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  • Karen Frost

Chapter 9: Luxor

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

In the early 1900s, anyone who was anyone visiting Luxor stayed at the Winter Palace hotel. Inaugurated in 1907, it was patronized by Lord Carnarvon and was the location of the press conference announcing the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. Thereafter, Howard Carter used the hotel's noticeboard to deliver occasional news and information about the tomb to the international press and hotel guests. The hotel would go on to be patronized by famous guests such as King Albert I of Belgium and his wife Elisabeth, Georges Clemenceau, and Sir Winston Churchill. Perhaps most famously, Agatha Christie wrote "Death on the Nile" while staying at the hotel, and used the location as the book's setting.

Today, the hotel has 86 rooms and six suites. I can't tell what the layout was in 1923, nor even where the suites are located nowadays, so I fudged a little and put my characters in the suites, but inventing a floor for them. I did my best!

The Winter Palace is 100m from the Luxor Temple, which is one of Egypt's most popular tourist sites. Per Wikipedia: "Unlike the other temples in Thebes, Luxor temple is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death. Instead, Luxor temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually (as in the case of Alexander the Great, who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern Cairo)." Gaston Maspero began excavating the temple after 1884, but excavations continued sporadically until completed in 1960. Clearance was complicated by centuries of rubble and rubbish that buried 3/4 of the site. Here's a cool recreation (one of many) showing what the temple may have looked like in its prime.

Fun fact: leading away from the Luxor Temple is the Avenue of Sphinxes. According to this cool website, the avenue originally stretched over one and a half miles (3 km) between the temples of Karnak and Luxor (two of the holiest sites in all of ancient Egypt) and was used once a year during the Opet festival. Construction of the avenue was begun during the New Kingdom and finished during the rule of Nectanebo I (380-362 BC). It was later renovated by Cleopatra. Of the 1,350 original sphinx statues, few remain in their entirety. Recently, 850 sphinx fragments were discovered along a section of the road. Rather than the human headed version of the Sphinx at Giza, these sphinxes have ram heads.

Finally, in case you wondered what jobs were available to women in America the 1920s, the answer is "basically none." So for independent women like Clara and Eliza, their options were limited. This is one reason why Clara found herself adrift after the end of Wild West shows in America--who wants to go from being a trick shooter to a telephone operator?

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