« PreviousContinue »
celebrated sculptures of Der-el-Bahari are those which immortalise the treasures brought back by the great Queen's sailors from the Holy Land of Punt-Queen Hatasu was the Good Queen Bess of Egypt in the devotion and enterprise of her sailors, as well as in her family jealousies and her dislike of her successor. The Holy Land of Punt seems to have comprised Somaliland and the opposite shores of Arabia, which do not now flow with milk and honey. Punt may have been the Ophir from which King Solomon imported his apes and peacocks as well as his gold.
Gold they certainly had at Punt, for one of the Queen's ships is laden with ring-shaped ingots of it. Among the rest of the cargo catalogued on the walls of the temple are ten incense-bearing trees, and various kinds of incense, much needed for embalming, ebony, silver, antimony, apes, African greyhounds, and panther-skins. Some of the incense was still lying about in 1903. Things keep well in the climate of Thebes. With the cargo catalogued in the pictures are most entertaining portraits of Perhu, the Prince of Punt, armed with a boomerang and a dagger, and his princess, like the fat woman of a Derby-day booth, who was wearing a yellow dress at the time,
Queen Hatasu was a great ruler : like Elizabeth she relied on commerce even more than arms. The grandest and loftiest of all the obelisks in Egypt, which makes the culminating point of the great Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak, was cut in the quarries of Assuan and brought down and set up by her orders in less than seven months. It is more than a hundred feet high, and she enriched Thebes with other splendid monuments. But the most notable of her claims is one which anticipates the story of the Immaculate Conception. It was Hatasu's boast that she was the daughter of a virgin, impregnated by the god Amon-Ra, the first person of the Trinity, and chief deity of Thebes.
Three Great Temples-Esna, Edfu,
SNA, as we approached it in 1907, was all in a ferment ;
it was beside itself with importance. A fourth of the great Nile barrages was in the full swing of construction. Already a monster viaduct, long and high, was advancing upon the river from the eastern bank ; and scores of huge gyassas, the Nile merchant-men, laden with earth, were running upstream with their vast wings of sails blown out stiff, to dump their cargoes on the advancing dam. The presence of all these native craft, of an army of fellahin navvies, and a posse of English engineers made business in the little town brisk. It reminded the Esnites of the palmy days when Esna had a governor, and was the chief town of a province, which was quietly cut in two and handed over to Kena and Assuan in 1889. Its government offices were moved to Assuan ; the staff at any rate must have been pleased, since Assuan in winter is the most fashionable place in Egypt.
Most of the thirteen thousand five hundred inhabitants of Esna, who were not earning wages as barrage-building, were assembled on the shore for the arrival of our steamer. A barber was doing a thriving trade by the water's edge, and you could have any number you wanted of leather waterbottles decorated with shells. But the principal feature of the alfresco market which was accommodating itself to the steep slopes of the bank, was the display of baskets, about four feet high, shaped like oil-jars, and woven of purple, green, and white cane splints, arranged in rows.
Ali Baba would have thought that they must have been made for thieves to hide in ; they were big enough, and would have reminded him of the oil-jars used as a background for his portraits ; also there are plenty of thieves in Egypt. I could not discover what they were used for ; the supply of Europeans who want them for soiled linen must be limited; but they are very handsome; they make lovely splashes of colour on the bank, and an Arabian Night scene for kodaks if you take care not to include the shoddy European shanties at the top of the bank, labelled “Gloub Grand Bar," "Coffee Bar Port Arthur," and so on. These were, I supposed, intended for the barrage-builders. But Esna was always famous for its places of amusement. The Ghawazi, or dancing girls, were banished from Cairo to Esna by Said Pasha, and it continued to be one of the headquarters of the profession. In those days numerous gay cafés flourished round the separate quarter of the city where they lived, and travellers' dahabiyehs used to be anchored just below this quarter, because their crews like to sit up all night watching these Geisha of Egypt.
Esna has a bazar, picturesque in its buildings if it has not much to offer the traveller except fresh provisions. It used to be the last good place for marketing as a dahabeah went up-stream, One wonders whether the barrage has made the market bigger or the prices higher.
Until the barrage was commenced, travellers only regarded Esna from one other point of view—as a place with a temple ; and until the time of Mohammed Ali this was buried up to the capitals of its façade, and over head and ears everywhere else. He had one chamber of it--the hypostyle hall, cleared out in 1842 ; the rest of the temple, which is said to be still complete, was underground when I was there, and half the city of Esna was built on the top of it. As it had formerly stood at the top of the town, this was naturally the airiest situation.
By the time that these words are printed perhaps the whole of the temple will have been uncovered, for preliminary operations were almost finished by the end of 1908, while the barrage was sufficiently completed to be opened by the Khedive in February 1909-an event which probably had an important effect in hurrying on the excavations of the temple. The barrage cost a million. It took three years instead of four (the contract time) to build. It was built by Sir John Aird & Co. The foundations and floor are of Assuan granite and cement mortar, and the superstructure is of sandstone set in lime and homra. The steel and iron-work were supplied and erected by Messrs. Ransoms & Rapier. I have forgotten how many additional acres this barrage guarantees against the ill-effects of a low Nile. Combined with the excavation of the temple and the creature comforts necessary for European engineers, it may make Esna a tourist centre, for the Copts have had a predilection for the neighbourhood since the time of the Empress Helena. It contains one of the convents attributed to that charitable and indefatigable lady.
The Temple of Esna has, I believe, the unusual distinction of having been used as a mosque. The Copts are fairly sure to have used some part of it as a church. If this is discovered to be the case when its excavation is completed it will have housed a triad of religions as well as a private triad of Egyptian deities--the ram-headed god Khnum, IsisNeith, under the special name of Nebwt, and a peculiar form of young Horus called Hirkarenp. The temple had a double dedication to Khnum and the big Nile fish called the latus, about whose dimensions the best Egyptian fish-stories are told. From this the city derived its Greek name of Latopolis -as there might be a Salmonopolis in Oregon. Immense quantities of the latus, sometimes a yard or two long, were mummified in the neighbourhood. In the days when Esna was a provincial capital, the governor used to present a mummy fish to every tourist who made him a sufficiently handsome present. The supply has now run out.
If the rest of the temple were on the same scale as the hypostyle hall, Esna would be one of the finest temples in Egypt. At present one of its most distinguished features is that it seems to have enjoyed the favour of more Roman emperors than any building in the Roman Empire. Tiberius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Julius Philippus, and Decius have all left their cartouches on this temple. The present portico, however, seems to have been begun by Ptolemy Philometor, and an inscription declares that the original temple was built by Thothmes III., while a stone with Rameses II.'s cartouche is lying about. One cannot help wondering why Rameses II.'s autographs so seldom come under the hammer at Puttick & Simpson's.
The hypostyle hall, which we saw excavated inside, though it was buried up to its eyebrows outside, is of great size. It is a hundred and twenty feet long, and about fiftyone feet high and wide. The columns are thirty-seven feet high and about six feet through. The roofing slabs are, some of them, twenty-six feet long and more than six feet wide. The Acropolis at Alatri is child's play compared to this. Every inch of it, within and without, is covered with pictures or inscriptions. All the capitals are different, and the colouring is gorgeous.
It is not easy to imagine anything more extraordinary than the Hall of the Columns in the Temple of Esna under the conditions in which we saw it. We followed our dragoman like sheep under an arch into a narrow alley, and were suddenly conscious that we were walking past the top third of an Egyptian temple. It was like being in the Pope's Gallery at St. Peter's with your eyes almost on a level with the ceiling. It was yet more extraordinary, for you were not only close to the ceiling if you looked over the balustrade, which prevented you from falling into the temple, but huge column-tops crowned by huger capitals, carved with endless varieties of fruit and flower and blossom, and a heavy-corniced architrave, hieroglyphed with the names of the rulers of the earth, towered above you, while you were peering over the balustrade. The only way down into the temple was by a stair as narrow and steep as the pulpit stair in a mosque, at the top of which the dragoman took up his stand, like a mosque sheikh, as soon as we were all safely down in the womb of the temple.