The temple that Cleopatra built for Caesarion at Armant

While I was looking at the Description de l’Egypte for information about the Serapeum as it was in Napoleon’s time, a whim came over me to look for the now-vanished temple at Armant (ancient Hermonthis), some 12 miles south of Luxor.

The temple was destroyed in 1861-3 in order to get stone to build a sugar factory, which still stands; but I vaguely recalled that there was a picture by the French scholars in the Description.

And so there is, in the first volume of plates of ancient monuments, here at Heidelberg.  In fact there are three drawings, plus a reconstruction and plan and some drawings of the reliefs.  Here is one of them (click on the image for a larger version).

The temple of Cleopatra and Caesarion at Armant
The temple of Cleopatra and Caesarion at Armant

The Napoleonic French soldiers standing on the roof are distinctive!

I then began to search for information about the temples of Armant.  This quickly showed the limits of the internet – there is practically no information to be had.  There was a great temple of Montu-Re at Armant, of which little remains.  In the grounds of this, just as at Dendera, a smaller temple was built, the one above, which was rebuilt by Cleopatra.  It was a mamissi, celebrating a birth, much like the one at Dendera.

Finally there is a temple with bull-burials.  But you try to find any maps of all this!  I believe that there is a monograph, written in 1940 or thereabouts – offline, of course.  Clearly someone needs to upload information about Armant (or Erment as it is sometimes known).

There are still remains of all these temples; although apparently none are open to the public.  I get the impression that parts of a pylon, and two Roman gateways, still exist.

But then I found this:

Cleopatra's temple at Erment. 1857. Francis Frith.
Cleopatra’s temple at Erment. 1857. Francis Frith.

That’s right – there is a photograph of the place!  It was taken, unbelievably, in 1857, only 4 years before demolition started.  In fact there are a number of photographs.  A certain Maxime du Camp published another in “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, 1852,” and Felix Teynard one in “Egypte et Nubie, 1858”.  I was sadly unable to find digitised copies of this.

Well, I had no idea when precisely photography started.  Apparently it was invented by Daguerre who experimented in secret between 1835-1839.  What happened next was startling: his process was purchased, in return for a pension, by the French government, which made it available to the world as an act of benevolence.  Needless to say not everyone felt benevolent – some adventurer in England managed to get a patent in, which meant that English people had to pay for what everyone else could use for free.  There are parallels here to Google Books!

But as soon as photography existed, it seems that people started to carry these new “cameras” down the Nile with them!  A register of very early photographs of Egypt might reveal many interesting things.

Those of us who have visited Egypt and experienced the way that possession of a camera marks the holder for extortion by officials and self-appointed “guardians” of monuments may be permitted to wonder whether the invention of the first camera was swiftly followed by the invention of the first Egyptian camera fees!


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