Chariot to Heaven
© Jaromir Malek 2011
The house of the Aten and its tenants
The monumental gate in the front wall of the temple was now little more than a gaping opening, reminiscent of a mouth with the two front teeth missing. The massive wooden doors had fallen prey to looters a decade or so earlier, shortly after the accession of the king who was now ruling. The heavy planks of cedar wood from which the doors had been assembled now probably formed a part of somebody's roof. The gate's gold decoration had been hacked out under the cover of darkness by the same people who were busy robbing the tombs in the vast cemetery to the west of Mennufer. The bronze fittings had disappeared just as quickly. Among tomb and temple robbers, copper and bronze were often welcomed more than gold. A man dressed in rags made an unlikely vendor of gold or electrum and was regarded with suspicion, but nobody looked at him twice when he was selling pieces of bronze or copper. And many people, especially craftsmen, needed bronze or copper blades for their tools. You had to be a priest to be admitted into the dwelling of a god, and so for the children to enter a temple was a completely new experience. The first court was open to the sun but the water which was now covering its pavement made approach difficult. Fortunately, stone building blocks which had fallen down from the top courses of walls were scattered everywhere in profusion and by jumping from one stone onto another Ipi and Meryt could proceed further into the temple's interior.
The next court had pillars lining its perimeter and each pillar had a large statue of King Akhenaten leaning against it. Most of them were mutilated, some almost beyond recognition, no doubt by zealots who welcomed Egypt's return to the religion of old. Scenes showing the king, his queen Nefertiti and their six daughters were carved on the walls. They were shown offering to the Aten represented as a sun disc with a multitude of rays emanating from it. The rays terminated in human hands extending the symbols of life to the royal family. On the king's forehead was the image of the hooded cobra, his guardian and protector. The large space beyond this court was the most important part of the temple. It was filled with a large number of stone altars on which the Aten used to receive offerings of food and drink brought there by his priests daily. Now it was a scene of utter desolation, with many altars overturned and many smashed to pieces by the same people who attacked Akhenaten's statues in the pillared court.
Silence now reigned supreme in the place where chants and incantations had echoed not such a long time ago. For children, used to the hustle and bustle of a busy city, this was a very strange experience. It was further enhanced by the fact that the houses of Mennufer were visible not far away. Meryt walked a few steps ahead of Ipy so that he bumped into her back when she suddenly stopped. She stood motionless, frozen and unable to move, but with a shaking hand she pointed towards one of the altars which, as if by a miracle, escaped destruction. In its shadow a man was squatting on his haunches. The colour of his cloak left no doubt that it was the same man who had so single-mindedly pursued them in the necropolis and in the palace. An ornamental basket made of papyrus reeds, with its lid beside it, stood on the ground next to the man. But the man did not notice the approach of the children because his attention was fully occupied by a thing lying in the full blaze of the sun on a flat slab of stone in front of him. The children thought at first that it was a coil of thick rope but then it moved ... A pair of small malevolent eyes seemed to glare past the man's shoulder in the direction of where the children were hiding.The man was gently swaying from side to another, as if the movement helped him in his thinking. The cobra now reared and began to sway in the same fashion, and it seemed that the two communicated with each other.
This time Ipy did not panic. He tapped Meryt gently on her shoulder and pointed in the direction of Mennufer. It was time to leave.