Luxor Temple Mosque and Sphinx Avenue – Mansour Boraik
I love Mansour’s lectures; he is amusing, knowledgeable, with excellent English and crafted slideshows. He gave us a through update about the work in Luxor. The President comes on the 2nd March and Sphinx Avenue has to be open then. However excavation and restoration takes a long time so they are having to balance things. The first part of the excavation is being down by mechanical diggers under control of the army who have subcontracted the work. But he is very conscious that “if we miss anything history will not forgive us”.
Firstly he talked about the Abu Hajaj mosque at Luxor temple, it had been his dream to reveal the inscriptions and in May 2007 he visited and took many photos. However the guardians of the mosque would not allow him to change anything. Then in July 2007 there was a massive fire which destroyed the mosque and he was able to take advantage of this and offer to do a complete restoration in return for revealing the inscriptions. The only thing registered as an historical object was the military observation/beacon tower from the Fatimid period.
All the columns and architraves were covered by tefler, a thick clay mortar with concrete on top of that. Fortunately this clay material had not damaged the inscriptions and was easy to remove, the concrete was more troublesome. One of the photos he showed us was the tomb of the saint that had boats above it, the festival of the birthday of the saint involves a huge procession of boats and this is exactly like the Opet festival. The tomb was built in 1244.
They began the restoration outside removing all rendering revealing the construction materials of the mosque. These were a combination of mud brick, red brick and stones from the temple itself. The entire temple was documented with the help of ARCE. There are two prayer niches which are very unusual, one is built but the other was actually carved from one of the columns. The pictures on the architraves were defaced, Sheikh Ahmed had built the mosque 13 years after the death of his father and it is thought it was built on the remains of a church and the defacement was done in the Christian era. The architraves were epigraphically documented with help by Christian Le Banc.
The structure of the mosque had a lot of wooden supports incorporated in it and this was removed and replaced with fresh wood. They used the same techniques in the restoration that were used in the original build. He did try and excavate between the pillars but was stopped by the guardians of the mosque.
The architraves show the two obelisks being brought to the temple by Ramses II and the 2 statues. Also the titular of Ramses II and the dedication to Amun. As well as showing offerings being brought from elephantine island and a very peculiar depiction of an elephant as the glyph. This was recorded by Lepisus. Inside the eastern wall there were religious scenes of Amun and Osiris. So the outside was scenes of military prowess and inside was more religious.
The military tower dated from 1093 and there is a similar one at Esna, they were used in communication over long distances like beacons. It was actually built over the architrave.
As part of the restoration they moved the toilets and baths and other ancillary buildings from the area around the mosque leaving it with space around and also restored the original colours.
It is almost empty now and has been a huge task taking 800 staff and 20 inspectors. They had divided into 4 sectors and one was a big problem as it was full of houses and they had to move 700 families who were paid 13 million to move. As they had built on archeological land they had no choice but to move. Previously they had found 16 sphinxes in the Roman gate and these were returned but no replicas are being made as the destruction of the sphinxes is part of the history. Both the Romans and medieval Luxor used them as parts of the foundations of their houses. In the late Roman period there was a huge flood and many fell, fully or partially at that time.
They tried to keep the minaret of the mosque that was moved but it was made of mud brick and collapsed. They found various Roman structures that had used sphinxes in the walls of the buildings. There was also an industrial area of pottery kilns and some sphinxes were leveled in order to provide a flat space in this area.
Another problem they had was one area was congested with cables, electricity and telephone, sewage pipes and the SCA were asked for 7 million to move them. So they have gone back to the governor and asked him to sort this out. The various 700 houses had septic tanks and sphinxes were used as walls in these so they are in poor condition.
They have just reached a school which will have to be partially moved and they are hoping any sphinxes under this might be in good condition.
They only have permission to excavate 54 meters but are finding the edge of structures like the remains of a chapel so are hoping to get permission to fully excavate. There appears to be evidence of Men Kepher Re the successor to Herihor which Nectanebo had cut into but perhaps this chapel is even earlier. It is 5 meters down under the modern debris. There is another structure which might be an early church under the school.
Where a pedestal has no sphinx it is being left but those with sphinxes are being restored to safely support the sphinx. The area around the Mubarak library contains the best preserved sphinxes.
Another industrial area was a wine distillery with wine presses, galleries for the workers, storage system. In one are an amphora is being used as plug in a sink. There is a cistern used in different times with various layers of plaster and reused blocks in the wall.
The method of presenting the sphinxes in a canal with slopping walls is not his preferred choice and the SCA have experimented with vertical walls of mud brick. The site cannot be left open and access will be carefully controlled. The walkway will be to the side at a higher level.
Next week it is Jose Galan on Dra Abu Naga