The House in Luxor Temple

LucieluxorhouseOn January 13, 1864, Lucie moved into her new home in Luxor – atop the Temple. Sadly, there are no obvious remnants of her house but the Abu Haggag Mosque remains within the temple compound.

She says in her letter of that day to Alick (her husband Sir Alexander Duff Gordon):

‘I have such a big rambling house all over the top of the temple of Khem…We had about twenty fellahs to clean the dust of three years’ accumulation, and my room looks quite handsome with carpets and a divan…The view all round my house is magnificent on every side, over the Nile in front facing north-west, and over a splendid range of green and distant orange buff hills to the south-east, where I have a spacious covered terrace. It is rough and dusty to the extreme, but will be very pleasant. Mustapha came in just now to offer me the loan of a horse, and to ask me to go to the mosque in a few nights to see the illumination in honour of a great Sheykh, a son of Sidi Hosseyn or Hassan.  I asked whether my presence might not offend any Muslimeen, and he would not hear of such a thing.  The sun set while he was here, and he asked if I objected to his praying in my presence, and went through his four rekahs very comfortably on my carpet.  My next-door neighbour (across the courtyard all filled with antiquities) is a nice little Copt who looks like an antique statue himself.’  

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A possible image of Lucie’s  home – the ‘Maison de France’ – taken before it was demolished in 1884 during the excavations by Professor Gaston Maspero
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Another view of the temple – it ‘was encumbered by sheepfolds, goat-yards, poultry-yards, donkey-sheds, clusters of mud huts, refuse-heaps, and piles of broken pottery’. 

Lucie’s daughter, Janet Ross, added some information regarding the site of the house, then known as the Maison de France:

[The house at Thebes of which my mother speaks in the following letter was built about 1815, over the ancient temple of Khem, by Mr. Salt, English Consul-General in Egypt.  He was an archæologist and a student of hieroglyphics, and when Belzoni landed at Alexandria was struck by his ability, and sent him up to Thebes to superintend the removal of the great bust of Memnon, now in the British Museum.  Belzoni, I believe, lived for some time in Mr. Salt’s house, which afterwards became the property of the French Government, and was known as the Maison de France; it was pulled down in 1884 when the great temple of Luxor was excavated by M. Maspero.  My late friend Miss A. B. Edwards wrote a description of his work in the Illustrated London News, from which I give a few extracts:

‘Squatters settled upon the temple like a swarm of mason bees; and

    the extent of the mischief they perpetrated in the course of

    centuries may be gathered from the fact that they raised the level of

    the surrounding soil to such a height that the obelisks, the colossi,

    and the entrance pylon were buried to a depth of 40 feet, while

    inside the building the level of the native village was 50 feet above

    the original pavement.  Seven months ago the first court contained

    not only the local mosque, but a labyrinthine maze of mud structures,

    numbering some thirty dwellings, and eighty strawsheds, besides

    yards, stables, and pigeon-towers, the whole being intersected by

    innumerable lanes and passages.  Two large mansions—real mansions,

    spacious and, in Arab fashion, luxurious,—blocked the great Colonnade

    of Horembebi; while the second court, and all the open spaces and

    ruined parts of the upper end of the Temple, were encumbered by

    sheepfolds, goat-yards, poultry-yards, donkey-sheds, clusters of mud

    huts, refuse-heaps, and piles of broken pottery.  Upon the roof of

    the portico there stood a large, rambling, ruinous old house, the

    property of the French Government, and known as the “Maison de

    France” . . .  Within its walls the illustrious Champollion and his

    ally Rosellini lived and worked together in 1829, during part of

    their long sojourn at Thebes.  Here the naval officers sent out by

    the French in 1831 to remove the obelisk which now stands in the

    Place de la Concorde took up their temporary quarters.  And here,

    most interesting to English readers, Lady Duff Gordon lingered

    through some of her last winters, and wrote most of her delightful

    “Letters from Egypt.”  A little balcony with a broken veranda and a

    bit of lattice-work parapet, juts out above some mud walls at the end

    of the building.  Upon that balcony she was wont to sit in the cool

    of the evening, watching the boats upon the river and the magical

    effect of the after-glow upon the Libyan mountains opposite.  

[All these buildings—“Maison de France,” stores, yards, etc. . . . are all swept away.’]

 

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The area inside first hall where the Abu Haggag Mosque stands today – Lucie’s home is believed to have been situated on or near the Colonade of Horembebi
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The original door to the Mosque can be seen around 40 feet above the current temple floor, showing where the Muslim ‘village’ – existing since medieval times – had been built upon 40-50 feet of rubble and soil. Once excavated, the original level of the temple was once again restored.

(Photos above: Philippa Faulks)

 

 

 

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