Luxor, Egypt

Monday, March 11, 1929

Well, I finally got the Omelette Special and it’s the best thing I’ve tasted in months. About 8 by 5 inches and two high, all crisp in the outer frills and with jelly inside. Made sort of like a waffle. I got to the train twenty minutes early and it was already packed. As today Ramadan is over and as it is the Moslem Xmas, everybody was present. I asked a couple of men to put their boxes on the floor, though, and thus got a seat. Both proved more than nice to me; one speaking a few words of English tried to teach me some Arabic. I proudly wrote my name for him in Arabic and darned if he didn’t pronounce it Ditla Leoybic. I cheerfully lied, that was it exactly. The car had seats for 112, but very nearly 160 were in it all the way to Luxor. Sometimes it got so crowded you couldn’t even move a foot for two hours at a time. At others we had to drape them over boxes and baskets.

A corporal in the army spoke English pretty well and was also extremely nice to me, even to insisting on getting me coffee when a man came through the car selling it. All about me wanted to share their dinner of bread and perhaps an orange or hard-boiled egg. The car was filthy with dust and dirt brought in by the passengers. Boxes, bags, etc. piled high all down the aisle so you could barely get through by much climbing. I was near the door though. About half pulled off their sandals or shoes and curled up or squatted and tried to sleep. They lay all over the aisle and even on the floor under the seats. After midnight it became pretty chilly. People, one after the other, would climb over everybody and go out the door, leaving it stand open. This sure got my friends down and especially a big sleepy-looking very black job all wrapped up in a black cape and scarf about the head. He was right against the door and was always awakened, just as he got to sleep, by the door opening or being left open. The two ugliest women in Egypt sat across the aisle from me. Both smoked (the first I have seen here) and obviously for effect. In fact, one lit half a dozen or more fags, took a few puffs, then passed it to her unfortunate and nice-looking husband to finish. I dozed off a few times but was always conscious of what was going on about me.

At six the eastern sky began to grow pale slowly. Then the gray gave way to a narrow stripe of pale orange sky along the horizon. This slowly widened and grew upwards, forming four distinct shades of oranges in separate bands, the lower more nearly approaching red. But the most extraordinary sight was the color of the sky above this—a green, which very slowly faded to gray higher in the sky. This weird green lasted only a few minutes. The sun did not appear for a long time after the whole east was a light orange. We had crossed the Nile and were on the east side not far from the river. A thin veil of mist hung over the low flat country. Sometimes we could see huge high cliffs of sandstone or of limestone on one side or the other or perhaps both. The striations showed clearly even at several miles and they gave the early morning scene a charmed atmosphere.

Mud villages under the palms rushed by, People on their way to the fields or towns rode along paths on donkeys or camels, or walked. Shepherds were driving their goats to pasture; oxen were pulling old wooden plows through the fields; a camel or ox slowly turned a large wooden waterwheel by going around in a ceaseless circle, or perhaps a barefooted native was dipping it up from one level to the other, for the little irrigation ditches cut the fields every few feet. This is a laborious task—a bucket at the end of a long pole and a big rock weight at the other, held up in the center by another pole stuck in the ground.

Finally arrived in Luxor at 8:30 AM. The town is a fair-sized one, practically all native. A few hotels take care of the multitude of tourists, mostly Americans and English but lots of French, Germans, and even Egyptians. The pretty Winter Palace is on the Nile and has a fine view.

There is plenty of dirt in Luxor, lots of beggars, and plenty of dragomen and mule owners, etc. All the children beg for baksheesh from three years old up. It is a habit with them. When you pass them they say baksheesh every time, perhaps never looking around to see if you “loosen up.” The boys and men are as bad or worse. Four out of five of these guards of the monuments, donkey drivers, dragomen, etc. will ask for a cigarette. If you haven’t one, they ask for money to get it with. Perhaps they will fall in and tag you with the street for a block or so and expect a tip for telling you something about a temple or pointing out an object to you. This afternoon a boy driving a camel asked me for a cigarette so I spoke back in French to get rid of him. It did, but as I walked away, he said “Go on away” in English. I turned around and asked him what he said. It was hard to keep from laughing for he was so frightened he nearly knocked his donkey over in trying to get away, at the same time telling me he was speaking to a boy about 200 feet up the road coming toward us.

Flies and fleas are the curse of Luxor. At the present time the streets and country are filled with swarms of flies which insist upon flying in your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. I have talked to natives who not only had flies in their eyes and on their face, but crawling on their lips and teeth! And babies and young children are literally covered with the pests, and seemingly take little notice of them. The Europeans and a few natives carry bamboo things that resemble a small broom, only more bushy, or else a more elaborate one of horse-hairs with ivory or leather handles. These are an absolute necessity for any degree of comfort at all. Frank lent me his nice leather one and I never go out without it. It is not an occasional fly you shoo away but a continuous, persistent horde that forever buzzes around your head and all settle if you relax your vigil for a moment. Thus as early as the first afternoon, the constant motion of this fly-chaser has become a habit. However, with the sunset they disappear. I have seen but one mosquito to date, but the fleas are just about to arrive on the scene, in fact, the vanguard is already here. In the summer months there are no flies.

The Thebes Hotel is two blocks from the river on a nice little park full of pretty flowers and everywhere around are luxuriant palms. There is a large vine of bougainvillea growing up a tree that is nothing less than passionate—a violent, deep, sensuous purple.

Luxor numbers nearly 20,000, but it is all native except a few European hotels along the river or near it. In the morning I visited the Temple of Luxor, and for several hours in the afternoon, Karnac, the greatest pile of ruins on Earth. It is stupendous and bewildering. It defies all description and the only way I can even begin to describe it is to refer to two guide books. The roads in and about Luxor are all a fine dust which immediately gets everything filthy. There is no way to escape it, even by riding cars, donkeys, or carriages for the dust is about the ruins too. This applies to the other side of the river also.

The Temple of Luxor stands on the river bank in the center of Luxor of today. The city is 450 miles south from Cairo on the east bank of the river and owes its importance as one of the leading winter resorts in the world to its position on the site of ancient Thebes and to Mr. J.M. Cook, the late, who has made it a tourist center. Luxor is a corruption of the Arabic name Al Uksur, which means “the palaces.” Until 1886 the place was but a small mud village, dirty and ill-kept. The American Mission has a Boarding School for Girls here.”

[Lifted and paraphrased from the two guide books:] Ancient Thebes stood on both sides of the Nile and was generally called in hieroglyphics xx, Uast; that part of the city which was situated on the east bank of the river and included Karnac and Luxor appears to have been called xxxx, Apet or ‘throne city’, whence the Coptic zzz and the name Thebes have been derived. It is not known who founded Thebes. Some say it is the most ancient city of Egypt, others that, like Memphis, it was founded by Menes, and others that it was a colony from Memphis. Excavations by Mr. Geo. Legrain prove that the Temple of Karnac of the XVIIIth dynasties stood upon the ruins of one of the XIth, and this in turn upon one of the second, or about 4133 B.C. Thebes stood on a broad plain several miles in extent on both sides of the river. Back from the river the rocky mountains sweep down to meet the fertile valley. It has been estimated that Paris could be put in this plain. The size of ancient Thebes is not known, but from the remains, the descriptions of Strabo and Diodorus must be OK. In the Iliad it is referred to as having ‘100 gates and 20,000 war chariots.’ Someone says the army was composed of 700,000 and another, 1,000,000 men. The city must have reached its highest point of splendor in the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties, as little by little the local god Amen-Ra became the god of all Egypt.

Homer writes:

Nor Thebes so much renown’d/Whose courts with unexhausted wealth abound/Where through a hundred gates with marble arch/To battle twenty thousand chariots march.

Compared with Karnac, the Temple of Luxor is not of the greatest importance and until recently has been buried under piles of rubbish on which native houses stood. In 1883 the excavating was begun and finished about 1888. It is built of sandstone and is dedicated to the Theban triad of Amen-Ra, Mut, and Khonsu, and was called the House of Amen in the Northern Apt, i.e., Karnac. It was built about 1450 B.C. by Amenophis III, and was at that time the most beautiful temple in Egypt, nearly 500 feet long, 180 feet wide, and was connected with Karnac by a paved way on each side of which was a row of ram-headed sphinxes, about a mile in length. Mut was the wife of Amenophis III and Khunsu, the sun god, his son.

The temple has been added to by later kings and during the rule of the Persians over Egypt it was sacked and burnt. The damage was partly made good by the Ptolmeys, but in 27 B.C. it was greatly damaged by an earthquake. Then the Christians converted it into a church and disfigured walls and smashed statues. When these latter could afford to build a church of their own, they forsook the temple and natives built their mud huts in the courts. As these fell down, others were built over them till the temple was filled.

A fine obelisk 82 feet high stands before the pylon of the temple. Its mate now adorns the Place de la Concorde at Paris. The front of the temple was ornamented with six colossal statues of Ramses II, four standing and two seated. Three of the former have been destroyed. The pylon was 80 ft. high and 100 ft in width, with hollow towers. Flags were flown from here in festival times. The face is covered with scriptures and texts which refer to the dedication of the pylon to Amen-Ra and to the victory of Ramses I over his enemies.

The Court of Ramses II is an impressive place, 187 by 157, and surrounded by a double row of papyrus columns with lotus capitals, all inscribed. The colonnade leading to it from the pylon consists of 14 lots columns, massive and beautifully proportioned, 51 ft high and 11 ft thick. There are numerous other smaller courts, chapels, etc.

From the river it is a striking scene and to watch the sun set from its courts is an experience. It never rains here and the sky is always a pure turquoise blue with never a cloud. As the sun drops slowly down toward the rugged mountains across the river and the broad fertile plain, it tinges the surrounding sky a pale orange. The sun is a huge golden ball, and slips down behind the mountains leaving the blue-gray of dusk slowly encroaching upon the fading orange, as mauve night settles over the valley. No array of rainbow colors in this sunset, just a small patch of pale orange sky and that golden ball burning its way down toward the horizon. I could rave on for hours about it. The gently flowing river darkens, reflecting an uncertain image of a sailboat upon the smooth surface.

Karnac has probably been “holy ground” from the earliest times, and the kings have always lavished much wealth to increase its splendor. The temples of Luxor and Karnac were connected by an avenue about 6,500 feet long and 80 wide, on each side of which was arranged a row of sphinxes. At the end of this avenue to the right is a road which leads to the Temple of Mut, which was also approached by an avenue of sphinxes. Ruins of four temples stand here. From the main avenue again, a smaller one ornamented with ram-headed sphinxes leads to a splendid pylon built by Ptolemy IX, Eurgetes II. Passing through the door, a small avenue of sphinxes leads to a temple built by Ramses III, dedicated to Khonsu, and appears to be built upon the site of an earlier temple of the time of Amenophis III. To the west is still another small temple.

The great Temple of Amen fronted the Nile and was approached by means of a small avenue of sphinxes, ram-headed, placed there by Ramses II. Excavation work was begun in 1895 on Amen or Amûn by Legrain. This avenue has at the end a quai by which the river once flowed but is now 300 yards away. The first pylon is 370 feet wide, 142½ high, and 49 ft. thick! It was begun in the Ptolemaic Period and left unfinished. The Great Court is 338 by 275. At one side is the Temple of Ramses III. The second great pylon was built by Ramses I and is all carved and inscribed. This leads to one of the most wonderful buildings in the world, the Hall of Columns or the Great Hypostyle Hall. Twelve columns forming a double row in the center are 60 ft high and about 35 ft in circumference; 122 more are 40 ft high and 27 around. They are arranged in 16 rows. Ramses I set up one column, Seti I 79, and Ramses II the remaining 54. The third propylon is in ruins. Then comes an obelisk 75½ ft. high standing on a base 6 ft square. Inscriptions on the eastern side read “Horus, Mighty Bull, Beloved of Truth, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Favorite of the Two Mistresses, Resplendent in the Uraeus Serpent Diadem; Great in Strength Akherperkara-sotepenra. The Golden Horus, Beautiful of Years, making hearts to live, the Son of Ra of his body, Thutmost—Resplendent in Beauty! He made it as his monument for his father Amen, the Lord of Thebes and Guardian of Karnac, so that he might be given life unto Ra forever.”

Pylons 4, 5, and 6 are all in ruins now. Between 4 and 5 stood 14 large columns with statues, colossal in size, of Osiris, and two huge obelisks of Queen Hatshepsut, one of which still stands, 98 ft. high. The other was 105 ft high. The tops were covered with gold containing a large portion of silver so they could be seen from a great distance. It is the second-highest obelisk in the world, the one in Rome being first. It reads: “When they see my monument in after years, let them exclaim: ‘This it is that was made by me, and take heed lest ye say I know not, I know not. This was made under my order, this mountain fashioned of gold, by my life and by the love of Ra and by the favor of my father Amen, who has filled my nostrils with life and health, I bear the White Crown and am diamened with the Red Crown (crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt), two gods have united unto me their two spans (of life). I rule over this land like the sun of Isis; I am powerful even as the sun of Nu when the sun reposes in the Morning Boat and remains in the Evening Boat; when he places his mother and the Uraeus goddesses in the Sacred Barge, as long as the sky is fixed and firm which he hath created.

“It shall exist forever like unto the North Star. I shall rest in life Atum, therefore of a truth these are two huge obelisks brightened by my Majesty with gold for the sake of her father Amen, and out of love, in order to perpetuate his name that they might stand erect in the Temple precinct forever and ever.” They are one solid block of granite, without any joint or division in them. “My Majesty began this work in (her) fifteenth year (of reign), the first day of (the month) Mesori, which maketh but seven months since the beginning of it in the mountain” (i.e., Aswan quarries). Then there is a Record Hall, a Festal Hall, and a Great Festal Temple, all in more or less ruins. There are ten pylons in all and numberless temples, shrines, etc. The sacred lake stands nearby. It is called Birket El Mallaha by the natives, or The Salt Pool. On its surface the sacred boats of the gods used to float. Today the natives aver that once every year, at night time, a phantom ship of gold sails across the sacred waters. A sun-baked brick wall encloses all of these ruins and is itself pretty well shot.

The ancient Egyptians had no one chronological starting point from which to date events. They reckoned time from the accession day of their king. After his death, his successor’s accession day used to serve as a starting point, et cetera. Egyptian history is divided into 30 dynasties.

Thebes was called by the ancient Egyptians Apé or Apiu, the feminine Tapé or Tapiu. The Greeks called it Thebes, after their Thebai. The first Theban king was Antef who was succeeded by public-minded kings who made improvements in and around the little village. Egypt, under the last of the Herakleopolis, was seething with trouble. Some Theban nobles, by a night attack, tried to kill Amenemhat, who was forced to take up arms and thus fought his way to the throne of Egypt. He was kind and helped the poor. He is the founder of the XIIth dynasty under which art and literature flourished; pyramids and giant edifices were built.

During the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th dynasties (1788–1580 B.C.) Egypt’s prosperity declined. Some Syrian tribes, the Hyksos or Shepard  Kings, discovering its weakness and using a new formidable engine of war, the chariot, occupied the delta and maintained the kings of Thebes as vassals. Intoxicated by success, they smashed the idols and temples, but later identifying Set, the Egyptian God of Evil, with one of their chief deities, reconciled themselves with their subjects and treated them kindly. Despite this, the Egyptians rose up and drove the Hyksos out of Egypt. These former, in order to put an end to claims on the throne by rival families, introduced a novel system of marrying brothers and sisters, and in case of failure of royal issue by queen consort, the royal son of one of the ladies attendant on the deceased king, had to succeed and his authority strengthened by marrying one of the hereditary princesses.

Queen Hatsu or Kemare-Hatsheput, whose name means The First of the Court Ladies, had great personality. She reigned from 1540 to 1515 B.C. and built the beautiful pink temple of Deir el-Bahari in commemoration of an expedition to Punt. But a cruel king later reigned, Amenhotep or Amenophis II. He warred continually and extended the kingdom greatly. Amenophis III, also of the same dynasty, was a great builder and erected the Temple of Luxor, later added to by Ramses II; also the Colossi.

Amemophis IV was a consumptive king and reigned only a short time. But he conceived of the One God, an almighty, powerful god represented in the sun’s disk. He made this the religion of the state and devoted his time to spreading his religion, thus his possessions shrunk. He soon died as did the eldest daughter who succeeded him. Thus the throne fell to the second daughter, Ankh-sen-Aton, and her husband Tut-Ankh-Aton, about 1345 B.C.

Tut-Ankh-Aton means The Living Image of Aton or the sun. He moved the capital back to Thebes and discarded the worship of Aton for that of Amon as of old. He changed his name to Tut-Ankh-Amen or The Living Image of Amen. Under his rule the Egyptians were contented.

Horem-Heb founded the 18th dynasty, about 1350 to 1315 B.C. Sethos or Seti I was a big fighter and warred against the Libyans and the Syrians. Ramses I preceded him and Ramses II followed. This latter reigned 67 years, the greatest of all Egyptian kings. He built temples at Abu-Simbel, Karnac, Luxor, Ramesseum, Memphis, and others. He also warred extensively against the Hittites. His mummified body is in the Cairo museum.

Here, Egypt’s history becomes a series of wars. Ethiopians, Abyssinians, and Persians invaded Egypt for a while, and were expelled one by one. Alexander the Great took Egypt in 332 B.C. and founded Alexandria which because the center of Greek culture and world commerce. As a result of his death, Ptolemy I Soter I was crowned in 305 B.C. By 205 B.D. the Ptolemaic power began to totter and Thebes was ruled for 19 years by native pharaohs and was afterward deserted in 88 B.C. In 41 B.C. the fatal love story of Antony and Cleopatra. In 31 B.C., Octavianux marched against Antony and defeated him at Actium and took Alexandria. Antony committed suicide and Cleo allowed an asp to bite her. Thus Egypt became a Roman province.

Under Byzantium, Egypt fell to the Eastern Empire in 395 A.D. In 640 A.D. a Moslem army of Caliph Omar’s entered Egypt and took Alexandria, destroying the great library because [its contents] didn’t agree with the Koran. This the creme of the world’s learning was used as fuel for [their] 4,000 baths.

Quarrels between sultans, caliphs, kings, and emirs followed till Sultan Selim I of Turkey ruled her in 1517 and soon after the Battle of the Nile, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte occupied the country. In 1805, Mohammed Ali Pasha, a young soldier of fortune from Cavala, Macedonia, made an appearance here and put an end to all troubles of the corrupt Mameluke princes’ government. He was a great builder and made many improvements as did his grandson, Ismail Pasha, who built railroads and encouraged the Suez Canal construction. The present ruler, H.M. King Fuad I, is his son.

Three hours of wandering about through the cool courts in the shade of mammoth columns and pylons, and then I returned to my 10-piastre hotel, hot, tired from no sleep hardly for nearly 60 hours (4 hrs. sleep) and plenty dusty and dirty. From the verandah on the second floor I watched the marvelous sunset over the palms and behind the misty Egyptian Rockies. Then I fell asleep over a guide book of Egypt.

Comments are closed.