunset was flushing the marvellous procession of lotus-headed columns reflected in the Nile. At such a moment the great temple of Luxor looks almost unearthly in its splendour and its long array of giant columns.

When the business of landing was over, we found ourselves in that contest of afterglow and darkness which in Egypt passes for dusk, walking past the temple, and a little hill which had a temple underneath, and a mosque on the top of it, and blatant antiquity dealers, along the lofty shore to the cool dark palm groves which envelop Karnak. As we returned from the mysteriousness of seeing that wilderness of ruins for the first time, in the deepening dusk, we compared it with our vision of Thebes—a wide plain, with the Temple of Der-el-Bahari cut in the bulwarks of the Sahara, which we had seen beyond the Nile canopied by the green-and-golden

« PreviousContinue »