When I was 16, my first vacation to Europe surprised me. But at the end of the trip for a long time to stay with me rather than the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace or canals of Venice, but ordinary aspects of life: the locals take for granted the things: road marking and the color of the logo, posters, a local snack food in the shop window, and the place of the sound and the smell of the most important.
I have a passion for Ancient Egypt. As a teen I couldn’t get my hands on enough books about the ancient civilization. I taught myself to read basic hieroglyphics, I studied the names of all the gods, and I even determined to one day move to Egypt and restore the Pharaonic dynasties of yesteryear. My dream of becoming the next King of Egypt didn’t came to pass, but I never lost my fascination for the place. I am ashamed to admit that I have still yet to visit.
If you have been to a Catholic Church you probably know the scent of frankincense and myrrh for they are the main ingredients in the most commonly used Church incense. The Ancient Egyptians used the same resins in their temples, so it was the penetrating scent of incense that most likely met you upon entering the place. And again, like our own Churches, the Egyptians filled theirs with flowers. The most common were lotus blossoms and other marsh plants and reeds. The scent of the lotus is extremely sweet—like fruit. And while that sickly-sweetness would have dominated, the dank marsh plants would have added an underlying scent of water and dirt. Other scented flowers present would have been jasmine with its hypnotic fecal odor of indole, sweet blossoming roses, and the intense scent of fresh mandrake, redolent of dried tobacco.
The next likely odor of the temple would be that of food: offerings to the pantheon of gods. Commonly these were freshly baked bread and roasted meats. At this point you can imagine that the temple would have something of the scent of Christmastime in a modern country village! At some times of the year, milk, herbs, and vegetables were offered and after a short time these would have lent a faintly sour and rotten scent to the whole.
How more perfect a conglomeration of smells could there be? All the odiferous elements of life united in one place. Combine with that the solemn chanting of ancient priests, the distant sounds of exotic animals kept as pets, and the musical instruments of street beggars and a truly marvelous vision of life in Ancient Egypt emerges.