Egypt: Luxor & Karnak

Jocelyn Murray February 28, 2014 No Comments

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A seated statue of Ramesses II at the Luxor Temple

It has been said that Egypt was ancient to the ancients. This is not surprising, for when the Greeks and Romans visited Egypt, they discovered a civilization whose imposing stone relics dwarfed their own mighty structures. Things like the Great Pyramid of Giza, the towering obelisks, the enigmatic Sphinx, and the many mysterious hieroglyphics carved into the walls of temples are truly impressive.

The cities of Luxor and Karnak were once part of the ancient city of Thebes which was the seat of power of many pharaohs. Its monuments and temples have drawn countless tourists throughout time, wishing to explore its vast wonders.

 

Sightseeing Highlights

 

The illuminated ruins make a splendid sight

Luxor has been called the “world’s greatest open air museum” with good reason. Its ruins have beckoned many thousands of visitors who want to glimpse the immense monuments, temples and tombs built to honor their gods and kings in everlasting splendor. The ruins inspire a certain reverence and awe, and one cannot help wondering what it must have been like at the height of its glory. The very same sun that shone down upon the ancients continues to shine upon the relics today. The thought alone is thrilling.

 

Luxor Temple Complex

 

Pylon and obelisk at Luxor temple
© Ad Meskens / cc-by-sa 3.0

This spectacular temple complex was largely dedicated to the Theban Triad which honored the god Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. Its pylon entrance is flanked by an obelisk (the second obelisk is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris) and seated statues of Ramses II guarding the gateway. The relics of the avenue of human-headed androsphinxes lead to the entrance, followed by several courts, colonnades and hypostyle hall whose columns leave onlookers speechless by their immense grandeur.

 

Courtyard at Luxor Temple

One can almost imagine what it might have looked like in its heyday with colorful paintings and hieroglyphs inscribed into the stone. It must have been dizzying in its colossal magnificence, especially during festivals when the air was redolent of fragrant incense, with music and chanting filling the space with a godly aura that sent the spirit soaring above the monuments’ lofty heights. Such exquisite splendor must have dazzled the ancient Egyptians, because they certainly continue to do so today.

 

Luxor Museum

 

Exterior view of the Luxor Museum

The Luxor Museum houses a variety of artifacts including the royal mummies of Ahmose I and Ramesses I, statues dating back to the New Kingdom, and many objects from the tomb of King Tutankhamun. The selected items are arranged in an open and uncluttered manner, making their viewing more enjoyable.

 

Mummification Museum

 

Amulets like this scarab were buried with the dead to offer protection from evil

Who has not been captivated by mummies portrayed in literature, film and art? Anyone interested in mummies can visit this museum where one can learn all about the embalming process, materials and techniques used, and all the tools and accoutrements deemed necessary in the afterlife that were buried with the dead. Canopic jars used for the storing of internal organs, amulets believed to ward away evil, and ushabti figurines can be viewed here as well. Mummified animals are also on display in this very informative museum.

 

 

Karnak Temple Complex

 

Section of the great hypostyle hall at Karnak

Like Luxor, Karnak was part of ancient Thebes. The temple complex at Karnak is the largest of its kind in the world, and lures visitors with its sanctuaries, pylons, temples and other structures that stand dignified under the Egyptian sun. The religious prominence of Thebes is evident in the monuments here and include shrines and temples dedicated to the Theban Triad. Other temples include the Temple of Ptah, the Temple of Montho, and the Temple of the Osiris, but the largest of the precincts was built in honor of Amun (also known as Amun-Re).

Ram-headed sphinxes
cc-by 2.5 / Steve F. E. Cameron

A ram-headed avenue of criosphinxes leads up to the Temple of Amun-Re. Its forest of columns in the hypostyle hall dwarf the people who walk where only priests were once allowed. Walls throughout the complex are decorated in high relief scenes depicting offerings to the gods.

 

Valley of the
Kings & Valley of the Queens

 

Descending corridor within the tomb of Twosret and Setnakhte

The ancient Egyptians buried their dead on the western bank of the Nile because of the setting sun’s route across the sky and on through the underworld, which would transport the dead to eternal life. Funeral processions began on the eastern bank, where a funeral barge carried the mummified body of the deceased inside a sarcophagus across the Nile to the western bank, and then to the stone necropolis that was carved into the limestone and sedimentary rock of the desert.

 

Stone sarcophagus of Pharaoh Merenptah
cc-by-sa / Hajor

The Valley of the Kings (also known as Biban El Moluk) consists of over 60 burial chambers and tombs whose eminent occupants included powerful pharaohs, royals and other nobility. The Valley of the Queens has over 70 tombs which are the resting places for the wives and family members of the pharaohs. Notable tombs include that of Ramesses III, Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bari, and Amenhotep II. Unlike the pyramids of earlier dynasties, these rock-cut tombs were believed to be more secure against robbers, though time has since proven that both were just as vulnerable to raiding. While most of the tombs are closed to the public, tourists usually visit the main valley, including those flocking from the popular Nile cruises.

 

 

Deir el-Bahari

 

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari
cc-by-sa 2.0 / Dan Lundberg

Deir el-Bahari also sits across from Luxor on the western bank of the Nile River next to the Valley of the Kings. It is the site of tombs including that of Mentuhotep II of the Eleventh Dynasty, Thutmose III’s temple complex built in honor of Amun, and the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Her temple is a colonnaded masterpiece that was once graced by courtyards and terraced gardens. It is built right into the cliffs, and shines brilliantly in the sunlight, making a splendid sight for visiting tourists.

 

Colossi of Memnon

 

Colossi of Memnon
cc-by-3.0 / Than217

The Colossi of Memnon are twin towering statues about 60 feet tall, once having guarded the now-ruined Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. Both statues belong to Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and are located in the Theban necropolis across from Luxor on the Nile’s western bank. Although the quartzite sandstone blocks out of which they are carved are quite damaged, they remain stunning nevertheless.

 

A Timeless Legacy

 

Granite obelisk at Luxor

There is nothing quite like the splendid ruins of ancient Egypt. The vestiges of this mighty civilization continue to draw visitors who are captivated by its relics. It is easy to see how the Greeks and Romans of antiquity were smitten by this land.

Luxor makes for one of the most intriguing sites for visitors to view a wonderful array of temples and monuments built to honor Egypt’s kings and gods with an everlasting zeal carved in stone.

The best times of year to visit Egypt are in the spring from February-April, and fall from September-November in order to avoid the muggy heat of the summer months, and the crowds of the winter holidays.

One of the best ways to tour the area is by taking a cruise on the Nile, where visitors can—if only in the imagination—float back in time along the same route traveled by the great pharaohs of old. And in doing so, observe the very same sun as it travels across the sky, and continues to shine upon the ruins that have retained their immense and timeless opulence throughout the millennia.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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