Passing through the entrance pylon we enter the Court of Ramses II (A) , to the left of which the Fatimide Mosque of Abu el Hagag stands in contrast to the solemn ruins of Pharaonic Egypt. As recently as 1968 the local sheikhs, who claim that the tomb of the saint himself lies here, took advantage of a quiet tourist-free period, when many Egyptologists had escaped from the summer heat, to add an extension to the rear portion of the mosque, built, it will be seen, on ever weakening foundations. The height of the mosque above the stone courtyard indicates the height to which the temple was buried in sand.
|Court of Ramses II|
Adjoining the western tower of the entrance pylon (P.i) is a raised platform comprising three chambers. This was the granite shrine originally built by Hatshepsut and restored by Ramses II. The chambers were dedicated to Amon, Mut and the Moon-god Khonsu. Four papyrus columns form a colonnade on the side facing the court.
The reliefs and inscriptions which adorn the walls of the court date from the reign of Ramses II. They represent sacrifices and hymns to the gods, and all Ramses II’s family, his many wives and a horde of princes and princesses are depicted on the walls.
The Colonnade (B) was built by Amenhotep III. In the early morning and towards sunset heavy shadows are cast between the seven pairs of columns and the interplay of light has long been exploited by photographers as it slants from heavy architrave to calyx capitals and down the slender shafts of the columns. Though Amenhotep III conceived the idea of this colonnade. Tutankhamun, Haremhab, Seti I, Ramses II and Seti II also recorded their names there. It was Tutankhamun however who had the walls embellished with the reliefs representing the august annual festival, the Opet, when the god Amon visited his southern harem. The sacred barges were brought in splendid procession from Karnak to the Luxor temple, borne on the shoulders of white-robed priests from the temple to the river, and then towed upstream in a splendid and majestic procession. The festival took place at the height of the Nile flood and continued for twenty-four days of merry-making. Unhappily much of the relief work has been destroyed.
On the right-hand wall starting at (c) are preparations for the occasion, which include a rehearsal by dancing girls. The procession begins at the gate of the Karnak temple (d), which is complete with flagstaffs and from whence white-robed priests bear the sacred barge of Amon down to the water’s edge. An enthusiastic audience (e) claps hands in unison and at (/) the boat in the water is being towed upstream by those on shore. A sacrifice of slaughtered animals (g) is followed by a group of acrobats, and finally offerings are made to Amon, Mut and Khonsu at the Luxor temple (h).
On the opposite wall are scenes of the return procession, including (i) sacrificial bulls being led to the scene accompanied by soldiers, standard-bearers, dancers and negro slaves who are roused to frenzy by the pomp, the barges floating downstream (j) and the final sacrifice and offerings of flowers to Amon and Mut at the Karnak temple (k).
It is interesting to learn that Haremhab, the general, took advantage of the Opet to introduce himself to the populace' as the next Pharaoh of Egypt at the beginning of the 19th Dynasty. Once he had been led through the streets by the priests and entered into the sacred precincts of Karnak, any question by the people as to why a man of non-royal lineage should become Pharaoh was stilled in advance. The occasion was too joyous to spoil with matters already decided by the high priests of Amon.
A fascinating cross-current in the tide of fate has led today’s Muslim Moulid, celebrated each year during the month of Shaaban, closely to resemble the Opet. Muslim sheikhs emerge from the Mosque of Abu el Hagag bearing three small sailing boats which they place on carriages to traverse the city. The city is bedecked with flowers, and dancing and clapping greet the procession.