Luxor is located in the south of Upper Egypt, on the east bank of the Nile River and part of the ancient city of Thebes. Luxor was considered to be a very important city during the old kingdom and the capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom.
Thebes was one of the famed cities of antiquity, the capital of the ancient Egyptian empire at its heyday, Thebes was also knowned as the “City of Amon”, named for its chief god.
The 18th-dynasty pharaohs rebuilt it and made it their capital, embellishing its temples with the spoils of Asia and the tribute of Nubia. During the 15th century BCE great palaces, brightly painted and surrounded with gardens, rose on either bank of the river.
The pharaohs of the New Kingdom vied with each other in building great temples on the east bank and even larger mortuary temples on the west.
The pinnacle of Theban prosperity was reached in the 14th century BC during the reign of Amenhotep III much of whose vast wealth from foreign tributes was poured into the temples of Amun, and later with Tutankhamen and especially under the reign of Ramses II that built The Ramesseum, or mortuary temple of Ramses II the Great, and the hypostyle hall in the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, a real masterpiece.
The Thebes area that include the Temple of Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and Great Temple at Karnak, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
The Great Luxor Temple
The Great Luxor Temple as known as the southern sanctuary was built in 1400 BCE and is one of the oldest and most marvelous temples in Luxor which was dedicated to the Theban Triad: Amon, king of the gods, his consort Mut, and their son Khons.
Commissioned by King Amenhotep III of the late 18th dynasty, the temple was built close to the Nile River and parallel with the bank and an avenue of sphinxes connected it to the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak.
The complex has four main temples: Amenhotep Temple, Seti I Temple, the Temple of Ramses II, and the Temple of Ramses III.
The most striking feature of the temple is a majestic colonnade of 14 pillars, 16 meters high, this colonnade, which also has papyrus-umbel capitals, may have been intended for the central nave of a hypostyle hall similar to that at Karnak, but the side aisles were not built; instead, enclosing walls were built down either side.
Ramses II added an outer court, decorated with colossal statues of himself between the pillars of a double colonnade, and a lofty pylon on which he depicted festival scenes and episodes from his wars in Syria.
In front of the pylon were colossal statues of the pharaoh and a pair of obelisks, one of which still stands; the other was removed in 1831 and re erected in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
The Temple at Karnak
Karnak, the largest temple complex in Egypt, and one of the largest in the world, is divided into three compounds: the precinct of Amun, the precinct of Mut, and the precinct of Montu.
The height of its importance was during the New Kingdom and during the reigns of famous pharaohs such as Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III, Seti I and Ramesses II that all contributed significant additions to the complex.
The most northerly district is characterized by the Temple of Mont, the war god, of which little now remains but the foundations; the southern district, which has a horseshoe-shaped sacred lake, was devoted to the goddess Mut, wife of Amon; both temples were built during the reign of Amenhotep III.
Between these two districts lay the precinct of Amon; the complex was added to and altered at many periods, it has been called a great historical document in stone: in it are reflected the fluctuating fortunes of the Egyptian empire.
There are no fewer than 10 pylons, separated by courts and hall, these pylons would function as gateways of sorts; they were connected to each other through a network of decorated walls.
The Pylons were often decorated with scenes depicting the ruler who built them.
An avenue of ram-headed Sphinxes leads to the first pylon; the ram head symbolizing to god Amun, there are 20 rams on each side, it was built to protect the temple.
The first Pylon is the main entrance to the temple and the last building at Karnak.
Thutmose I built a temple with a stone wall and fronted it with two pylons erecting two obelisks in front of the new temple facade.
His son, Thutmose II, added a broad festival court in front of the enlarged temple as well as another pair of obelisks.
Hatshepsut add shrines as well as two additional pairs of obelisks.
In the reign of Thutmose III the temple was greatly enlarged; not only did he add to the existing structures and add a pylon (the sixth) and pillared courts containing halls in which he inscribed the annals of his campaigns, but he also built a transverse temple in the form of a jubilee pavilion.
The most striking feature of the temple at Karnak is the hypostyle hall, which occupies the space between the third and second pylons. The area of this vast hall, one of the wonders of antiquity, is about 5,000 square metres. It was decorated by Seti I and Ramses II to whom much of the construction must be due.
Twelve enormous columns, nearly 24 metres high, supported the roofing slabs of the central nave; seven lateral aisles on either side brought the number of pillars to 134.
The Great Hypostyle Hall is the most fashinating building at Karnak; it 103m in length and 52m in width, it consists of 134 gigantic stone columns, there are the largest 12 columns which 3.5 meters in diameter, an architectural miracle.
Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings, also called Valley of the Tombs of the Kings is a long narrow defile just west of the Nile River in Upper Egypt; it was part of the ancient city of Thebes and was the burial site of almost all the pharaohs of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties.
The plan of the tombs varies considerably but consists essentially of a descending corridor interrupted by deep shafts to baffle robbers and by pillared chambers or vestibules. At the farther end of the corridor is a burial chamber with a stone sarcophagus in which the royal mummy was laid
The walls were in many cases covered with sculptured and painted scenes depicting the dead king in the presence of deities.
Valley of the Queens
Valley of the Queens, also called Valley of the Tombs of the Queens, is a gorge in the hills along the western bank of the Nile River in Upper Egypt; it was part of ancient Thebes and served as the burial site of the queens and some royal children of the 19th and 20th dynasties.
There are more than 90 known tombs in this necropolis, usually consisting of an entrance passage, a few short halls, and a sarcophagus chamber.
Other important archaeological sites
The temple of Hatshepsut
The temple of Hatshepsut at Dayr al-Baḥrī is the earliest large 18th-dynasty structure to survive and one of the most impressive.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and was married to Thutmose II that died while Thutmose III was still a child and so Hatshepsut became regent, controlling the affairs of state until her son came of age; though, in the seventh year of her regency,, she broke with tradition and had herself crowned pharaoh of Egypt.
Hatshepsut commissioned her mortuary temple at some point soon after coming to power in 1479 BCE and had it designed to tell the story of her life and reign and surpass any other in elegance and grandeur.
Colossi of Memnon
The mortuary temple of Amenhotep III must have been the largest and most splendid of all the Theban temples. It was, however, almost completely demolished by later pharaohs, and all that is left today are a few foundations, a huge stela 10 meters high, and the two great statues known as the Colossi of Memnon, which once flanked the gateway in front of the temple pylon but now sit like lonely sentinels in the desert.
The Ramesseum, or mortuary temple of Ramses II the Great, though much ruined, retains some of its ancient grandeur. The wide outer pylon is decorated with vigorous scenes of the king’s wars against the Hittites in Syria, and the inner pylon has episodes from the Battle of Kadesh
The hypostyle hall beyond the second court is similar in design to that of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak.
In ancient Egypt there were other great cities, but none that has left so great a legacy to posterity. The great temples of Thebes with their historical scenes and inscriptions, the tombs with their wealth of illustration of daily life and religious belief, have contributed to the store of knowledge about early civilizations of ancient Thebes.