May 10, 2012

Luxor Temple: Grandeur and Craft, 1844 | Walking Through Egypt

Luxor Temple: Grandeur and Craft, 1844
Prince Puckler-Muskau

Luxor Temple
The first observation that forced itself upon me, was one that has occurred to many others: viz. how much better the Egyptians understood architecture than we do, and how little we have been able to learn from them. The removal of the second obelisk from here, in order to place it in the centre of the great square of Louis Quinze, at Paris, which was attended with an enormous expense, is no slight proof of this latter assertion. The entrance of the temple at Luxor, is formed by two imposing Pylones of a hundred feet in height; close to the sides of the gate are placed two colosses of forty feet in height, and a few steps from it, and at about double the distance from the colosses to the Pylones, stood the two obelisks, of from eighty to ninety feet in height, one of which has been carried off. This close assemblage of monuments produces a most imposing effect, whilst the same objects dispersed and spread over a large surface, would be completely lost.

The Egyptians never erected an obelisk without a companion, any more than an isolated pillar; but least of all, would they have placed a single obelisk like this >n the midst of a large square, where it would only resemble an unmeaning pole, and spoil the appearance of the square, whilst the size of the latter would take away all its importance as a mass, and thus make the great appear artificially small. It is really the greatest pity, that for such an object the noble appearance of the temple entrance was so much weakened, for to destroy it entirely was impossible. The remaining obelisk, formed of the finest pink granite, is in an excellent state °f preservation, excepting a trifling damage near the base, on two sides, and the hieroglyphics cut into it two inches deep, are acknowledged to be the most perfect of the kind executed even by the Egyptians. It would, in fact, be impossible to surpass this work, and in the present day it cannot be conceived how they managed to cut into this rocky granite, the most delicate and chastely executed figures with the same precision and facility, as our best sculptors cut into stone. A boy of eleven years of age offered, for the sum of one karie (an Egyptian coin of the value of two and a-half francs) to climb the obelisk by means of these hieroglyphics, and in fact performed this hazardous feat as far as two-thirds of the height, without experiencing the least difficulty; but when he got thus far, he was blown about so violendy by the wind, that we promised him two karie, if he would immediately descend.

In order to obtain a distinct idea of the disposition and the plan of the temple, one ought to ascend to the top of the Pylones, although this is rather a troublesome task, on the dilapidated, narrow staircase, and afterwards on open blocks, where the visitor is obliged to jump from one stone to another. The view is, in every respect, worth the trouble, and the original constructor of this palace, Amenepht the Third (Memnon) could, from its turrets, behold the two colossal statues of himself, which stand on the opposite side of the river.

It is very interesting to try and trace the shape and extent of the ruins, in the labyrinth of the village, the houses of which, (very decent ones, by the bye, for Egypt) have singularly enough imitated the forms of the Pylones on a Lilliputian scale, in the dust of their mud bricks. More than a hundred of the old pillars still rear their heads amongst them, and one of the principal courts of the temple continues in a state of almost perfect preservation. I found several sculptures here of indescribable grandeur and beauty; several of the faces were of a delicacy and depth of expression which would have done credit to any European artist. These paintings date from the most flourishing period of Egyptian art. The decline of the arts begins to show itself about the time of the reign of the later Pharaohs; at that of the Ptolomies, it was already far advanced, and in the time of the Romans a caricature of it only remained.

Many travelers spent weeks, even months, on both banks of the Nile at Luxor. Florence Nightingale enjoyed it; Pierre Loti, French naval officer, was critical of much that he saw in Egypt both the local people and other travelers and the very hotel that is now seen to be redolent of the past.


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