Danielle Capalbo’s Blog

Use and reuse

Posted in Religion by Quiet Giant on May 9, 2009

Last week, we made back-to-back visits to Coptic and Islamic Cairo, which provided for a whirlwind tour of the city’s history of religious traditions and turnovers. In that respect, the city’s history is a microcosm of the country’s history, which has shifted hands since 18th century B.C.  from the Ancient Egyptians, who harbored belief in symbolic gods and a reverence for natural resources; Greeks; Coptic Christians; Roman Catholics; and Muslims.

So, parts of Egypt, and even individual buildings, are spiritual collages. It’s a complicated emotional issue – seeing, like we did in Luxor today, a mosque physically stacked on top of a Coptic church stacked on the grounds of an ancient temple –  and my current obsession. Like the issue of free culture and recycled art and information, I’m fascinated by this age-old adaptation of public, sacred space by subsequent civilizations. Like this:

At Karnak Temple in Luxor.
A closer look.

In 1st Century A.D., Coptic Christians sought refuge from Roman aggressors by hiding in Ancient Egyptian temples and, to practice their faith despite circumstances, transformed symbols of Ancient Egyptian worship into symbols they could use. To create this “crucifix,” Coptics disembodied old monuments from Luxor’s Karnak Temple – hence the legs and fractured torsos.

We also saw these icons painted over hieroglyphics on the walls of Luxor Temple:

At Luxor Temple.

And this construct:

IMG_0441
From bottom to top:  ancient ruins, church, mosque.

Incidentally, in an effort to restore Luxor’s wealth of artifacts and turn the city into an “open museum,” according to our lovely tour guide, Nermeen Makram, the United Nations allegedly funded an excavation of the Avenue of the Sphinx. This divine stretch of road used to connect Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple. Like its name suggests, it’s lined with handcarved miniature Sphinx statues:  the head of a king on the body of a lion, to symbolize wisdom and strength. But to unearth the avenue, the Department of Antiquities will have to move a number of other establishments along the way, Makram said – including homes, businesses and her own Coptic church.

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