The Landscape Guide

14.1 Birth of the Genius Loci

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The Genius Loci was, I suggest, born in the Nile valley during the Pre-Dynastic period. Lacking the sophistication of modern science, Egyptians characterised the forces of nature as gods: Amun-Re was the sun god, Nut the sky god, Geb the earth god, Min the fertility god, Ptah the creator. Osiris, the vegetation god, was associated with creation, death and resurrection. Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, was represented by a falcon and equated with the pharaoh. Buildings were designed with respect to the gods. Temples were aligned with one axis on the sun-path and another on ‘river north’. Mortuary temples were located on the side of the Nile over which the sun set. Hathor, symbolised by a cow, lived in the western mountain. The district was called Waset, after the sacred sceptre (was), and then Nowe (City of Amun) after its chief God:

Waset is the pattern for every city. Both the flood and the earth were in her from the beginning of time. The sands came to delimit her soil, to create her ground from the mound when earth came into being. Then mankind came into being within her. To found every city in her true name (The City), since all are called ‘city’ after the example of Waset.

Waset is now called Luxor. The Estate of Amun, surely the greatest work of landscape architecture in antiquity, joined the land of the living to the land of the dead. Boat-shrines crossed the Nile and were carried along processional routes into temple compounds. The Greeks also made sacred ways and temple compounds, though the extent of their debt to Egypt remains in dispute. Banister Fletcher accepted that ‘Greek culture naturally owed much to preceding civilisations’ but hastened to add that ‘Greece must be regarded as the veritable source of [all] literary and artistic inspiration’. Proponents of the Black Athena hypothesis trace many Greek ideas to Egypt, but they too have been challenged.