Friday, 8 February 2013

West Bank Thebes

Colossi of Memnon's lonely vigil
Thursday 3 January 2013: I've booked a room in the splendid Marsam Hotel. Constructed in traditional mud-brick style it's cool during the day but warm at night without the need for air-conditioning. It was originally built to house visiting American archaeologists but the appeal for me is that it's in the heart of ancient Thebes, right in among all the tombs and temples and away from the hassle of the west bank, where all the Nile cruise ships dock. Every hawker in Luxor tells me that their boat is 'the ferry' to the 'other side' but I ignore them and board the real local ferry, a beige double-decker with a turned-back winkle-picker style bow (95th mode of transport). It's E£1 (about 10p) to cross and the same for a local minibus to 'ticket office', where advance purchases are made for the smaller sites.
Just before the ticket office I shout "OK, henna" (okay, here) and jump off at the fabulous Colossi of Memnon. For most this is just a fleeting photo stop on their tour itinerary, but I stay a while. A pair of self-portrait statues they were erected by 18th dynasty king Amonhotep III 3,400 years ago and are all that remains of his mortuary temple. For me they are the gateway to the West Bank and I walk to my hotel, just behind them.
Most people think that when Egypt's Middle and New Kingdom power base moved south to Luxor (Thebes) the practise of concealing royal tombs beneath pyramids ended. Not so, every tomb in the west bank is in the shadow of 'The Horn', a pyramid-shaped mountain at the head of the Valley of the Kings. From the comfort of the Marsam (half-board, E£125) I am within hiking distance of the whole of the ancient Thebes necropolis and I'm here for a week. Great.
Thursday 10: I end my last day on the West Bank by cycling to Howard Carter's House, a picture in time. Carter was the British draughtsman turned archaeologists made famous by his discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. He himself is buried in London's Lambeth cemetery not far from where I live. So, if some time in the future you hear that some midnight-drunk has dug up Carter's grave, you'll know who it is. Poetic justice.
Slideshow of West Bank Thebes.

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