Thebes: City of a Hun­dred Gates

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhou Fu­jing Edited by David Ball Photo by Zhou Xiaoqi

The over- 4,000-year- old Thebes was a glo­ri­ous city in the an­cient East and one of the world's an­cient cap­i­tals.

In his epic poem The Iliad, Homer fa­mously de­scribed the city of Thebes as a hav­ing “a hun­dred gates.” The an­cient Thebes was sit­u­ated about 670 kilo­me­tres (km) south of Cairo on the bank of the River Nile. The city served as the cap­i­tal of Egypt's Mid­dle King­dom and New King­dom from 2040–1085 BC and was one of the coun­try's main cities dur­ing an­cient Egypt's hey­day. With a his­tory of more than 4,000 years, Thebes was a glo­ri­ous city in the an­cient East and one of the world's an­cient cap­i­tals. Baby­lon and Nin­eveh sit­u­ated on the Ti­gris and Euphrates were other grand cities at the time. Af­ter thou­sands of years, other civil­i­sa­tions and struc­tures from the same era have now dis­ap­peared. Re­mains of Thebes' tem­ples and tombs still stand by the River Nile. In 1979, An­cient Thebes with its Necrop­o­lis was added to the UN­ESCO World Her­itage List.

A Glo­ri­ous Pala­tial City

The an­cient, mys­te­ri­ous Thebes was a mi­cro­cosm of an­cient Egypt. First built dur­ing the Old King­dom (2686–2181 BC) of an­cient Greece, the city was a com­mer­cial sta­tion on the wa­ter­way from Up­per Egypt (south­ern Egypt) to

the Si­nai Penin­sula and a stop on the land route from Up­per Egypt to Nu­bia, which grad­u­ally de­vel­oped into the coun­try's com­mer­cial hub. From the 10th Dy­nasty (2130–2040 BC), Thebes be­came in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful. Men­tuhotep

II led his troops to con­quer the south and north of Egypt, thereby unit­ing the coun­try and be­ing crowned as King of both Up­per and Lower Egypt, and found­ing the 11th Dy­nasty. Men­tuhotep II then made Thebes his cap­i­tal and named its lo­cal pa­tron de­ity, Amun, a na­tional de­ity and “King of Gods.”

From then on, nu­mer­ous con­struc­tion projects were launched in Thebes, and the city be­came a holy site in an­cient Egypt. Around 2,000 BC, Amen­emhet I, founder of the 12th Dy­nasty, moved the cap­i­tal to Lisht near Mem­phis. Struc­tures com­mem­o­rat­ing the de­ity Amun con­tin­ued to be built in Thebes though. Dur­ing the 13th Dy­nasty, the cap­i­tal was moved again, this time to Ta­nis. From 1790–1600 BC, the Hyk­sos, a no­madic tribe from Asia, be­gan to in­vade north­ern Egypt. The tribe man­aged to win many bat­tles us­ing their iron weapons and horse­drawn char­i­ots. They founded the 15th and 16th dy­nas­ties and ruled north­ern Egypt for a cen­tury from Avaris to the east of Nile. At this time, Thebes un­der­went its first pe­riod of de­cline.

In 1600 BC, the last two kings of Thebes in the 17th Dy­nasty united to re­sist the Hyk­sos' rule. Ah­mose

I (reign: 1570–1546 BC) united the South and then moved north­wards, forc­ing the Hyk­sos out of Egypt. With the es­tab­lish­ment of the 18th Dy­nasty, Egypt en­tered its New King­dom pe­riod (1567–1085 BC) and the pharaohs chose Thebes to be the coun­try's re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal cen­tre. The rulers waged a se­ries of wars, plun­der­ing huge amounts of wealth and tak­ing pris­on­ers, and turned Thebes into one of the most mag­nif­i­cent cities in the world at that time. They con­structed grand tem­ples and palaces in the east of Thebes for the god Amun and them­selves and built nu­mer­ous gor­geous tombs in the west of the city, among which, the most fa­mous are the tombs of the pharaohs Ramesses II and Tu­tankhamun.

In 1341 BC, Pharoah Horemheb founded the 19th Dy­nasty (1341–1200 BC) and fought bat­tles with the Hit­tites in a war that lasted 16 years. Fi­nally, Ramesses II and the King of the Hit­tites signed a peace treaty that ended the war. By then, Egypt had ex­panded to form a large em­pire, stretch­ing to Syria in the north, the Fourth Cataract of the Nile to the south, and span­ning North Africa and West Asia.

Ramesses III (reign: 1198–1166 BC) of the 20th Dy­nasty de­feated the Aryans who had in­vaded Egypt in 1211 BC, and pro­tected Egyp­tian civil­i­sa­tion from be­ing de­stroyed. In 1085 BC, the 21st Dy­nasty was es­tab­lished, in­di­cat­ing the end of the New King­dom era.

Fol­low­ing the 21st Dy­nasty, con­flicts among Egypt's rul­ing classes in­ten­si­fied. Phoeni­cians, a peo­ple from the Mediter­ranean Sea, be­gan in­vad­ing Egypt and the New King­dom de­clined, as did Thebes. In 663 BC, Assyr­ian troops in­vaded Egypt and burnt and plun­dered Thebes. In the first cen­tury BC, Egyp­tians launched a se­ries of re­volts that lasted three years, with Thebes as the cen­tre. The re­volts were even­tu­ally put down and Thebes was de­stroyed. In 27 BC, the city was com­pletely turned to rub­ble in an earth­quake.

In AD 395, as the Ro­man Em­pire was di­vided into East­ern and West­ern Em­pires, Egypt be­came a part of the East­ern Ro­man Em­pire. On April 6, AD 641, Arab troops de­feated Byzan­tine armies sta­tioned at Mem­phis in the Nile Delta, and an­cient Egypt be­came a prov­ince of the Arab Em­pire. Ara­bi­ans built tents and houses out­side Mem­phis, mak­ing it the new cap­i­tal of Egypt and nam­ing it Fu­s­tat, mean­ing “City of Tents.” When the Arabs ar­rived at Thebes, Egypt's an­cient cap­i­tal, they saw the grand tem­ples in­side and out­side the city that were as tall as palaces. They called this city Luxor (“City of Palaces”), which is the name still used to­day.

Visi­tors to the site of Thebes will first no­tice the tem­ples of Luxor and Kar­nak and the tombs of the pharaohs among the an­cient build­ings. An­cient Egyp­tians be­lieved that the af­ter­life was sit­u­ated in the West where the sun sets. For this rea­son, Thebes was di­vided into two sec­tions: The Real World on the east bank of the River Nile, where the tem­ples and res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties were sit­u­ated, and the Un­der­world on the west of the Nile, where the Val­ley of the Kings, Tem­ple of Queen Hat­shep­sut and Colossi of Mem­non are lo­cated.

Kar­nak Tem­ple Com­plex: ‘Kar­nak Open Air Mu­seum’

The Kar­nak Tem­ple Com­plex is also known as the Tem­ple of Amun and Ra af­ter the two sun gods of an­cient Egypt who were later united into one, “AmunRa,” the chief of the Egyp­tian gods. The Kar­nak Tem­ple Com­plex is a vast site and the largest of its kind in the his­tory of an­cient Egypt. The com­plex is also home to some of the most an­cient,

ex­quis­ite and great­est col­lec­tions of art trea­sures any­where in the world, housed in the Kar­nak Open Air Mu­seum. The tem­ple is 336 me­tres (m) long and 110 m wide, cov­er­ing a to­tal area of 32 hectares and is where the film Death on the Nile was shot. The com­plex con­sists of three precincts for Amun, Mut and Montu, each of which is sur­rounded by brick walls. Con­struc­tion of the com­plex be­gan in 2000 BC dur­ing the 13th Dy­nasty and the site was ex­panded dur­ing the fol­low­ing 10 dy­nas­ties over 2,000 years, with more than 50 em­per­ors par­tic­i­pat­ing in its con­struc­tion.

A line of ram-headed sphinx stat­ues, con­structed by Ramesses II dur­ing the 19th Dy­nasty, line the en­trance to the Kar­nak Tem­ple. Also known as “crosphinxes,” th­ese 80 ram-headed stone sphinx stat­ues lead visi­tors into the tem­ple. The sphinx was a sym­bol of power and dig­nity, and the ram head rep­re­sented the de­ity Amun, as it was his favourite an­i­mal. The unity of sphinx and ram there­fore sym­bol­ised the supreme power of the gods. In or­der to gain Amun's pro­tec­tion, pharaohs had small stat­ues of them­selves placed be­neath the heads of the crosphinx stat­ues lin­ing the en­trance.

Step­ping into the tem­ple, one first no­tices the 8-m-tall statue of Ramesses II, with a small statue of his wife Ne­fer­tari stand­ing on his feet. Af­ter pass­ing through two gates, one ar­rives at the Great Hy­postyle Hall which is 103 m wide and 53 m deep. Known as the “won­der of the art world,” the hall was con­structed be­tween the 19th Dy­nasty (1302–1290 BC) and 20th Dy­nasty (1290–1224 BC), and cov­ers an area of 5,000 square me­tres (sq.m). The roof, has now fallen. It was 25 m above the ground and sup­ported by 134 col­umns, each 21 m tall with a di­am­e­ter of 4 m. A fur­ther 12 cen­tral col­umns in the mid­dle of the hall were even taller, each 23 m in height. The col­umns are in­scribed with re­liefs and hi­ero­glyph­ics, and the tops of the col­umns are del­i­cately pre­sented in the shape of lo­tus or pa­pyrus flow­ers. Mar­velous re­liefs and epigraphs were also in­scribed on the walls, record­ing the re­la­tions be­tween the pharaohs and the gods.

The Kar­nak Tem­ple has six gates, the first of which is 44 m high and 113 m wide. Pass­ing through the hall, one can see two obelisks. The taller one was built for Queen Hat­shep­sut (reign: 1486–1468 BC), is 30 m tall and weighs 320 tonnes. Hat­shep­sut was the only fe­male pharaoh in an­cient Egypt, serv­ing as queen along­side her hus­band Thut­mose II. She ended Egypt's wars with for­eign coun­tries, re-es­tab­lished trade with neigh­bour­ing coun­tries and con­trib­uted to the coun­try's pros­per­ity dur­ing the 18th Dy­nasty as an­cient Egypt en­tered a pe­riod of af­flu­ence.

Luxor Tem­ple: ‘The South­ern Sanc­tu­ary’

Luxor Tem­ple is sit­u­ated 2 km south of Kar­nak Tem­ple and is known in Egyp­tian as Ipet Resyt, mean­ing “South­ern Sanc­tu­ary.” Built in 1400 BC, it was ded­i­cated to the The­ban Triad: Amun, the Sun God; Mut, the Mother of the Gods; and Khons, the God of the Moon. The tem­ple was the fo­cal point of the Opet Fes­ti­val dur­ing the New King­dom Pe­riod and its scale was sec­ond only to Kar­nak Tem­ple, how­ever its struc­tures were equally as mag­nif­i­cent.

Two im­pos­ing huge stone stat­ues of Ramesses II and an obelisk stand at the en­trance. Orig­i­nally there were two obelisks here, how­ever, the one on the right was given to the King of France, Louis Philippe I, by Muham­mad Ali Pasha (1768–1849) who is widely con­sid­ered to be the “Fa­ther of Mod­ern Egypt.” This sin­gle obelisk now stands on the Place de la Con­corde in Paris. Be­sides the pyra­mids, obelisks are the other dis­tinc­tive sym­bol of an­cient Egyp­tian civil­i­sa­tion. Obelisks were usu­ally carved out of gran­ite and weighed sev­eral hun­dred tons, in­scribed with hi­ero­glyph­ics on its four sides and then erected at the en­trance to tem­ples. Pharaohs used obelisks to wor­ship the Sun God, de­mon­strate their majesty and as dis­plays of vic­tory. Most of Egypt's obelisks were taken over­seas and are now scat­tered across other coun­tries, with there once hav­ing been as many as 13 in Rome. How­ever, to­day there are still five stand­ing in Egypt. Four are in Luxor and one in Cairo.

The Luxor Tem­ple con­tained a hy­postyle court­yard, hall, side palace and 14 mag­nif­i­cent 16-m-high col­umns stand­ing at the north­ern en­trance. Dur­ing the 13th cen­tury BC, the pharaoh Ramesses II had a court­yard con­structed out­side the tem­ple, with stat­ues of pharaohs placed among the col­umns. Ramesses II also had a gate built, with a

relief de­pict­ing grand festive scenes and his bat­tles in Syria. A small chapel is to the east of the hall, the walls of which are carved with re­liefs por­tray­ing the imag­i­nary wed­ding be­tween a queen and Amun, and the birth of a prince.

It is amaz­ing to think that a mosque was built on the col­umns in the front of the tem­ple. The whole tem­ple was buried by sand from the River Nile. Lo­cals built the mosque with­out know­ing there was a tem­ple un­der­ground. When the tem­ple was ex­ca­vated, the cur­rent scene was formed.

Val­ley of the Kings

A val­ley that stands on the west bank of the Nile was the burial place for more than 60 Egyp­tian pharaohs and is there­fore known as the “Val­ley of the Kings.” Kings dur­ing the Egyp­tian New King­dom pe­riod had their tombs built there in or­der to pre­vent them from be­ing robbed. The tombs were built into the moun­tains, with some of the pharaohs' burial cham­bers be­ing up to 100 m be­low ground. Routes be­tween the tombs were wind­ing, with cham­bers on both sides; and colour­ful mu­rals with text are seen on the walls and vaulted ceil­ings por­tray­ing the an­cient gods as well as scenes of farm­ing, hunting and joy­ful danc­ing in court. Mu­rals from tombs of aris­to­crats are es­pe­cially well pre­served and are of high his­tor­i­cal value as they give clues to the be­liefs and lives of an­cient Egyp­tians.

It was said that Thut­mose II, a pharaoh dur­ing the 18th Dy­nasty, chose this beau­ti­ful and tran­quil val­ley to con­struct his tomb in 1500 BC. This started the tra­di­tion whereby pharaohs con­structed their tombs un­der­ground to pre­vent them from be­ing robbed. Many pharaohs fol­lowed suit and so the val­ley be­came the burial place for pharaohs and mem­bers of the no­bil­ity dur­ing the 17th–20th dy­nas­ties.

The tomb of Seti I, a pharaoh dur­ing the 19th Dy­nasty, is the largest in the val­ley. It stretches 210 m from its en­trance to the in­ner­most cham­ber and is sit­u­ated at a ver­ti­cal depth of 45 m un­der­ground. The sub­ter­ranean tomb was ex­ca­vated form­ing a huge rock cave, with gor­geous mu­rals on the walls and ceil­ings. En­trances to the tombs were gen­er­ally con­structed half­way up a moun­tain and there were pas­sages lead­ing to the in­side. The pat­terns and hi­ero­glyph­ics on the cor­ri­dor walls re­main recog­nis­able to this day.

Of the 64 pharaohs' tombs that have been dis­cov­ered, al­most all of them had been robbed. To­day, six are open to the pub­lic, among which, the tomb of Tu­tankhamun is the only one which had not been plun­dered. This tomb was dis­cov­ered by Bri­tish arche­ol­o­gist Howard Carter in 1922 at the bot­tom of a cave, above which many other tombs were con­structed. This, along with the fact that thatched cot­tages had been built by lo­cals atop it, meant that this tomb was very well pre­served.

The shape and struc­ture of Tu­tankhamun's tomb was sim­i­lar to oth­ers and it is com­posed of a pas­sage, an­techam­ber, burial cham­ber, stor­age cham­ber and trea­sury. The 34-sq.m an­techam­ber is the largest of the rooms. In the burial cham­ber, there are mu­rals de­pict­ing re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties and a burial scene, as well as an ex­te­rior wood cof­fin which was more than four floors high. In­side the ex­te­rior cof­fin was a smaller in­ner cof­fin carved out of a sin­gle piece of quartz rock. The in­ner cof­fin was fur­ther di­vided into three lay­ers: Tu­tankhamun's mummy was placed in the in­ner­most layer and his head was cov­ered with a gold mask. The dis­cov­er­ies from the tomb, in­clud­ing ex­quis­ite funeral ob­jects such as fur­ni­ture, stat­ues, weapons and char­i­ots, are housed at the Mu­seum of Egyp­tian An­tiq­ui­ties.

The Tem­ple of Queen Hat­shep­sut and the Colossi of Mem­non on the west bank of the Nile are well worth vis­it­ing. The tem­ple is an an­cient struc­ture built into the cliff­side, blend­ing in with the nat­u­ral scenery. It is con­sid­ered to be one of the great­est struc­tures in an­cient Egypt, its con­struc­tion hav­ing taken more than 10 years. The Colossi of Mem­non are a pair of 18-m-tall stone stat­ues of the Pharaoh Amen­hotep III which used to stand guard in front of a tem­ple to Amen­hotep. The tem­ple is now ru­ined, how­ever, leav­ing only the stat­ues stand­ing in the desert. The stat­ues' re­sem­blance to the war­rior Mem­non from Greek mythol­ogy led to peo­ple call­ing them the “Stat­ues of Mem­non.” Cracks emerged on stat­ues fol­low­ing an earth­quake dur­ing Ro­man reign. In AD 200, they were re­paired by de­cree of the Ro­man em­peror.

The an­cient city of Luxor in Egypt

Luxor Tem­ple

Colossi of Mem­non

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