Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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the Greeks seem to have explained by the " palaces of
Memnon," while the name in hieroglyphics, Mennu, meant,
speaking generally, " splendid buildings, palaces." At the
present day the statues are called by the Arabs Schama and
Tama, or, both together, the Sanamat, i. e. the "idols " (not

A\^hen we came here in tlie beginning of November, the
whole plain, as far as the eye could reach, was overflowed,
and formed one entire sea, from which the Sanamat rose up
still more strangely and more solitary than from the green
but yet accessible corn-fields. A few days ago I measured
the Colossi and the elevation to which the soil of the Nile
had risen upon their thrones. The height of the Memnon
statue, calculated from head to foot, not including the tall
ornament on the head which it once bore, amounted to about
14 metres 28', or 45 feet and a half, in addition to which
the base separated from it, a block by itself, measured 4
metres 25', or 13' 7", of which 3 feet were covered by steps
placed round. Thus the statues were originally nearly 60 feet
in height, including the Pschent, perhaps 70 feet above the
ground on which the temple stood. Now the surface of tlie
valley is already 8 feet above that level, and the inundation

* They are called Salamat, " the Salutations," by earlier travellers.
My attention was called to the correct pronunciation of this word by
our old intelligent guide, 'Auad. The alteration is very great to the

i, ^^
Arabs, because ^ salam^ solus, is pronounced with the dental sin,

5^^ V

. ^ s'anam, idolum, with the lingual s'dd. The plural, which usually
1 s ^(.j * ^^^

is expressed by UJ as'ndm, here assumes the feminine form /"jt^^.

s'anamat. It is impossible now to see by the mutilated heads whether
they were masculine figures. The stone of which the statues are
composed is a particularly hard quartzose friable sandstone conglo-
merate, which looks as if it was glazed, and had innumerable cracks.
The frequent crackling of small particles of stone at sunrise, when
the change of temperature is greatest, in my opinion produced the
tones of Memnon, far-famed in song, which were compared to the
breaking of a musical string.


sometimes rises as far as the upper edge of the base, there-
fore 14 feet higher than it could ever have risen, at the
period of their erection, without reaching the temple itself.
Now, if we compare this fact with our discovery at Semneh,
where the surface of the Nile during historical times has
sunk above 23 feet, it is proved, by simple addition, that the
Nile at the Cataracts fell from a greater height by at least 37
feet between this and Semneh than it does at present.*

Horus, the last King of that great 18th Dynasty, had also
erected a temple near Medinet Habu, which has now, how-
ever, disappeared in rubbish. The fragment of a colossal
statue of the King, of hard limestone, almost like marble,
seems to point out the position of what was once the en-
trance to the temple, the bust carved in the most finished
style, weighing several hundred-weight, is intended for our

A large portion of two temples still exist from the suc-
ceeding Dynasty ; they were built by the two greatest and
most renowned of all the Pharaohs — Sethos I. and his son
Eamses II. The temple belonging to the first is the most
northern in the series, and is usually called the temple of
QuENA, because the old village of Qurna was grouped
round a Coptic church at this spot, and was principally
situated in the interior of the great outer courts of the
temple, but which was afterwards deserted by the inhabitants,
and exchanged for the rock-tombs in the angle of the moun-
tain situated very near at hand.

Farther towards the south, between the temples of
TuTHMOSis III. and lY., now totally destroyed, stands the
temple of Eamses II. (Miamtjk), in its structural arrange-
ment, and in all its parts, perhaps the most beautiful in Egypt,
though inferior in grandeur of scale, and in variety of inte-
rest, to the temple of Karnak. That portion of the tempk
to the back as well as the lateral halls, belonging to the
hypostyle hall, have disappeared, and their original plan
could only be explained by the aid of careful, protracted ex-
cavations, under the direction of Erbkam. All round this
* See note, p. 239.


destroyed portion of tlie temple tlie extensive brick lialls are
visible, wbich are everywhere covered with regular and
neatly-built waggon-vaulted roofs, some of them 12 feet wide,
which belong to the period of the erection of the temple itself.
This is indisputably proved by the stamps, which were im-
pressed on every brick in the royal factory, and which contain
the JSTame-Shields of King Eamses. That this temple, even
in ancient times, attracted much notice, we learn from the
particular description of it, under the name of the Tomb
OF OsxMANDYAS, giveu by Diodorus Siculus, according to

Directly to the right of the temple, one of the few indus-
trious Fellahs has laid out a small vegetable garden, which
affords us some variety for our table, and for that reason,
yielding to the intercessions of our good-natured dark-skinned
gardener, as was but just, it was spared in our excavations,
which threatened to extend towards that side, although it is
over the foundations of a side temple hitherto unnoticed,
whose entrance I found opening into the outer court of the
temple of Eamses.

The southernmost, and best preserved of all the splendid!
buildings in the long series, is situated in the midst of the
ruins of the houses of Medi^et Habtt, a Coptic town, now
totally forsaken, but once of no small importance. It was
founded by Eamses III., the first KiDg of the 20th Dynasty,
the rich Ehampsinitus of Herodotus, in the thirteenth century-
before Christ, and on its walls extols the great campaigns of
this King, by land and by sea, which might rival those of the
great Eamses. In the interior of the second outer court a
great church was built by the Copts, the monolithic granite
columns of which are still scattered about. The chambers to
the back are for the most part in a heap of rubbish. But
the far projecting sort of pylon building, in front of the
temple, is of peculiar interest ; it contained the private apart-
ments of the King, in four stories, placed one above the
other. The Prince is represented on the walls, in the midst
of his family, conversing with his daughters, who are recog-
nised to be Princesses by the side-plait of their hair; he


is playing at drafts, and receiving fruits and flowers from

This building terminates the series of large splendid
temples known under the peculiar appellation of Memkonia.
They comprise the really flourishing period of the New
Monarchy, for after Eamses III., the external power, as well
as the internal greatness of the Monarchy again declined. It
is only from this, and the immediately succeeding period,
that we find the tombs of the Kings in the rock-Yalleys of the
mountain range.

The entrance to these is situated on the farther side of
the promontory of Qurna. The escarpments of the rock
there rise rugged and barren on either side, rounding off
above to bare summits, and their golden brows are partly
covered with coal black stones, as if they had been burnt by
the sun. The peculiarly solemn and gloomy character of
this country always struck me most vividly when I was
riding back after sunset over the endless heaps of stony
rubbish covering the bottom of the valley to a considerable
height, and only furrowed by broad chasms, formed in the
course of thousands of years, by sudden torrents of rain,
which, though of rare occurrence, are not entirely unknown,
as we ourselves have witnessed. All is mute and dead around ;
the rapid tramps of my little ass being only interrupted occa-
sionally by the dull barks of the jackals, or the gloomy hooting
of the night-owls.

After long windings, which lead by circuitous paths
almost immediately behind the lofty mountain sides of the
Asasif valley described above, the valley divides into two
branches, the one on the right hand conducting to the most
ancient of those tombs. Only two of these are opened, both
belonging to the 18th Dynasty: the one dedicated to
Amenophis III., the Memnon of the G-reeks, the other to a
rival King Ai, coming very soon after him, who was not
admitted into the monumental lists of the legitimate kings.*

* This King Ai was previously a private individual, and afterwards
assumed the priest's title into his Koyal Shield. He not unfrequently


The last is situated at the extreme end of the slowly-
ascending cleft in the rock ; the gi'anite sarcophagus of the
Eing, in the small sepulchral chamber, has been destroyed,
and his name is ever}'where studiously erased, with the ex-
ception of a few traces on the walls, as well as upon the sar-
cophagus. The other lies farther forward in the valley, is of
greater extent, and covered with beautiful sculptures, though,
alas! much mutilated by time and human hands. Besides
these two tombs, there are several more here incomplete, with-
out sculptures ; others, no doubt, are concealed beneath the
high mounds of rubbish, which to clear away would have occu-
pied more of our time and means than, after mature conside-
ration, we thought right to bestow on it. In one place where
I made them dig, following tolerably certain signs, we found,
indeed, about ten feet beneath the rubbish, a door and
chamber, but these also without sculpture. Some remains
of earthen vases were, however, brought to light at the same
time, which contained the name of a king hitherto un-

The left branch of the principal valley, which contains
the tombs of almost all the Kings of the 19th and 20th Dy-
nasties, seems to have been originally closed by an elevation
of the bottom of the valley, and to have been first opened
artificially, by a paved ascent to the spot.

Here we find pits with wide openings not far above the
bottom of the valley, on the descending slope of the moun-
tain, which pass doT\^l wards at a somewhat oblique angle.
Where the overhanging rock has a perpendicular height of
12 to 15 feet, the sharply-carved door-posts of the first
entrance appear, which was once provided with one or two
great folding-doors to close it. There also the painted
sculptures generally commence, which, on suddenly ap-
proaching, strike one by the wonderful contrast between
their sharp lines, brilliant surfaces, and fresh vivid colours,

appears with his wife in tlie tombs of Araarna, as a distinguished and
peculiarly highly venerated officer of King Amenophis IV., that puri-
tanical worshipper of the Sun, who changed his name into that of


aud the jagged rock and rugged rolled stones scattered
around, among which they are placed. Long corridors of
imposing height and width now lead always deeper into the
rocky mountain range ; the sculptures on the sides, and the
ceiling also, continue in single subdivisions, which are formed
by the contraction of the passages and by additional doors.
The King is represented worshipping before different gods,
and directs his prayers and justifications for his earthly life
to them ; the peaceful occupations of the justified spirits are
represented on one side, the punishments of Hell for the
wicked on the other ; the Groddess of Heaven is represented
eitended lengthways on the ceiling, as well as the hours of
the day and night, with their influences on mankind, and
their astrological signification, all accompanied by explana-
tory inscriptions. Lastly, we arrive at a great vaulted hall
of pillars, whose walls generally exhibit the representations
on a golden yellow ground, for which reason it also bore the
name of the G-olden Hall. This was intended for the royal
sarcophagus, which stood in the centre, and was from six to
ten feet high. But often if the King, after the completion of
tlie tomb, in its first and most necessary extent, felt his
vigour still unimpaired, and promised himself a prolonged
life, the central passage of this hall of pillars was cut out in
a still more steep descent, for the commencement of a new
hall ; new corridors and lateral chambers were attached,
sometimes they deviated from the first direction into another,
till the King, for the second time, fixed npon a goal, and ter-
minated the building with a second hall of pillars, almost
more spacious and splendid than the first ; smaller chambers
on both sides were then added to this, if the time still
allowed, destined for particular sacrifices for the dead, till at
length the last hour struck, and the royal corpse, having
undergone the process of embalming for seventy days, was
entombed in the sarcophagus. It was then closed up, in
such an artificial manner that the colossal granite tomb, as
the cover could not be raised, was always obliged to be de-


stroyed by the plunderers of the corpses, who, at a later
period, penetrated into every spot.

The tombs of the Princesses also, which are collected
together in a smaller valley behind Medinet Habu, at the
southern end of the Memnonia, belong exclusively to the
period from the 18th to the 20th Dynasties, as well as the
most important of the innumerable tombs of private indi-
viduals, which extend over hill and valley, from beyond Me-
dinet Habu to the entrance of the King's valley. The priests
of rank, and the great officers, liked to have represented on
the walls of their tombs their whole wealth in horses and
carriages, herds, boats, and implements, as well as their
hunting-ground and fish-ponds, their gardens and hall, for
company, even the artists and artisans they employed, ac-
tively engaged in various ways ; all this renders these tombs
much more interesting than those of the Kings, where the re-
presentations almost exclusively refer to the life after death.

Among the later monuments, the tombs from the 26th
Dynasty of the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ are
especially worthy of notice. The greatest proportion of
these are dug in the flat ground, in the front part of the
rocky creek between Qurna and the hill of Abd el Qurna,
where we reside, and they are called specially El Asasif.
The rocky plain alone afforded room at that time for
sepulchral buildings of any considerable size, and was
therefore employed for that purpose on a vast scale. Even
in the distance a number of lofty gates and walls built
of black bricks are seen. These enclosed great sunken
courts within an oblong, to Avhich the entrance led by im-
mense arched pylon gates, resembling at a little distance
lioman triumphal arches. Stepping through this within the
enclosure wall, we look directly into a court cut 12 or 15
feet deep into the rock, into which we descended by a stair-
case. This uncovered coui-t belongs to the largest sepul-
chral building now accessible ; it was built for a royal scribe,
Petamenap; is 100 feet long, and 74 broad. Prom this


we stepped througli an outer hall into a great rock-chamber,
having an extent of from 65 to 52 feet, supported by two
rows of pillars, with some lateral chambers and corridors on
either side ; then through an arched entrance into a second
hall, from 52 to 36 feet large, with eight pillars ; and into a
third, 31 feet both ways, with four pillars ; and lastly, into a
chamber from 20 to 12 feet large, terminating with a
niche. From this chamber, at the head of the first series of
rooms, a door on the left liand leads into an immense cham-
ber ; and on the right, another to a continuous series of six
corridors, with two staircases of nine to twenty-three steps,
and a chamber in which a perpendicular pit, 44 feet deep,
led at the bottom to a small lateral chamber. This second
range of chambers and passages which run at right angles
with the first, amounted in its whole length to 172 feet,
while the first, including the external court, amounted to 311
feet. Finally, from the chamber with the well, a corridor
turns off again to the right, which leads to a diagonal cham-
ber, extending altogether 58 feet in this third direction.
Eut before arriving at the two staircases in the second
range, a fourth line of passages again opened to the right,
running on 122 feet in one and the same direction, to which,
on the left hand, is attached a great passage running round
in a square 60 feet long on every side, along with other
lateral chambers ; the central part of which is decorated on
its four sides like a huge sarcophagus. The sarcophagus of
the deceased rests also, in fact, in the centre beneath the
great square, which, however, can only be reached by means
of a vertical pit 18 feet deep, opening into a fourth range,
which conducts to a horizontal passage 58 feet long ; then to
a third pit, through this to more chambers; and lastly,
through the ceiling of the last to a chamber placed above it,
which contains the sarcophagus, and which is situated
exactly beneath the centre of the above-mentioned square.
The whole of the ground covered by this tomb, that of a
private individual, amounts accordingly to 21,600 square
feet, and calculated with the pit chambers, to 23,148 square


feet.* This enormous work appears still more colossal if we
consider that all the surface of the walls, the pillars, and the
doors are covered from above downwards with innumerable
representations and inscriptions, which astonish us still more
bj the care, sharpness, and elegance with which they are exe-

The few remains which are found from the period of the
later foreign dominion are far less important. We can only
mention two small temples near Medinet Habu among those
erected under the Ptolemies, and a third at the end of the
great Lake circumvallation, which extends from Medinet
Habu towards the south. The oldest sculptures in this last
are from the time of C^sae Augtjstus, yet the Cella, now
the only part in good preservation, was built by Antoninus
Pius. The outermost gate of the temple district contains
the only representations found in Egypt of the Emperor
Otho, the discovery of which was once a most joyful event to
ChampoUion and Eosellini. They had, however, overlooked
the circumstance that on the opposite side the name of the
Emperor Galea, hitherto equally unknown in Egypt, was
also to be found.

Even in Strabo's time ancient Thebes had crumbled into
several villages, and Germanicus 'S'isited it, as we are doing,
from a thirst for knowledge, and with reverence for the
great antiquity of its monuments, cognoscendce antiquitatis,
as Tacitus informs us. The latest hieroglyphic imperial
name that I have found in all Egypt, is that of Decitjs
(a.d. 250) ; it appears in a representation on the temple of
Esneh. A hundred years later the holy Athaxasius retires
to the Theban desert among the Christian hermits there
resident. The edict of Theodosius against Paganism (391)
divested the Egyptian temples of their last authority, and
greatly favoured the development of monkish and recluse
habits, to wliich Egj^tian Christianity was always peculiarly

* The dimensions here stated have been taken from Wilkinson,
Mod. Eg. and Thebes, vol. ii., p. 220.


After that period numerous cliurclies and convents spring
up throughout the country, even in the upper districts of the
Nile ; and the sepulchral caves of the desert become troglo-
dytic habitations for an ascetic hermit population. The The-
baic necropolis, above all other places, presented the greatest
variety of means to satisfy these new wants. Both the kings'
tombs, as well as the tombs of private individuals, were very
much employed for Christian cells, and still bear traces on
their walls of this new purpose to which they were applied.
A letter of the holy Athanasius, the archbishop of Alexandria,
to the orthodox monks of Thebes, still exists in a tomb at
Qurna, in beautiful untial characters on the white stucco, but
unfortunately in a very fragmentary" condition. It was a
favourite practice to convert ancient temples into Coptic
churches or convents.

The largest church seems to have been erected in the temple
of MedinetHabu (town of Habu). Monolithic granite columns
of considerable size still cover the ground in great numbers, in
the second outer court at this spot ; in order to obtain room for
the niches in the choir, an ancient Egyptian pillar was taken
away on the northern side, and a series of doors from the
chambers which were aiTanged for the priests' cells were
broken through the external wall of the temple to the back.
The convent appertaining to it, called the Deb el Medinet —
"belonging to a town" — was placed in the Ptolemaic temple
behind the hill of Qurnet Murrai, situated close at hand.
Another chui'ch stood in the temple of Old Qurna, and
the convent of Deb el Bachit, situated on the heights of
Qurna, probably belonged to it. The ruins of a third con-
vent occupy the chambers of the temple of the Queen Numt-
amen, in the angle of the Asasif valley, and bear the name
of Deb el Eahbi, the northern convent.

Such transformations of the ancient magnificent buildings
were partly against, and partly in favour of, their preser-
vation. Single walls were frequently demolished, or broken
through, to enable them to make new arrangements ; upon
others the heathen images were destroyed to obtain bare
walls, or at least, the human figures and even those of


animals in the inscriptions, especially the heads, were
studiously picked out, and mutilated, as high up as the loftiest
ceilings. Not unfrequently, however, the same zealous,
pious hands also served to preserve the ancient splendour
in a most successful manner, for sometimes, instead of
laboriously destroying the representations with a hammer,
they preferred covering them over from the top to the
bottom with Nile mud, which had generally afterwards an
additional white coating, in order to receive the Christian
paintings. In time this Coptic loam again fell off, and the
ancient paintings came out once more, with a brilliancy and
surprising freshness, which they could hardly have retained
on uncovered walls, exposed to the air and sun. In the
niche of an ancient ceUa I found St. Peter, in the ancient
Byzantine style, holding the key, and raising his finger, but
beneath the half-decayed Christian casing, the cow's horns
of the goddess Hathor, the Egyptian Venus, peeped forth
from behind the glory ; to her, originally was given the
incense and sacrifice of the king who is standing by her
side, which now are off"ered to the venerable apostle. I
have often with my own hands assisted time in the work of
restoration, and still further loosened the stucco, which is
generally covered over with totally uuinterestiug Coptic
paintings, tliat I might restore the splendid sculptures of the
Egyptian gods and kings concealed beneath them once more
to their older and greater claims on our attention.

A great part of the population of Thebes on both sides of
the Nile is still Coptic ; our Christian cook Sirian was born
here, and a Coptic woman of good means, Mustafieh, who
lives at a short distance from us, supplies us daily with excel-
lent wheaten bread. Eor a long time past, however, the Arabic
Mohammedan population has gained the upper hand here, as
throughout the country, and the Copts can only oppose tliis
by the influence derived from ancient days, by their know-
ledge of arithmetic, and their privilege of filling the most
important financial offices in the country.

The small church in which the Theban Christians are now
in the habit of assembling every Sundav. is situated alone in


the great ^avelly plain to the south of Medinet Habu. It
has an Arabic cupola, and is surrounded by the wall of a
court. I entered it a few days ago from noticing that the
black turbans, which are only worn by Copts, were proceed-
ing in greater numbers than usual to the chapel. It was the
feast of the holy Donadeos, who had founded the church.
The service was over. I only found the old priest, who
inhabits and takes charge of the church, inside with his
numerous family. The compartments were covered with mats ;
I was shown the division for the men and women, the small
chapels decorated with variegated carved work attached to
it, the square cistern for baptisms and holy water. A large
old Coptic book still lay open on the reading-desk, with