Passing through the entrance pylon we enter the Court of Ramse II, to the left of which the Fatimi Mosque of Abu eI Hagag stands In contrast to the solemn ruins of Pharonic Egypt. As recently as 1968 the local sheikhs, who claim that the tomb of the saint him self lies there, added an extension to the rear portion of the mosque, built, It will be seen, on ever weakening foundations, The height of the mosque above the stone court yard indicates the height to which the temple was buried in sand.
The court itself is surrounded by smooth-shafted papyrus columns with lotus-bud capitals, Standing colossi of Ramses II were placed between the first row of columns in the southern half. On each side of the doorway are a further two statues of the Pharaoh wrought in red and black granite. The one on the left has a fine statue of Queen Nefertari, his wife, carved near the Pharaoh 's right leg, On the throne is a representation of the two Niles binding the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt: the lotus and papyrus
Adjoining the western tower of the entrance pylon is a raised platform comprising three chambers. This was the granite shrine originally built by ThutmoseIII and restored by Ramses II. The chambers were dedicated to Amon, Mut and the Moon God Khonsu. Four papyrus columns form a colonnade on the side facing the court.
The reliefs and inscriptions which adorn the walls of the court date from the reign of Ramses II. They represent sacrifices and hymns to the gods, and all Ramses II's family, his many wives and a horde of princes and princesses are depicted on the walls.
The Colonnade was built by Amenhotep III. In the early morning and towards sunset heavy shadows are cast between the seven pairs of columns and the interplay of light has long been exploited by photographers as it slams from heavy architrave to calyx capital sanddown the slender shafts of the columns. Though Amenhotep III conceived the idea of this colonnade, Tutankhamun, Harmhab, Seti I, Rames II and Seti II also recorded their names there. It was Tutankhamun however who had the walls embellished with the reliefs representing the Great New Year Festival, the Opel, when the god Amon visited his southern harem. The sacred barges were brought in splendid procession from Karnak to the Luxor temple, borne on the shoulders of white-robed priests from the temple to the river, and then towed upstream in a splendid and majestic procession. The festival took place at the height of the Nile flood and continued for twenty-four days of merry-making. Unhappily much of the relief work has been destroyed but there is still sufficient to take us back to what must have been not only a significant but a lavish religious celebration.
On the right-hand wall starting at are preparations tor fhe occasion, which include a rehearsal by dancing girls. The procession begins at the gate of the Karnak temple, which is complete with flagstaff sand from whence white-robed priests bear the sacred barge of Amon down to the water's edge. An enthusiastic audience claps hands in unison and at the boat in the water is being towed upstream by those onshore. A sacrifice of slaughtered animals is followed by a group of acrobats, and finally offerings are made to Amon, Mut and Khonsu at the Luxor temple.
On the opposite wall are scenes of the return procession, including sacrificial bulls being led to the scene accompanied by soldiers, standard-bearers, dancers and slaves who are roused to frenzy by the pomp, the barges floating downstream and the final sacrifice and offerings of flowers to Amon and Mut at the Karnak temple.
It is interesting to learn that Harmhab, the general,took advantage of the Opet to introduce himself to the populace as the next Pharaoh of Egypt at the beginning of the 19th Dynasty. Once he had been led through the streets by the priests and entered into the sacred precincts of Karnak, any question by the people as to why Amon of non-royal line age should become Pharaoh was stilled in advance. The occasion was too joyous to spoil with matters already decided by the high priestsof Amon. A fascinating cross-current in the tide of fate has led today's Muslim Moulid, celebrated each year during the month of Shaaban, closely to resemble the Opet. Muslim sheikhs emerge from the Mosque of Abu el Hagag bearing three small sailing boat swhich they place on carriages to traverse the city. The city is bedecked with flowers, and dancing and clapping greet the procession.