August 24, 2017

Egyptian Photos and Egyptian Civilization by Hannah Pethen

By Hannah Pethen
Ph.D Candidate, University of Liverpool
For ‘The Wonders Expedition’

(Editor’s Note: We constantly are asking scholars around the world to provide insights and reflections on some of the most curious places on Earth.  Today’s feature comes via Hanna Pethen of Liverpool, England.  Her incredible cache of additional photos can be seen on her Flickr account. What’s equally exciting is she’s headed back to Egypt in a few weeks! Follow her on Twitter!)

As an archaeologist and Egyptologist I have undertaken many trips to Egypt over the last six years. Although in earlier seasons of excavation I did not always have a suitable camera with me, since 2007 I have taken pictures of both modern life and ancient artifacts in the country. Some of my pictures cover sites not normally visited by tourists. These include the giant pedestals of Biahmu, which are the height of a bungalow and originally carried two enormous colossi of the Middle Kingdom Pharaoh Amenemhat III.  The giant statues may reflect a political statement associated with the reclamation of land in the Faiyum during this period.

The western Pedestal at Biahmu by Hannah Peth

Amenemhat III was buried at the pyramid of Hawara and the vast temple attached to the south of the pyramid gave rise to stories about the ‘Labyrinth,’ later made popular by Herodotus.

Other sites I have visited are amongst the most visited in Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza, the temples of Karnak and the temple of Luxor (which will soon be added to Flickr).

Visiting Karnak and Luxor

I visited Karnak and Luxor in 2007 and 2011 as part of holidays taken at the end of seasons of excavation. Our holiday in 2011 was brilliant, although protests were still going on Cairo, Luxor was very quiet and the tourists were very limited. This made trips to popular monuments like the temple of Karnak much easier and more relaxing than at the height of the tourist season.

We also met some brilliant people including Mohamed Abu El-Hagag who drives a carriage in Luxor and is often outside the temple of Karnak. A very honest man, his horse is one of the best cared for I have seen and we often went with him for trips to Luxor and the West Bank.

Visiting Denderah and Abydos

The changing political situation also meant we were able to visit Denderah and Abydos by road, without needing a police escort. Previously all tourist trips to Abydos needed to travel in convoy with tourist police to escort them, in order to be absolutely sure there was no risk to any travelers. With the changing political situation, this rule was relaxed and in 2011 we went by car with just a guide and a driver. The convoy system has now been reinstated by the current Egyptian government, as they seek to reassure people that the safety of tourists is of paramount importance. Ceiling incscription of they Hypostle Hall at Denderah, Egypt by Hannah Pethen

As a result of the convoy system, the sites at Denderah and Abydos were less frequently visited, although some Nile cruises include the temple of Hathor at Denderah, built by the Greek rulers who followed Alexander the Great. Denderah is amongst the best preserved temples in Egypt. Much of the original colour paint is preserved on the inscriptions within the temple and when I visited in 2011, restoration work was underway to remove the black soot, caused by generations of smoky lamps, and reveal the beautiful painting.

I was able to photograph some fantastic mythological scenes which had been newly revealed and conserved.

Denderah also has one of the few images of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion. Although carved into the rear external wall of the temple at monumental scale, the image is not a true portrait, but a generic and idealised representation of an Egyptian queen with the name of Cleopatra VII attached to it. In Egyptian thought this would have been quite sufficient, the addition of a name to a statue or image conveyed the essence of the individual irrespective of the accuracy of the portrait, but it does leave the modern observer a little frustrated.

The temple of Abydos was built by Seti I and his son Ramsses II of the New Kingdom, but is located close to the ancient burial ground where the earliest Kings of Egypt were buried almost 2000 years before the foundations of the temples were laid. By the New Kingdom Abydos was considered to be the burial place of the god Osiris, a mythical King of Egypt who was murdered by his brother before being reanimated by his wife. After his son was conceived Osiris moved into the afterlife to become God of the Dead.

The temple built by Seti I and Ramsses II celebrates the myth of Osiris as well as the cults of various other gods. At the rear of the temple is the Osireion, a separate sunken structure believed to be a simulacrum of the tomb of Osiris where various rites could be performed. Although partly flooded by high ground water, it is still and impressive structure. Within the temple, the raised reliefs (where the surrounding rock has been cut away to reveal the image) of Seti I are particularly fine and many retain their original paint. Seti built the inner cult chambers and chapels and the inner Hypostyle Hall.

Ramsses completed some of the peripheral decoration as well as that in the outer Hypostyle Hall, portico and temple courts, but the sunk-relief of Ramsses is not as refined or elegant as the carving commissioned by his father.

The temple of Abydos famously contains a King List, which details the royal names of all the Kings of Egypt from the earliest times. It is a valuable historical document, although a number of Pharaohs are missing. Unusual or dangerous Pharaohs, like the woman Hatshepsut and the monotheist Akhenaten, have been airbrushed from the official version of Egyptian history in the Abydos King List. Some political realities never change.

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