May 13, 2012

Luxor On the Other Side, 1927 | Walking Through Egypt

On the Other Side, 1927
Constance Sitwell

Luxor
We lingered a little where the Colossi stonily sit, gazing out over the land with strange battered calm, their shadows stretching far over the com that grows thickly to the very base of their thrones. Not far beyond them is the limit of the irrigated ground, and here we found a camel and an ox yoked together ploughing up the caked soil along the last line of living green. Arid and dusty, the earth flew up behind them. In front of us now was a scorched strip of desert, a stone-strewn waste backed by the tawny precipices of the Libyan mountains, and in that mountain face are the Tombs of the Kings.

It was too hot to hurry the donkeys and slowly we rode us towards the ravine which leads to the tomb where Amenhotep still lies. In the ravine itself the heat and glare grew even more intense. The sun beat down with gathering strength upon the crags of yellow and orange limestone, whose jagged edges quivered above us against the blazing sky. Our narrow path was walled in by ribs of rock which threw out all the heat. At last, in the bare face of the cliff we came to a small door. I thanked heaven, saying to myself that we should find darkness inside; surely, too, inside it would be cool? But I was wrong, for after jumping off our donkeys and leaving the guide behind, we plunged into a yet heavier heat. Deeper we went and deeper into an oven of stone, down long sloping corridors and down steps, past an empty painted chamber and past a well, then down another stretch of stifling dark until right in the heart of the rock we reached the crypt where the king lies.

The tomb has been lit by electricity, and a harsh light now strikes down on the long-dead face. I looked at it with astonishment; it is wonderful that the mummied flesh, the withered tendons, the brittle bones, should have kept so royal an air. Yes, in spite of time and our desecrations, Amenhotep reposes with kingly calm in his ponderous sarcophagus of sandstone. The silent centuries have come and gone and he has lain alone in the sweltering darkness, suffering no change that seems of any account. How noisily the years have passed by outside, how peacefully for him! No change! Only his stained wrappings have become rags, and some one has put in his folded hands a tiny bunch of flowers that have become skeletons. ‘Well,’ they made me think, ‘flowers were the same, I suppose, in Thebes and Babylon. Poppies in Ninevah and jonquils in Tyre! Solomon saw the bright anemones of Judea growing scarlet and purple amongst the stones; and here are Amenhotep and I each with our little bunch.’ I looked at the flagging handful which I still held; the dying fragrance of the clover hung heavily in that stagnant air. Maybe, I thought, as we walked back along the soundless passage, this king liked the honey smell of warm clover too when he was outside in the sun.

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