Luxor (in Arabic: الأقصر al-Uqṣur) is a city in Upper (southern) Egypt at the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes and has frequently been characterised as the “world’s greatest open air museum” because the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor sit within the modern city. Across the Nile River, lie the monuments, temples and tombs on the West Bank Necropolis, which include the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes, the great capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom, and the glorious city of the God Amon Ra. The city was regarded in the Ancient Egyptian texts as T-APT (meaning “the shrine”) and then, in a later period, the Greeks called it tea pie, which the Arabs later pronounced as Thebes. The main local god was the God Amon Ra, who was worshipped with his wife, the Goddess Mutt, and their son, the God Khonsou, the God of the moon. Thebes was also known as “the city of the 100 gates”, sometimes being called the southern city, to distinguish it from Memphis, the early capital of the Old Kingdom.
Personally, I found Luxor a much more interesting and enjoyable city to visit than Giza. However, the weather can be a scorcher and we picked the “low season” of summer when it was as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit!
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings (Arabic: وادي الملوك Wadi Biban el-Muluk; “Gates of the King”) is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt). The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, across from Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis. The wadi consists of two valleys, East Valley (where the majority of the royal tombs situated) and West Valley.
With the 2005 discovery of a new chamber, and the 2008 discovery of 2 further tomb entrances, the valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers), and was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, together with those of a number privileged nobles. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. All of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the rulers of this time.
The area has been a focus of concentrated archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the eighteenth century, and its tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (with its rumors of the Curse of the Pharaohs), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis. Exploration, excavation and conservation continues in the valley, and a new tourist centre has recently been opened.
The Egyptian belief that “To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again” is certainly alive and well in the building of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The king’s formal names and titles are inscribed in his tomb along with his images and statues. Beginning with the 18th Dynasty and ending with the 20th, the kings abandoned the Memphis area and built their tombs in Thebes (aka Luxor). Also abandoned were the pyramid style tombs because after the fact they realized these were in effect large “ROB ME” signs.
Most of the tombs were cut into the limestone following a similar pattern: three corridors, an antechamber and a sunken sarcophagus chamber. These catacombs were harder to rob and were more easily concealed. Construction usually lasted six years beginning with a new reign. The text in the tombs is from the Book of the Dead, the Book of the Gates and the Book of the Underworld.
Tomb of King Tut
Of all the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the most famous is Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The boy king died in his late teens and remained at rest in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings for over 3,300 years. All that changed in November 1922 when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered by the British Egyptologist Howard Carter who was excavating on behalf of his patron Lord Carnarvon. Carter had been searching for the tomb for a number of years and Carnarvon had decided that enough time and money had been expended with little return. However, Carter managed to persuade his patron to fund one more season and within days of resuming the tomb was found. Today the tomb still contains the pharaoh’s remains and he is the only one still residing in the Valley of the Kings (as far as we know!). The tomb itself is very small and appears to have been destined for someone of lesser importance. However, his unexpected demise saw the tomb’s rushed modification to accommodate the pharaoh.
The only part of the complex that contains wall paintings is the Burial Chamber. It contained four guilded shrines nestled one inside one another. The innermost of these covered a stone sarcophagus. Inside that were three coffins the innermost being made of 110 kg of solid gold. Inside that lay the pharaoh wearing his famous gold mask.
Adjacent to the Burial Chamber was the Treasury which was home to much of the supporting equipment for Tutankhamun’s afterlife. It contained a dazzling array of boats, gilded figures and the canopic chest within which were various internal organs belonging to the ancient king. Gathered around the chest in their protective stance were four beautiful gilded figures of goddesses. Just inside the entrance to the room was the protective black figure of Anubis in the form of a recumbant jackal.
The Antechamber contained dismantled chariots, containers of food, various funeral couches, thrones and two black guardian figures at the entrance of the Burial Chamber. It was this area that was first seen when Carter made a hole in the blocked-off far end of the entry passage. Carter had concluded that the tomb had been broken into on two occasions soon after the pharaoh was buried. Fortunately, the tomb raiders did not get away with too much and most of Tutankhamun’s treasures can be seen at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
The mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut is one of the most dramatically situated in the world. The queen’s architect, Senenmut, designed it and set it at the head of a valley overshadowed by the Peak of the Thebes, the “Lover of Silence”, where lived the goddess who presided over the necropolis.
A tree lined avenue of sphinxes led up to the temple and ramps led from terrace to terrace. The porticoes on the lowest terrace are out of proportion and coloring with the rest of the building. They were restored in 1906 to protected the reliefs depicting the transport of obelisks by barge to Karnak and the miraculous birth of Queen Hatshepsut.
Reliefs on the south side of the middle terrace show the queen’s expedition by way of the Red Sea to Punt, the land of incense. Along the front of the upper terrace, a line of large, gently smiling Osirid statues of the queen looked out over the valley. In the shade of the colonade, brightly painted reliefs decorated the walls. Throughout the temple, statues and sphinxes of the queen proliferate. Many of them have been reconstructed.
Temple of Karnak
It is the largest temple complex ever built by man and represents the combined achievements of many generations of ancient builders. The Temple of Karnak is actually three main temples, smaller enclosed temples and several outer temples located about 3 km north of Luxor. Karnak is actually the site’s modern name. Its ancient name was Ipet-isut meaning the Most Select or Sacred of Places.
The complex is a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. It is probably the second most visited historical site in Egypt, second only to the Giza Pyramids near Cairo. It consists of four main parts (precincts), of which only the largest, the Precinct of Amun-Re, is open to the general public.
The term Karnak is often understood as being the Precinct of Amun-Re only, as this is the only part most visitors normally see. The three other parts, the Precinct of Montu, the Precinct of Mut and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV, are closed to the public. There also are a few smaller temples and sanctuaries located outside the enclosing walls of the four main parts, as well as several avenues of human and ram-headed sphinxes connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amon-Re, and Luxor Temple.
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction work began in the 16th century BC. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued through to Ptolemaic times.
Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the River Nile and was founded in 1400 BC as a dedication to the great god Amun-Ra, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu (the moon god) together representing the Theban triad.
The temple was built on the site of a probably smaller Middle Kingdom structure for the god Amun, while the earliest parts of the temple seen today date from the 14th century BC and the time of Amenhotep III (the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom).
Interestingly the temple has appeared in several movies including the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me” and the 1978 Agatha Christie film, “Death on the Nile”.
During our trip to Luxor we visited a tourist shop which was reknowned for their alabaster products. I took a short video of their demonstration.