Saturday, April 26, 2014

Short Story: Tombs of legendary lovers

Love is a blessing from God bestowed on humans. Throughout the ages, love stories have filled the world’s history books. Whether sad or cheerful, they have been told and retold from one generation to the next, prettified and dramatised by poets, sung and celebrated by people, and put on film.  

However, some lovers have decided to leave a souvenir behind them that commemorates their story forever. They left tombs, temples and mausoleums that show how the loved each other to subsequent generations.


Queen Nefertari, whose name means “beautiful companion”, was one of Ramses II’s eight royal wives and his most beloved one. Although Nefertari’s family background is unknown, the discovery of an inscription of the cartouche of the pharaoh Ay inside her tomb has led archaeologists to speculate that she was related to him. If any relation exists, she could be his great-granddaughter because of the time between the reign of Ay and Ramses II in Ancient Egyptian history. Until now no decisive archaeological evidence has been found to link Nefertari to the royal family of the 18th Dynasty. Nefertari married Ramses II before he ascended the throne, and she bore him at least four sons and two daughters.

Being his most beloved wife, Nefertari appears as the wife of Ramses II in several scenes depicted on the walls of temples and tombs in the Luxor and Karnak temples, as well as being shown as Ramses II’s consort on many statues. The greatest honour was bestowed on Nefertari by Ramses II as she was not only depicted in statue form at the great temple at Abu Simbel, but she also had a smaller temple dedicated to her and to the goddess Hathor beside the king’s own temple.

A lavishly decorated tomb, QV66, in the Valley of the Queens on the west bank at Luxor, is considered to be one of the largest and most spectacular tombs in the Valley, and it was dug so that her mummy would rest in peace for eternity. The tomb was robbed in antiquity, but rediscovered in 1904 by the Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli. Several funerary items belonging to the queen were taken from her tomb, including gold bracelets, figurines and a small piece of an earring or pendant, all of them now on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the US. A collection of figurines is also exhibited at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The tomb was closed to the public in 1950 for restoration as its wall decorations were in a bad state of preservation due to the infiltration of salts and humidity on the walls. In 1986, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, now the ministry of state for antiquities (MSA), and the Getty Conservation Institute in the US embarked on a restoration project for the tomb’s paintings, but the actual work only began in 1988. In 1992 the tomb was reopened to public, though on a small scale in order to secure its conservation.

Ramses II’s love for his wife is registered on the walls of the queen’s burial chamber. He wrote a poem to his wife saying: “my love is unique – no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.”

(2) Cleopatra and Mark Antony:
Although the location of the mausoleum of the lovers is not known, the love between the Ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra VI and Mark Antony is one of the most fascinating and touching of all. It was for this reason that William Shakespeare dramatised this love story in his play Antony and Cleopatra. The story took place in 31 BCE, when Cleopatra and Antony fell in love at first sight. Antony then left his wife Octavia in Rome and married Cleopatra. Their love outraged the Romans, who were worried about the growing power of the Egyptians. Octavian, later the emperor Augustus, then invaded Egypt to defeat the lovers and subjugate the country.
During the campaign, rumours spread that Cleopatra had died, and Antony, devastated, fell on his sword. When Cleopatra found out about her lover’s death, she famously killed herself by causing an asp to bite her. Both lovers were buried together in a mausoleum, but until now the exact location of this remains a mystery. Several attempts have been made by archaeologists to uncover it, but all have failed. Egyptian archaeologists believe that the site of the mausoleum is near the temple of Taposiris Magna, southwest of Alexandria.

(3) Mohamed Shah Agha Khan and Um Habiba: 
The love story of Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis, a Shiite sect, and his wife the Begum Um Habiba, started at the end of the 1930s. Coincidence played a role in the marriage of the Aga Khan and his French wife, born Yvette Blanche Labrousse, who later became the Begum Um Habiba. They fell in love at first sight when they met at a royal dancing party in Egypt in 1938.

Labrousse was born in 1906 in the town of Sete in southern France to a seamstress and tramway worker. She won the title of Miss Riviera in 1930. While the love between the two faced many obstacles — the Aga Khan was 30 years older than she was — the couple were married in 1944 and Labrousse became the Aga Khan’s fourth and last wife. As Egypt was the place where they had first met, the Aga Khan built her a house in Aswan. Moreover, high up on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan stands the elegant pink granite mausoleum of the Aga Khan himself, built according to the Fatimid architectural style used in Cairo, with the tomb itself being made of white Carrara marble.

In his will the Aga Khan had expressed his wish to be buried there, and this took place after his death in 1957. Al-Attar said that Egypt had had a special place in the Aga Khan’s heart after his first visit there in 1935. His fourth wife, who died in 2000 and is buried beside her husband, used to put a red rose daily on his tomb. Today, the mausoleum enjoys an excellent view, including of the Aga Khan’s white villa below and the nearby Monastery of St. Simon on the west bank at Aswan.

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies”
Source: Al Ahram weekly by Nevien el Aref 

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