A Roman military encampment revealed in Luxor
February 22nd, 2003
The area east of Luxor temple is being released from urban encroachment and, a Roman military encampment is being revealed
Towards the middle of the 20th century a wall was built around the Temple of Luxor to protect it from encroachment in what was, at that time, public property. It is this wall that has preserved the immediate area of the temple. But outside the wall, especially on the eastern side, little notice was taken of what lay under the surface as Nevine El-Aref reports.
"From partial excavation by Labib Habachi, then inspector of antiquities, on the east side of the temple more than a century ago -- before the wall was built -- we knew that there were Roman constructions there," Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Consultant Mahmoud Mabrouk
"Habachi discovered four columns and other evidence of the Roman settlement. But after he was transferred from the area, his excavation was not continued. The 400m-long, 50m-wide section which fell outside the wall became public property. Half became obscured by sand, part was paved with an asphalt road leading to Luxor city centre, and bazaars and public toilets, and all that goes into urban expansion -- not to mention concomitant water and sewage seepage -- filled the rest of the area."
Now, within the framework of the SCA's order to upgrade archaeological sites all over the country and protect them from abuse -- including damage from tourists -- and to delineate as much as possible, the wall near temple has been demolished and a new wall erected 50m further east. Within this area between the east side of the temple and the new wall, excavation is underway.
The first phase of the project began a month ago, said Ali El-Asfar, director of the Gourna archaeological area. Workmen under instruction from archaeologists were given the task of removing all the encroachments made during the past 50 years and more. These included the removal of refuse, rubble, stones, concrete structures, and the asphalt road itself. As debris was taken away and the site laid bare, archaeologists began to look for signs of early settlement. Wherever they found any, the team of workmen began digging. Slowly, after 18 days of conscientious work, the site was exposed.
"We have already unearthed the remains of three limestone columns, a carved capital, a black granite crown of a Roman statue and a number of Pharaonic reliefs, amulets, scarabs and an Eye of Horus," said Atiya Radwan, head of the newly-organised administration for excavation at the SCA. "Ground plans of the Roman settlement have been traced. The Luxor Temple complex, as it was in the Roman era, is coming to light. We have found the remains of a mud-brick structure, probably housing for priests.
"Our excavations continue with the aim of locating the original eastern wall of the temple, and hopefully the original gateway. Within the ramp of bulls some distance away, we have found seven flower basins built in the Roman period, and 15m of the channel used to irrigate them," Radwan added.
"Excavating this side of Luxor Temple, hitherto neglected, is extremely important," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, said. "It not only gives a new dimension to this site, historically speaking, but with the work being done here it will be transformed from what is now a single temple, into a temple complex like that at Karnak."
Pharaoh Amenhotep III of the 18th- Dynasty, great-grandson of the military genius Thutmosis III, built the Temple of Luxor close to the banks of the Nile. Because, like Karnak, this religious building was built not by a single architect according to a uniform plan but reflected the ideas and whims of many successive Pharaohs, its development underwent alternation, appropriation, calculated destruction, reconstruction and ultimate transformation into a Roman fortress over time.
Part of the temple was converted into a church by removing eight columns to the rear of the hypostyle hall, walling up the doorway to the sanctuary, and building it into a curved recess, which was plastered over and painted with pictures of Romans wearing togas. Later still, the mosque of Abul-Haggag was built in the Court of Ramses II.
While the Roman encampment is being excavated, plans are going ahead for the expansion of Luxor Museum to accommodate military-related
"The coming two years are being devoted to museums," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni says. "Whether the building of new ones, developing neglected museums, or enlarging existing ones where necessary. The first one is Luxor Museum which is being enlarged in order to have space to emphasise the military glory of Thebes during the period of the empire."
Luxor Museum is an air-conditioned museum on two levels, with its objects effectively illuminated against near-black walls. It contains some wonderful artefacts, and is designed to create individual vistas at strategic positions to encourage an organised, uninterrupted flow of
Two of the first objects that catch one's eye are an enormous, red granite head of Amenhotep III and the cow-goddess head from the tomb of Tutankhamun. At a key position on the ground floor is a masterpieces of sculpture -- the calcite double-statue of the crocodile god Sobek with the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III, which was discovered at the bottom of a water-filled shaft in Luxor in 1967.
The museum is expanding and developing as more objects come to light. In 1989 a new wing was opened, especially designed to display the fine collection of stone sculptures found in the courtyard of Amenhotep III in Luxor Temple (in what is known as the Luxor cachette). These objects were found in near-perfect condition when the court was being excavated in order to consolidate the columns surrounding it. They were clearly carefully hidden in antiquity, perhaps by priests, to prevent their destruction when the temple was transformed into the Roman camp in the third century. They included a standing statue of Amenhotep III wearing the double crown and represented as a cult statue on a sledge, a pair statue of the gods Mut and Amun, three diorite statues of Haremhab -- one kneeling before the seated statue of Amun, Tutankhamun in the form of a sphinx, and a seated-pair statue of the goddesses Hathor and
Luxor Museum will now be expanded to allow for the exhibition of a number of swords, shields, arrows, military chariots and the mummies of the military geniuses Thutmosis III and Ahmose I, as well as objects found in the military encampment east of Luxor Temple. The design of the extension will be in conformity with the original design of architect Mahmoud El- Hakim, which was lauded on its official opening in 1976.
"The new wing is planned to be devoted to the military aspect of the New Kingdom and will include reliefs featuring important wars such as Ramses II's famous Battle of Kadesh. It will also display medical implements and medicaments used for the treatment of soldiers," Mabrouk said, "We plan to exhibit, too, two colossal statues of Akhenaten along with some talatat, (distinctive painted sandstone blocks from his temples) which were found at the site of our excavations. Luxor's storehouses are being searched for more," Mabrouk added.
The new addition to Luxor Museum is scheduled for completion before the end of 2003. Meanwhile excavation on the east side of Luxor temple continues.