Luxor, Egypt – April 11, 2010
The picture above is a view from inside the Ramesseum, a mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses (Ramses) II, located in the Theban necropolis near Luxor, Egypt. It was built in the 13th century B.C.
The Ramesseum is one of my favorite places in Upper Egypt, in part because it is not nearly as busy as some of the bigger temple complexes in the area. The following is excerpted from my journal, describing a visit on April 11, 2010, three weeks into an eight-month backpacking trip through the Middle East:
On my way to Karnak Temple at 2 pm I was told it was closed for the afternoon, so I decided to hop the ferry to the West Bank. Then I decided, after bargaining the price down from 10 to 5 LE, to rent a bicycle. Last time I took this road I was hitchhiking, and the guy who picked me up asked to see my penis as we drove — jerk. (No, he didn’t see it.)
I rode the bike to the Ramesseum, which I still fondly remember visiting in 1996. I was there from 3:30 to 5:00 pm (closing time) and had the place to myself except for an older European lady who seemed to be writing in a notebook.
I love the Ramesseum and it was especially fitting for me to visit now. Inspiration for the poem “Ozymandias,” it is a place where greatness has become ruin, where one can sit and consider how what “greatness” there is in oneself or about oneself will soon enough be ruin. Sitting here, life isn’t about building greatness. Perhaps it is about building love, sowing love with the care of a farmer who knows the land is fragile but holds great potential, even as he prays for rain.
Postscript: There’s plenty of good books to take with you into a quiet ancient ruin, should you have time to read there. On my visit to the Ramesseum, I brought no book — though I fondly recall once reading The Brothers Karamazov while nestled in giant broken pieces of Karnak Temple. But if you do want to bring a book to help you ask good questions about seeing the world and your place in it, consider Anthony de Mello’s book The Way to Love. I read it on a previous journey and found it a thoughtful companion.