Sacred Spaces and Boat Parades
November 9, 2012 | by Elizabeth Christian
The history of Egypt extends far beyond the ancient Pharaohs and their pyramids and tombs: cities like Alexandria and Luxor have seen the rise and fall of many empires. New cultures, languages, and religions arrive, thrive, and then disappear. In a place that has endured such change, it is difficult to imagine that anything can remain constant. But as new evidence may prove, the ancient world is not as far in the past as you might think.
Archaeologists Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, Mohamed Kenawi, and their colleagues on the Upper Egypt Mosque Project examined several major temples where churches and mosques were built around and sometimes inside their enclosures. One of the most interesting examples is at the Mosque of Abu al-Hajjaj in modern-day Luxor, which was built over the remains of a Coptic church. Excavations in the early 19th century revealed that underneath these foundations stood the Temple of Luxor, once a pre-eminent temple of Ancient Egypt. The site has been the home of a religious building continuously since Pharaonic times, and observations of modern Islamic traditions in the area suggest that more than just architecture was transmitted through the centuries. In Pharaonic Egypt, figures of the gods were carried in barques between the temples at Luxor and Karnak during the yearly Opet festival. Boats are still carried through the streets today, during the mulid celebration in honor of Abu al-Hajjaj.
Fun fact: In ancient Egypt, barques (a type of boat with three masts, commonly featured in Egyptian artwork) were important religious artifacts, the chosen vehicle of the gods. It’s not surprising that they featured so prominently in Egyptian culture, since the Nile was the center and source of all life.
Session 2G: Recent Work in Egypt, will deliver the preliminary results of this project, which suggest a complex pattern of reusing sacred spaces and repurposing religious rituals and practices. The Panel will be held on Friday, January 4, 12:30-2:30 p.m. To hear more about Professor Macaulay-Lewis’s work, listen to her recent podcasts, where she speaks more about Two Royal Figures in the Saljuk Period and Ilkhanid Mihrab. Dr. Kenawi is the co-director of the Kom al-Ahmer/Kom Wasit Archaeological Project. To learn more about this archaeological excavation in Egypt, visit the excavation's website.
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