Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes, seat of the spiritual life of ancient Egypt. It is therefore hardly surprising that the area of and surrounding Luxor is amongst the most densely populated with temples, tombs and monuments. These treasures are divided between the valleys of the dead on Luxor’s West Bank where the sun sets, and the East Bank of Luxor, where the sun rises and we find the all important temples of Luxor and Karnak.
Karnak was the earthly dwelling of the sun god Amun-Re, the most important spiritual site in all of ancient Egypt and consisted of shrines, obelisks and temples. Huge does not even begin to describe the scale of Karnak. This site took hundreds of years to build and refine from the time of the Middle Kingdom (about 2000 BCE) into the Ptolemaic Kingdom (about 300 BCE), with around thirty Pharaohs contributing to the build. Because of the period of time over which it was built, the variety and diversity of archeological remains at Karnak is quite simply unparalleled. One of the highlights of a visit is the Great Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re, the hall is 5000 squ m in size and contains 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. Most of these columns are a mere ten metres in height, with a minority towering to 21 metres. The stone architraves which lie on top of the columns are estimated to weigh 70 tons. As with the pyramids, we simply do not know how this construction feat was achieved in pre-technical times.
The temple of Luxor dates to 1400 BCE and is smaller than that at Karnak and was intended for priests rather than the general public. This is also the site where kings were crowned (Alexander the Great claimed to have been crowned at Luxor, but in fact it is unlikely he travelled this far South). The temple is flanked by two seated statues and a pinkish coloured granite obelisk. As with Karnak, just how these obelisks were created in ancient times is beyond the imagination, the huge structures were capped with precious metals to capture the light so everyone could find their way to the temples, and were signs of fertility and prosperity (there is no denying their phallic nature!). Luxor’s missing obelisk can be found at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The temple of Luxor is beautifully lit at night and can be visited in the early evening for an atmospheric tour.
The temples of Karnak and Luxor are joined by an extraordinary avenue lined with sphinxes, which has recently been restored by the Egyptian authorities. The temples can be visited at night as well as day, where they are beautifully lit.