Around the holy of holies is a number of halls, in deep shadow and massive as so many fortresses. They were used formerly for mysterious and complicated rites, and in them, as everywhere else, there is no corner of the wall but is overloaded with figures and hieroglyphs. Bats are asleep in the blue ceilings, where the winged discs, painted in fresco, look like flights of birds; and the hornets of the neighbouring fields have built their nests there in hundreds, so that they hang like stalactites.
Several staircases lead to the vast terraces formed by the great roofs of the temple—staircases narrow, stifling and dimly lighted by loopholes that reveal the heart-breaking thickness of the walls. And here again are the inevitable rows of figures, carved on all the walls, in the same familiar attitudes; they mount with us as we ascend, making all the time the self-same signs one to another.
As we emerge on to the roofs, bathed now in Egyptian sunlight and swept by a cold and bitter wind, we are greeted by a noise as of an aviary. It is the kingdom of the sparrows, who have built their nests in thousands in this temple of the complaisant goddess. They twitter now all together and with all their might out of very joy of living. It is an esplanade, this roof—a solitude paved with gigantic flagstones. From it we see, beyond the heaps of ruins, those happy plains, which are spread out with such a perfect serenity on the very ground where once stood the town of Denderah, beloved of Hathor and one of the most famous of Upper Egypt. Exquisitely green are these plains with the new growth of wheat and lucerne and bean; and the herds that are grouped here and there on the fresh verdure of the level pastures, swaying now and undulating in the wind, look like so many dark patches. And the two chains of mountains of rose-coloured stone, that run parallel—on the east that of the desert of Arabia, on the west that of the Libyan desert—enclose, in the distance, this valley of the Nile, this land of plenty, which, alike in antiquity as in our days, has excited the greed of predatory races. The temple has also some underground dependencies or crypts into which you descend by staircases as of dungeons; sometimes even you have to crawl through holes to reach them. Long superposed galleries which might serve as hiding-places for treasure; long corridors recalling those which, in bad dreams, threaten to close in and bury you. And the innumerable figures, of course, are here too, gesticulating on the walls; and endless representations of the lovely goddess, whose swelling bosom, which has preserved almost intact the flesh colour applied in the times of the Ptolemies, we have perforce to graze as we pass.