One of the most gratifying moments for me is when someone asks me about a particular element I use in a story. I’ve been asked to explain the time portal idea, and the use of Harrods Egyptian Escalator as some authentic detail when it is, in fact, quite modern.
Beautifully, there is a connection between the Harrods Egyptian Escalator and an ancient Temple of Hathor in Dendera, Egypt, pictured above. The Harrod’s ceiling features zodiac figures copied from the Dendera Zodiac, dating to around 50BC – the time of Cleopatra. You see, my story isn’t random.
And so the start of the Dendera thread begins over ten years ago, at Harrods. I must have been in the food halls (surprise!) when I decided it was time for some rose wafting, and by that I mean my never-ending obsession with rose perfumes. Suddenly, moving into what I thought would be a cut-through, I stepped inside a cavernous, dark Egyptian splendour-fest. I couldn’t help it – I rode to the top and back down again. I still love it. The bonus is that they have a lovely little No visit to Harrods is complete for me without a ride to the top to look at Leo!
The Egyptian Escalator is a zig-zag of moving staircases, dramatic landings that splinter off to a labyrinth of departments, balconies, sculpture and dramatic lighting that lead, eventually, to an even more dramatic ceiling. The top level also features a restaurant, with a small area just under the ceiling. Sitting out on the terrace balcony, just under the magnificent ceiling, feels at once intimate and inspiring… far-away. On Isabella’s first visit to London, I took her to Harrods for tea below my sweet inspiration. My guess is that Isabella thought I was outrageous with these random ideas, and when a server at Harrods cafe explained, ‘The escalators move at the same speed as the Nile flows,’ I nearly cried with joy. YES! The man who designed the entire hall intended the viewer to feel as if they were being transported up the Nile, below the stars, peering up at the sky through a golden frame of palm fronds to Orion’s Belt’s three stars and zodiac signs against a night blue sky.
It seems fitting that the host of England’s first ‘moving staircase’ back in 1898, should honour such a legacy with what is a very beautiful and moving space. Pardon the pun… but it really is magnificent and not to be missed at Harrods. Designed by William Mitchell, opened in 1998, and listed by English Heritage so that it may never be changed, the escalator experience is best explained by William Mitchell himself, from his own site about the escalators, who says the following about his creation:
“I intended the staircase to be a walk-in-sculpture, the viewer would be transported on the escalator, as if travelling from the Lower Nile to the Upper Nile. On arrival at the top of the escalator – the images above, on the ceiling, are of the night sky, with Zodiacal figures (adapted from the decorations at the Temple of Dendera) and the constellation in Orion, which the Ancient Egyptians used as a template for the overall plan at Giza.”
“So the position of the pyramids on earth in Egypt reflects the stars (Orion’s belt) in the night sky. These images are framed by a decorative frieze of palm fronds – giving the idea that we are the Ancients gazing through the greenery up at the mysterious ‘other world’ in the sky above.”
And this is where I decided to hide my time portal. The connection to Ancient Egypt was easy – the figures themselves were from the Dendera Zodiac. which I had seen at the Louvre.
Like many important artifacts, the Dendera Zodiac has been ‘relocated’ and a replica is installed at the original site at Dendera. These sorts of relocations are a source of ongoing controversy, with Egyptian authorities increasingly active in their efforts to repatriate their ancient historical treasures. So I hope this encourages people to learn more about these artifacts. Fun and important! Now, back to the original Dendera Zodiac…
For comparison, here are the original and replica zodiacs:
This round star map demonstrates the exquisite skill the ancient Egyptians had for measuring time and star movements. The cast of characters mapped out around the zodiac is massive, and we used the twelve signs of the Western zodiac to engage the time portal. This personalises our time portal – a slight twist on William Mitchell’s original idea. Amazing and magical!
As it so happens, there is a relief of Cleopatra with her son by Caesar, Caesarion, in a divine role, parallel to the facing reliefs of Isis and her divine son, Horus. Ancient Egyptian creation mythology includes a divine conception between Isis and her dead husband, Osiris. Thus, divine origin and lineage are established through mythology and invoked by royal persons in many instances over time to legitimise their power and succession.
Cleopatra was involved in the Dendera work, and the Dendera zodiac is estimated to have been made as early as 50BC. Given that she was active at this temple, taking my story there to meet her made perfect sense. Dendera, on the west bank of the Nile, approximately 60 kilometres north of Luxor, was an ancient capital city and is often associated with the goddess Hathor, and I knew this was the perfect ‘landing site’ for my Harrods Egyptian Escalator Ceiling Time Portal! Thank you, William Mitchell.
Isabella took photos on our Harrods mission and began sketching during our tea break, and I’m smitten with her artwork, which you can see here with Aquarius as the child’s star sign unlocking the time portal:
And here you can see the other side of this time portal in Sagittarius, in 50BC Dendera:
Using this link, between the figures in the Harrods ceiling and Cleopatra, I knew I wanted to play with the Nile theme, work in some King Tut, the Sphinx and the Pyramids. The Nile River cruise was a fun way to do it. Isabella illustrated this night-to-day scene so beautifully, it was difficult to deface it with words. My favourite character, Little Tut, appears for a quick game of Hide-and-Seek, and I introduced yet another historically accurate fact: the obelisk now known as London’s Cleopatra’s Needle was standing at Heliopolis (a suburb of modern day Cairo) alongside its twin (now in New York City) in 50BC, precisely when the story takes place. Now at the edge of the Thames in London, not quite opposite the London Eye.
Next was to look at a map and get the storyline to Alexandria, and the Nile River, also a key theme of Mitchell’s design, provided the perfect route. Flowing north from Dendera, past the Giza Plateau, with the Sphinx and the pyramids gave Isabella the idea to do a night-to-day map view of the Nile River cruise. Beautiful.
Nile River cruise artwork:
“Cleopatra’s ships sailed swiftly up the flowing Nile…”
and off to Alexandria, where the child in the book receives a flying carpet from Cleopatra. The flying carpet is an ancient legend based on supposed secret knowledge of using special clay in the rug’s dying process to give it anti-magnetic properties, thus enabling it to hover. Here is some fun reading on the history of flying carpets.
“Ben Sherira writes that the great library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, kept a large stock of flying carpets for its readers. They could borrow these carpets in exchange for their slippers, to glide back and forth, up and down, among the shelves of papyrus manuscripts.
The library was housed in a ziggurat that contained forty thousand scrolls of such antiquity that they had been transcribed by three hundred generations of scribes, many of whom did not understand the dead alphabet that they bore. The ceiling of this building was so high that readers often preferred to read while hovering in the air. The manuscripts were so numerous that it was said that not even a thousand men reading them day and night for fifty years could read them all.”
-from The Wizard’s Thatch Academy article, The Secret History of Flying Carpets.
In our case, the flying carpet can also allow its rider to time travel!