Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blogging from Egypt: A new respect for an old civilization

At the Karnak Temple Complex.
Yup - these columns are tall and they used to be covered with brightly colored hieroglyphs

If you are at all curious about history of civilizations, please put Luxor at the top. The sole purpose of this post is to say that I did not expect to be completely blown away by ancient Egyptian civilization! Let me clarify what I'm trying to say here. I had heard a lot about ancient Egypt - but much of it was often focused on the pyramids. I was also a bit skeptical of the whole field of Egyptology. How much stuff is there to warrant such a large field of study? Movies didn't help either - as they would mostly focus on the pyramids of Giza - and the whole ancient Egypt schtick seemed over-exposed to me.

But - no. A visit to Luxor has completely changed my mind. I can totally see how (and why) so many people can spend their entire lifetimes studying ancient Egypt. The temples are enormous, and often their entire walls, columns and ceilings are covered with beautiful hieroglyphs. Originally, all of these (wall-to-wall) were carved with bright colors, and spoke of gods and kings, military campaigns and tales of successions, to the stories of the construction of the temples themselves. It gives me chills to imagine how it would have been to walk into one of these temples three to four thousand (yup 3000-4000) years ago!! But its not just the temples. The tombs of kings and queens are also completely covered with spectacularly beautiful hieroglyphs (again wall-to-wall) and, for the case of Pharaohs, also contained their mummified bodies. But wait. These tombs were in the mountains - and their entrances were deliberately hidden. So all of these hieroglyphs - so painstakingly done - were never to be seen by more than a handful of people. This really was about the afterlife. You have to see the artwork on the interior walls of the tombs to really appreciate this point.
At one of the walls of the Luxor Temple

But these hieroglyphs were also remained undeciphered up until the early 19th century. So now imagine walking into these temples and tombs, seeing the writing carved everywhere, but not understanding a word of they are saying. And then to be the first one to figure it out. Champollion. It is just hard to imagine the excitement of Champollion to have walked into these chambers, and for the first time in thousands of years, to have been able to understand the words of this ancient civilization.

But then, what a civilization! It lasted for roughly 3000 years! No wonder there is so much material available to keep researchers busy for generations to come. I have been fortunate enough to travel to several great historical cities, from Rome and Florence to Granada and Istanbul, and also to the ancient Greek cities of Ephesus, Didyma, and Miletus along the Aegean coast. But I have to say that, when it comes to awe, Luxor really stands on top of them all! By the way, the Teaching Company course, The History of Ancient Egypt by Professor Bob Brier, helped tremendously (there are 48 lectures, so you get a pretty good sense of ancient Egypt).

Bottom line: Do check out sites related to ancient Egypt. Oh - and I have yet to visit the great pyramids of Giza. That is for this coming Friday. In the mean time, I will be posting more pictures from Luxor in the next few days.

Also a quick note for Hollywood: There is a lot more to ancient Egypt than just the pyramids. Please make films that highlight the depth of this civilization.

At the Luxor Temple


emre said...

This is where hieroglyphic analysis stands today:: Probabilistic Analysis of an Ancient Undeciphered Script

Salman Hameed said...

Very cool. Thanks for the link.

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