Hieroglyphs in the Sun – Chapter 7

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 18/06/2024

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 The Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings

In the following days, the team from Cyprus visited many archaeological sites. All were monuments in the desert, built in the monotonous, yellowish landscape. They were all erected to honor the Egyptian gods and the Pharaohs, as representatives of the gods on earth.

Sophia had grown very tired of the daily visits to the archaeological sites, and her feet were swollen, but her experiences were unique.

-Oh, if only I had traveled when I was younger, she kept thinking.

However, as they moved further south, she felt that the temples were newer because she often heard that the Ptolemies, who although of Greek origin, followed Egyptian traditions, had contributed their own monuments to them. She also noticed that the statues in these temples were no longer strict and serene, characteristic of Egyptian art, but began to have curves, in the style of Hellenistic art.

-Two great civilizations of antiquity have met here and merged their myths, traditions, and techniques, she thought. And after thousands of years, we, the modern people, are witnessing this union, etched in stones, statues, and inscriptions. The history of Egypt in stone, she thought once more.

Among the many archaeological sites, they visited while traveling by riverboat to Aswan, two made a particular impression on her.

One was the Temple of Hatshepsut, the first female Pharaoh of Egypt. In the past, other women had ruled Egypt, but not with the title of Pharaoh, but as regents of child Pharaohs. The Temple of Hatshepsut was different from all the others they had visited. Built under the shadow of tall cliffs, it had dominated the desert of Egypt for 3,500 years, with unparalleled simplicity and elegance. It consists of three terraced levels, and as the visitor ascends a wide staircase, they reach the third level where the temple’s sanctuary is located. The ceiling of the corridor leading to the sanctuary is painted a deep blue and adorned with white stars. Now the colors are somewhat faded, but the visitor can still feel the sanctity and mystery that once surrounded the faithful.

All levels are colonnaded, with simple square columns, and the last level is adorned with statues of Hatshepsut, dressed in all the symbols of the Pharaohs and a false beard. The beard she used to be accepted by her people, but beneath it was the heart and soul of a woman who made a difference.

So who was Hatshepsut and why do people admire and honor her to this day?

Hatshepsut was born a princess in 1508 BC. Her father was the great Pharaoh Thutmose I. At twelve years old, she married her half-brother Thutmose II, with whom she had two daughters, and so her husband appointed as his successor a boy from another wife. After his death, Hatshepsut, being the royal wife, began to rule Egypt as the regent of Thutmose III, who was an infant.

Her position was difficult. In a country and era where no woman was accepted to rule, Hatshepsut had to assert herself. Initially, she ruled as a representative of Thutmose III, but after about two years, she declared herself Pharaoh and took on all the titles and honors. She made sure to appear in statues in the form of the male Pharaoh, bearing a beard, male attire, and appearance.

Hatshepsut, despite the image she created for her people, never denied her feminine nature. In some statues, with which she wished to be remembered in history, she is portrayed as a woman, full of elegance, grace, and charm. But she did not stop there. Female nature is not just about appearance. It involves the psyche and the qualities with which it is expressed.

Initially, she followed the steps of previous Pharaohs, imitating her father and conducting some military campaigns in Syria and elsewhere. However, she soon realized that this was not what she wanted for her country and her people. Every military campaign has a cost in human lives and resources. She chose the prosperity of her country and her people. She left relative autonomy to the countries under Egyptian rule and focused on building monuments that people admire to this day.

By building Egypt’s most beautiful monuments, she not only glorified her name and reign but also provided employment to her people, contributing to their prosperity. Her works include the temple they visited at Deir el-Bahari in Thebes, the Luxor Temple dedicated to the god Ra, and the Palace of Ma’at in the temple complex at Karnak.

But her work did not stop there. Her greatest achievement was the exploration of other countries and the establishment of trade relations with the land of Punt. Until recently, this area was considered a mythical place, but modern archaeological discoveries have confirmed its existence and trade relations with Egypt. The land of Punt is now identified with Eritrea or Eastern Sudan, in the Horn of Africa.

-I remember the words you read to me when we were at Karnak, Sophia said to Nephele:

my spirit stirred at the thought of what people will say when, many years from now, they see this monument and speak of what I did…”

-Yes, I was thinking the same. Hatshepsut is a woman who lives on for 3,500 years, even though her successor tried to erase her name from history. Pharaohs often did this for various reasons. They destroyed the names of their predecessors from monuments to make people forget them and so they couldn’t live in the afterlife. They did the same with Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten, and with Tutankhamun himself. But it seems there is justice in this world! Injustice appears to be temporary. After thousands of years, their names are spoken, and if Egyptian beliefs have any basis, they remain immortal.

-You know, all the days we’ve been here and all the monuments we’ve visited, from the pyramids to the Temple of Hatshepsut today, have to do with death and the afterlife. In our religion too, the climax is the death and resurrection of Christ. Religions, which were the cornerstone of these ancient civilizations, deal with this theme, if not start and end with it.

-It’s not just that. There’s something else that troubles me in relation to modern science and technological civilization. Let’s assume they didn’t have any of the means we have today to understand the world. However, all religions had theories about theogony and the creation of the world. And I wouldn’t want us to judge everything dismissively, because in our opinion they are myths, a fairy tale, that is. This ‘fairy tale’ has created huge civilizations, which after thousands of years, we admire and struggle to understand.

-I agree with you. More respect is deserved for these ancient texts and beliefs, which, whether we want to admit it or not, are the foundations on which global civilization was built. Life and death, the afterlife of humans. Our refusal to accept that the spirit that moves us, that makes us create, question, learn, love will vanish into nonexistence when our body decays.”

This is what the two friends were discussing as the bus moved towards the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings is a narrow pass under the shadow of a mountain shaped like a pyramid, called Al Qurn. Sixty-three tombs of Pharaohs have been found there to date, buried over a period of about 500 years from the 16th to the 11th century BC. Of all these tombs, the only one found intact was the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 by Carter. For this reason, Tutankhamun became the most famous of all the Pharaohs.

When they arrived at the Valley of the Kings, their guide informed them that they would visit only three tombs of Pharaohs, not including Tutankhamun’s tomb. Anyone wishing to visit it would have to buy a separate ticket. Out of the entire group, only Nephele and Hans showed interest in visiting it.

Sophia, however, noticed that there was tension between them, and they had a brief but intense conversation in German.

The landscape around had the characteristics of the desert, no vegetation, everywhere the monotonous color of ochre. The entrances to the tombs were carved into the rock, leading the visitor through corridors beautifully painted with images from the Pharaoh’s life and Egyptian deities of death that accompanied the dead to the other world. There was the boat with the dead Pharaoh traveling from ephemeral life to immortality, there were texts with hieroglyphs, and many other things that Sophia couldn’t fully understand. Everything was masterfully illuminated, making the ochre color that prevailed as a background in all the murals look golden, while the ceiling dome was dominated by a dark blue representing the color of the firmament.

Despite her physical exhaustion, Sophia tried to fill her soul with these wonderful images that had remained hidden underground for over three thousand years, samples of a civilization that no longer exists. And in each tomb, a different Pharaoh, heading towards immortality. Sophia was particularly impressed by a mural in one of the tombs, where the Pharaoh was proceeding on the path of the afterlife, accompanied by two deities, Horus and Thoth, who were holding his hand. The scene exuded the same tenderness and care as when you see parents holding their child’s hand to protect it from any harm.

However, her fatigue had overwhelmed her. She couldn’t manage to visit the third tomb and sat at a café in the area, waiting for the others to finish. At that moment, she noticed Nefeli and Hans getting ready to enter Tutankhamun’s tomb. As she watched them, she saw in the distance the blonde woman also observing them. Now she was certain. It wasn’t a coincidence. This woman was following them. But why?

When they returned to the bus, Nefeli sat next to her and was quite cheerful. It seemed that the tension she had with Hans had subsided after their visit to Tutankhamun’s tomb. Sophia asked her what her impressions of the tomb were, and Nefeli responded, eager to delve into unknown details once again:

-Have you heard about Omm Sety? Nefeli asked Sophia.

-No, who is she?

-She is a very interesting personality whose life and work are intertwined with Egypt. Her real name was Dorothy Eady, and she was born in London on January 16, 1904. At the age of three, she fell down the stairs of her house and hit her head. When she regained consciousness, her personality had drastically changed. She talked about returning ‘home,’ her accent changed, and when she visited an exhibition related to ancient Egypt at the British Museum with her parents and saw a photograph of Pharaoh Seti I’s temple at Abydos, she started shouting: ‘This is my home. Where are the trees, where are the gardens?’ She ran through the halls kissing the feet of the Egyptian statues, overjoyed.

-Who exactly was Seti I?

-Seti I was a Pharaoh of the New Kingdom, the father of the great Ramses II. To cut a long story short, because of her behavior and identification with the ancient Egyptian religion, she was expelled from one Catholic school after another. As a result, she never received a complete education.

-And why was she called Omm Sety?

-That’s another story. I’ll explain soon. Despite her lack of formal education, she managed to learn to read and write Egyptian hieroglyphs. In 1931, she married an Egyptian and settled in Egypt. When she arrived in that country, she kissed the ground and said, ‘Now I have returned home.’ With this Egyptian, she had a son, whom she named Seti. Omm Sety in Egyptian means ‘the mother of Sety.’ She separated from her husband when he decided to move to another country for work.

-Omm Sety believed that she was the reincarnation of an ancient priestess of the Abydos temple who was the lover of Pharaoh Seti I. As a priestess, however, it was forbidden to fall in love and especially to have a lover. When she became pregnant, she committed suicide to avoid putting her beloved Pharaoh in a difficult position. She believed that the spirit of Seti often visited her, and she would ask him various questions she had about events in ancient Egypt, and he would answer her.

-She lived her entire life until her death in Egypt, particularly at the Abydos temple. She wrote various treatises paralleling the ancient Egyptian rituals with modern rituals of both the Muslim and Christian religions. She tried to prove the continuity of customs and traditions through the centuries, regardless of the religion people followed.

-She translated many hieroglyphic texts that specialists struggled to translate or interpret. Archaeologists respected her and often sought her help, which she was always willing to provide. The BBC and National Geographic have made documentaries about her life, and related books have been written. Otto often spoke to me about her and the mystery surrounding her personality. She died in 1981 in Abydos.

-But how does she connect to the tomb of Tutankhamun that you just visited?

-I already told you that archaeologists would ask her various questions, and she would consult the spirit of Seti and later provide answers. In her biography, written by Hanny el Zeini & Catherine Dees, she was asked about the tomb of Nefertiti, which has not been found to this day. She was not very willing to answer because of the dislike she and Seti had for Nefertiti’s husband, Akhenaten, for renouncing the old religion and trying to introduce a new one. In the end, however, she revealed that Nefertiti’s tomb is very close to Tutankhamun’s tomb, but in a place that no one can imagine.

-Based on this information, Professor Nicholas Reeves from the University of Arizona published a study in 2015. He had noticed small fissures on the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb, behind the murals, suggesting the existence of well-camouflaged doors. According to Nicholas Reeves, one of these doors likely leads to a storage room, but the other, larger door on the northern side of the tomb, possibly leads to another chamber that could contain the mummy of Nefertiti.

-Impressive! Very impressive!

-To be honest, various examinations with modern technological means have been conducted, but nothing has been revealed to date. However, Hans and I wanted to see the tomb ourselves, to possibly spot the fissures Nicholas Reeves mentioned.

-And did you see them?

-With so many tourists inside, it was almost impossible to spot anything like that. But sometimes, it suffices to experience the energy of a place to connect with its history.

-And how did you feel? Did you connect?

Nefeli remained silent for a moment.

-Somehow, she replied. It is difficult to be a tourist and simultaneously sense the energy of a place. The two don’t go hand in hand. Tourists seek information; we wanted to detect the presence of the place’s inhabitants over time.

-You know, I heard that Tutankhamun’s tomb wasn’t prepared for him but for Nefertiti, and since he died so young, they buried him there due to a lack of time to prepare his own tomb.

-Yes, that’s very likely because this tomb is much smaller than those of other pharaohs. It is undeniable that these two were connected in many ways that have not yet been fully explained.

Sophia hesitated for a moment but eventually asked:

-Do you believe that you and Hans are the reincarnation of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun, just as Omm Sety believed she was the reincarnation of Seti’s priestess?

Nefeli thought before answering. With a small laugh, she added:

-What I can assure you is that neither Hans nor I have memories of a past life, nor does any spirit come to speak to us! The resemblance is coincidental.

Sophia fell silent. She didn’t know what else to ask. However, she was certain that a mystery was weighing on the atmosphere around them.

 

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