Egypt, 2002:  Photo Album

by Reba Ashton-Crawford

August 2002

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Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum was one of our first sites.  Of course, it houses many of the ancient treasures once buried deep into the bowels of the tombs or excavated from the sites of the sacred temples of our ancient ancestors.  Included among the collection are the beautifully sculpted pieces of Akhenaten commissioned during his Amarna Period, and the gold-laden treasures of his son, Tutankhamen.  One of my favorite pieces was the Narmer Palette, a commemorative cosmetic slate created for Narmer-Menes, the pharaoh who established the first Dynasty by uniting the regions of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Dr. Crawford in front

of the Egyptian Museum

 

The role of the scribe was very important in ancient Egypt.  From young boys, they were trained in special scribal schools and were responsible for accurately recording every aspect of royal and everyday life.  They were among the privileged class in society and for their work, they were given certain concessions, such as exemption from taxes.

Seated scribe. ca. 2500 BC.

 

The Pyramids at Giza were a site to behold as they dominated the entire landscape for miles.  The first of the three pyramids was built by Khufu, his son Khafre built the second one, and Khafre's son Menkaure built the third.  They were all pharaohs during Egypt's Fourth Dynasty.  The largest is Khufu's and it was the tallest skyscraper in the world until the 19th century with France's Eiffel Tower.  Contrary to popular belief, the Pyramids and other ancient Egyptian structures were not built with slave labor.  It was considered part of one’s civic duty in Kemet (ancient Egypt) to take part in the building of works commissioned by the pharaoh when the Nile River was undergoing inundation.  We had a beautiful view of the Pyramids from our hotel room.

Dr. Crawford at the Pyramids of Giza

The Sphinx may seem to be in close proximity to the Pyramids on photographs, but he is actually a few miles away.  With the body of a lion and the head of a man, one immediately notices his distinct Africoid features, as he seems to stand guard over the pyramids behind him.  Some historians believe that it is the face of Khafre, the builder of the second pyramid.  He is beautiful to say the least.

The Sphinx

 In Aswan, we visited the mystical and serene Agelika Island. Agelika means, forget-me-not, and it definitely leaves an indelible impression on anyone who sets foot in that beautiful place. It houses the Temple of Isis at Philae that was dedicated to Isis, the goddess of the kingship.  The view of a kiosk-like structure called the "Pharaoh's Bed from the Nile River is absolutely stunning.  Some historians believe that the Pharaoh's Bed was where the pharaoh made offerings to Isis and Osiris 

"Pharaoh's Bed" of the Isis Temple

at Philae

 

We took a six hour bus ride to Abu Simbel because a sand storm prevented us from flying there.  After one look at the magnificent rock-hewn temples of Ramesses II and his wife, Nefertari, we forgot all the about the long ride.  The four colossal seated statues of Ramesses are approximately 60 ft. in height. Inside the temple we were met by a corridor of more huge statues of the great pharaoh in the Osirian pose.  It led to a sanctuary called the "Holy of Holies" where a statue of Ramesses II was seated among the major gods of Egypt.

Dr. Crawford gazing upon the

colossal  sculptures of 

Ramesses the Great

Children of West Soheil Village

While in Aswan, we had the opportunity to visit a small Nubian village in West Soheil.  We gave gifts of books, school supplies, T-shirts and first-aid supplies to the kids, teachers and parents.  Their hospitality and graciousness was truly a gift to us.  One of the most impressive and interesting things about the visit were the murals the children painted on the walls of their school.  They included Adinkra symbols found in Ghana, and other icons associated with the art of West Africa, and of course, ancient Egyptian iconography.  With the centuries old Arab invasion of North Africa, the Nubians have been marginalized, but they seem to have a strong sense of who they are as African people and their contribution to world civilization. 

 

At Kom Ombo, the site of the first known hospital, we visited the double temple complex dedicated to two deities: Sobek, the crocodile god of fertility, and Horus, the god of war.  Artfully carved on one of the walls, we saw the reliefs of surgical instruments, i.e., clamps, birthing stools, scalpels, compressors, etc., that served as the forerunners of what medical practitioners use today. The ancient Egyptians also gave us the calendar.  It is also carved there in bold bas-relief. Our history is amazing.

Double Temple of Sobek & Horus

 

The Temple of Horus at Edfu was a special treat for me.  I made a drawing of it several years ago and somehow felt as though I had been there before.  Our ancient ancestors obviously had a tremendous amount of wisdom and spiritual awareness.  Horus or Heru is the son of Isis and Osirus.  He was born through the miracle of the Immaculate Conception (an illustration of this can be found in the temple of Seti I at Abydos) more than 2000 years before the birth of Christ. Horus is represented as a falcon, which is the symbolic emblem of every pharaoh. Each pharaoh was considered a living representative of Osiris, god of the underworld.  Horus is one of the members of the original Holy Trinity: Father, Mother, and Son (Osiris, Isis, and Horus).

Reba at Horus Temple at Edfu

Val_of_Kings_2-_Hatshpst_Tmp_stairway_resized.jpg (19386 bytes)

 

During Egypt's 18th Dynasty, Queen Hatshepsut usurped the the throne from her younger brother, Thutmoses III, as she considered him too young and inexperienced to be pharaoh after their father's death.  As one of  Egypt's best-known female pharaohs, she commissioned her royal architect, Senenmut, to build an enormous multi-tiered temple that was hewn from the rock cliffs of what is now known as Deir el-Bahri.  It was dedicated to the principle god of Thebes, Amun.

Temple of Hatshepsut

After a long, hot day, there was nothing more soothing than being cradled in a cruiser on the Nile River.  The beautiful, ever changing scenery seemed virtually unchanged from the time of the great pharaohs.  At night, the deck of our liner was a great place to enjoy the beauty of the moon glistening upon the water and imagining back to the time of Queen Hapshetsut's great trading expedition to the land of Punt (modern-day Somalia).  It was truly breathtaking.

The Nile River

The Temple of Karnak (Wa'rit) was one of my principle reasons for wanting to visit Egypt. Luxor or Thebes, where the temple was located, was once the ancient capital. Larger than several modern-day cathedrals and a couple of football fields combined, the temple was built in honor of the supreme god, Amun-Ra.  Many of Egypt's pharaohs contributed to the Temple of Karnak architecturally. Its colossal forest of 134 columns that comprise the great Hypostyle Hall was started by Seti I and finished by his son, Ramesses the Great. The remaining column of one of the last great Nubian pharaohs, Taharka, was there as well as the obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut.  I sat at the sacred baptismal pool that the pharaohs purified themselves in and I was mesmerized .  Being in those temples was literally like being transported back in time and space with our ancient Egyptian ancestors.  The place is still so alive with their presence, you don’t even think about the structures as ruins.  

Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

 

The reign of the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty), was marked with a festival called Opet.  The Pharaoh, along with sacred images of the gods, Amun, Mut (moot), and their child, Khonsu had an annual procession from the Temple of Karnak to the Grand Lodge at Luxor (Wa'set). During that time the two temples were connected by a two-mile long avenue (best known as the Avenue of the Ram-headed Sphinxes at Karnak and the Avenue of the Human-headed Sphinxes at the Grand Lodge at Luxor).  The Opet festival was meant not only to rejuvenate the king, but also the gods.  The Grand Lodge can be described as the world's first university. The pharaohs and the high priests went there to be trained in Egypt’s “Mystery System.”  Incidentally, the Mason Lodges of today were derived from the Egyptian tradition.

Human-headed Sphinxes 

Hypostyle hall with papyrus cluster 

columns at the Grand Lodge at Luxor

The Temple at Dendera was dedicated to the goddess, Hathor.  She is usually depicted as a sacred cow or as a woman with cow horns.  One of the many captivating features of the temple is a hypostyle hall with columns of "Hathor-headed" capitals. Unfortunately, they were defaced by Christians some time after the decline of Egypt's mighty empire. 

     An interesting note about the ancient Egyptian temples: they all had a sacred cove or room with an altar called the Holy of Holies. Only the high priests were allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in ancient times (not even the pharaoh could go in).  We also honored that African tradition by not stepping inside.

 

Hathor Columns at Dendera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you thought that wrestling and the discipline of the martial arts were Greco-Roman and Asian innovations, think again.  Right on the walls of the Temple of Medinet Habu are carved reliefs of Nubian wrestlers and men engaged in "karate" and stick fighting demonstrations. Further on the same wall are reliefs of "ballet" dancers and trained show horses stepping in unison. It seems that the ancient Egyptians participated in and established many of the arts that are thought of in modern times as "not out of Africa."

       Nubian Wrestlers and Nubian Martial Artists 

 

I would suggest to anyone that before they visit the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, they must first discard the silly Hollywood depictions of Imhotep as a murderous mummy.  During Egypt's 3rd Dynasty, the multi-genius, Imhotep, King Djoser's architect, was the creator of a revolutionary approach to mortuary architecture.  Previous funerary structures were mastabas made of less durable mud brick, but Imhotep built Djoser's Step Pyramid and his entire mortuary complex out of stone, a much more permanent material.  It holds the distinction of being the first known building made of stone, period.  Aside from his skill as an architect, Imhotep was the first known physician; the true "Father of Medicine," a high priest, a mathematician, a vizier (prime minister), and a chief scribe, among other things.  After his death, he was celebrated as a god.  The Greeks venerated and elevated him as the god Asclepius, who is referred to in the Hippocratic oath sworn to by medical doctors even until today.  Truth be told, it should be the "Imhotepic" oath.

Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

Dr. Crawford and tour members at the Step Pyramid

Photo credits:  Reba Ashton-Crawford