Saturday, May 25, 2013

Valley of the Artisans and Medinet Habu


After Valley of the Kings, we headed over to the Valley of the Artisans, a last minute change on Hazel's recommendation.  She repeated what I'd read elsewhere - while Hatshepsut's temple is impressive from the outside, it's overly-restored, with not as much to see in the interior.  So instead, we headed for the tombs of Iherka and Irinufer.  They were small, but beautifully painted.  The Valley of the Kings had been by no means crowded, but the tombs in the Valley of the Artisans were even less so, and the painting much closer. 


We had, however, by this point, perfected the art of avoiding giving baksheesh - sneak in with a few other tourists and don't be the last to leave!


Before leaving the site, we also visited the Ptolemaic temple of Deir El-Medina.  Later in its history, it had been used as a dwelling by Coptic Christians, who scrawled all over the walls as they had in a few of the entryways in the Valley of the Kings.  In one of the three back chambers, we came across some workers cleaning the reliefs and filling the cracks.  In our one actually deserved, baksheesh-owing moment, they put us to work and let us take pictures of ourselves "restoring" the wall. 

Fulfilling a life-long dream.

On our way out of the valley, a craftsman stopped us to show us his limestone carvings.  They were gorgeous - I was scared to ask how much they cost, but Hazel encouraged me to ask.  He offered 800; I started at 200. We ended up - with the help of Hazel and Walid - at 350 LE, or $50 USD. As an artist, I wish I could have spent more.  It's a lovely piece and my favorite souvenir from the entire trip.

Note the chair on the head - this is Isis.

After the tombs, we were "flagging" (Hazel's words), so we stopped by a little cafe across from Medinet Habu.  I bought some water and tomato chips.  We were invited to the back to sample some of what the owner's mother was eating - a stew of greens scooped up with pita.  Google tells me it's called mulukhiyah.  Greens aren't usually my thing, but wasn't bad!  While sitting back and enjoying our drinks, Lis and Walid got into another discussion about womens' rights in Egypt.  Hazel and I sat back and let them go at it.


Finally, once several school groups had cleared out, we walked over to the temple.  This is my first Pinterest-inspired travel stop - I'd seen pictures and asked Hazel to add it to our tour, which she did gladly. The mortuary temple of Ramses III was beautiful.  It followed the usual pattern - pylon, courtyard, hypostyle hall.  However, the roof on this hall was largely intact, protecting the colors.  Walid gave us a short lecture on hieroglyphics and Hazel showed us how to I.D. Isis (by the throne on her head or in her hieroglyphic nearby). 


Lis and I wandered to the back of the temple, shaking off baksheesh-seekers and wandering past the gates they'd set up.  We managed to find one "hidden" room on our own and took lots of cheesy pictures, all the while feeling rebellious and Indiana Jones-esque.  The last really interesting thing Walid showed us was around the back of one of the pylons, where one of the artists went all classical-Greek-realist on a frieze of Ramses III hunting animals.


Our final stop for the day was by souvenir tout hell - a.k.a. the Colossi of Memnon.  We sprinted out of our van and back in the wake of a tour group, and emerged relatively unscathed.  Had touts trying to put things in our hands and laps once we were in our van, which was pretty impressive.  The thing with the Colossi is... they were famous in the ancient world for sighing at sunrise (following an earthquake that had destabilized them).  Modern restorations have fixed that and you can see better-preserved, mammoth statues elsewhere in Luxor.  They're currently excavating a massive site behind the Colossi, but until that's open to tourists, this is the one famous spot to leave off your Luxor itinerary.

Unless, of course, you need a cheesy picture like this one.

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