The stars are shining and there is even a bit of fresh air. At this time nothing indicates that the day will be born. What if Ra, the sun, loses his fight against chaos and darkness, and does not return from his night journey? To the west, the Nile extends like a sheet of obsidian that joins the black hills of the west bank. The dead sleep there. And I’m going to let them stay asleep. I turn my back on the river and head east. Karnak’s guard pretends that he is watching my steps, but he continues sleeping behind his lost gaze. The sphinxes with the body of a lion and the head of a ram that guard the entrance to the temple also sleep, except for one, who winks at me with a reflection of dew.

I arrive at the first pylon, the forceful trapezoid-shaped façade. From side to side, it measures more than a hundred meters. Through here you can access the great temple of the god Amun, Amun-Ra, the sun, the one who created himself and then created the original egg from which life was born. At Karnak he was tended by eighty thousand people, and eighty ships, and more than four hundred gardeners. Their mission was to ensure the functioning of the universe, almost nothing. And so we are today, because there is no one in the first courtyard, except the colossus of a pharaoh with his queen curled up between his legs.

I pass the second pylon. I enter the hypostyle room. Given its dimensions, Jean-François Champollion, who managed to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs, declared: “In Europe we are nothing more than Lilliputians.” It has been three thousand five hundred years since they erected their one hundred and thirty-four columns. They reach up to twenty-three meters, which would be like seven stories. Its capitals are inspired by papyrus cocoons, all closed, except for those of the twelve central columns, which open to receive the first sun. Up to fifty people could fit on top of a capital (who would then have to be interrogated, because such a feat requires some stimulant). On the walls that surround the room, the reliefs evoke a thousand battles and subjugated towns. Also, the subsequent delivery of offerings to the god and the daily activities in the temple.

I pass another pylon. See that pink granite obelisk? He was raised by Queen Hatchepsut, she of the false beard. Her effigy was hammered out of all her works by her nephew, Thutmose III, so that the queen would suffer eternal death. They didn’t mess around with little girls. Each pharaoh left his mark and tried to erase the previous ones, and they added pylons, up to six, and doors, temples, and enclosures that surround the temple, layers and more layers like an onion.

He arrived at the heart of the sanctuary, where no one entered except the highest priests. There rested the god and the sacred boat in which he went for a ride. There are still traces of the paint that previously covered all the reliefs, but much has fallen, disappeared, plundered, melted. What is missing may have been dismantled by Christians, or by Arabs, or may be in Cairo, Rome, Turin or Paris.

Oh, if you had seen Thebes when it was shining! The one with the hundred doors, Homer sang. Capital of the ancient world. The treasures taken in a thousand lootings and the tributes of a thousand towns were unloaded at its docks. And the pharaohs competed in pomp, covering monuments with gold, lapis lazuli, silver and ivory, erecting colossi and obelisks, stealing stones and hiding or denying the legacy of their ancestors. A festival that lasted twenty centuries.

I go out to breathe next to the sacred lake, where the granite beetle is found. You have to turn it three times. Bring good luck. Because, like a dung beetle, Jepri pushes the sun to rise every morning and renew life. And today he has already more than fulfilled his task: Ra’s boat will soon reach the highest point in the sky. It will be better to avoid its glare inside a restaurant. The local specialty, pigeon stuffed with rice. Then, a nap can shorten the wait until the sun declines.

Later I may go to the museum and then, with the shadows already stretched, I will go to the temple of Luxor. I leave the matter of crossing to the western shore, of entering the kingdom of the dead, for another day.