Saturday, February 22, 2014

Epic Love Stories: A Belated Salute to Saint Valentine's Day

I couldn't resist posting this.  Yes, it's past due, but you know, Mr. Don and I had our own EPIC love story.  Of such things life is made...

From Al-Ahram Online, published in Cairo

Issue No.1184, 13 February, 2014      12-02-2014 12:40PM ET

Tombs of legendary lovers

Nothing makes the heart flutter like a noble love story, and history contains a great many of them, writes Nevine El-Aref
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.

Among them were the New Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II and his beloved wife Nefertari, the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal in India, King Fouad I and his first wife Princess Shwikar, and Mohammed Shah Agha Khan and his wife Um Habiba.

 RAMSES II AND NEFERTARI: 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 Organisation, 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.”

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. [Um, you should have mentioned that Octavian was Octavia's brother...]

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.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal: The love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, the Mughal royal couple, produced the famous monument of the Taj Mahal in Agra in northern India.

Their love story began in 1612, when the couple were married. In 1629, when Mahal was giving birth to her 14th child she died and Jahan fell into a deep depression that affected him emotionally and physically. His grief inspired him to construct one of the world’s great architectural monuments, the Taj Mahal, to be his wife’s resting place and haven. [So, he couldn't keep his penis in his pants and he killed his wife by wearing her out through incessant child-birth, and then he builds a memorial to her.  You know what, he should have cut off his penis instead.  Now that would have been a memorial.]

Some 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants worked for 22 years to build this immense mausoleum of white marble, which includes a mosque, a guest house, and a main gateway, as well as an outer courtyard and cloisters.

The Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and a universally admired masterpiece of world heritage. It was registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1983.

According to Abdallah Al-Attar, former head of the Islamic section at the MSA in Cairo, several stories are told about the construction of Taj Mahal. It is said that the building is tilted towards the riverside despite the precautions that were taken during its construction, as four years after it was finished cracks apparently started to appear.

A second story has it that diamonds and gold that once covered part of the dome were stolen. Al-Attar said that in order to prevent any imitation of the building Jahan had the hands cut off and the eyes pulled out of its architects and sculptors.

Shwikar wife of king Fouad I: The mausoleum of Shwikar, the first wife of King Fouad of Egypt, is made of richly decorated marble, and it contains a bed-shaped tomb in the same material. Roses made out of marble are used for decoration. Unfortunately, the mausoleum is more related to the misery of the princess than her love story.

According to researcher Mohamed Ragab, Princess Shwikar was the first wife of King Fouad and the granddaughter of Ibrahim Pasha, son of the Khedive Mohamed Ali. Fouad married Shwikar for her wealth and neglected her by shutting her up in the Al-Zaafaran Palace in Cairo, where she lived a miserable life.

Although she gave birth to prince Ismail and Princess Rokaya, Fouad used to treat her badly. He also prohibited her from visiting her family. One night, according to Ragab, when Fouad was away Shwikar escaped to her family’s house and when the king came back and realised that she had left the house without his permission he divorced her. Shwikar then married Prince Wahid Yosry and had two children, a boy and a girl.

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.

What's this -- no Mr. Don and Jan?  Ha - a lot they don't know about Herstory...

A woman in love with her photographer.  Mr. Don took this photo a few days before we left for Madrid on January 2, 2012, our last trip together.  He wanted to take a duplicate of a photo he'd taken of me with the same "Easter Island" head about 10 years before.  He made me look so beautiful in this photograph at age 60!  I miss him so.

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