Luxor is one of the world’s greatest temple complexes and cities, and a popular tourist destination for a very good reason. Luxor goes by many names, and to many civilizations, it represented something different yet entirely grand. But it never strayed from its original purpose – it always remained a worshipping ground. It is one of the most preserved ancient monuments.
The Land Before Temple Time
The ancient Egyptians called this place Waser, and the Greeks know it as the famous Thebes. But there were people long before Luxor, Waser or Thebes, since there is evidence that shows signs of habitats going back as far as 250.000 years. Sources state that what we now call Luxor, was an administration center for the local province during the Old Kingdom periods.
Thebes, also called the City of 100 Gates, it was the ancient capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom period.
Luxor was also the city of Amun, a ruler who would later be known as the famous Egyptian god Amun-Ra. Luxor’s name originates from the Arabic word al-quṣūr, which literally means: the palaces. Nowadays, it is popularly characterized as the “world’s greatest open-air museum”, located on East Nile’s left bank in the Upper Egypt.
Luxor: the Beginnings
The temple itself dates from the 1392 BC. Luxor’s foundations were laid by Amenhotep III, but it was the famous Tutankhamun and Horemheb who finished it after his demise. Ramses II added his touch as well and built on it further, just like all the other pharaohs of the time did. Even an outsider, the conqueror Alexander the Great found its place at the temple Luxor. Towards the temple’s rear lies a granite shrine dedicated to his honor.
When Amenhotep started to build the temple, he probably didn’t realize how much work it would take to complete it, since ultimately it was done in three long phases. As a religious place of worship, and being built after the Amon’s rule, who, as we already said, became a deity, Luxor was dedicated to the king of the gods – Amon-Ra.
The ancient town of Luxor was one of the most famous towns in the entire realm, and its population between 1500 and 100 BC was estimated to be around 50.000 people. That was almost a record at the time. Luxor temple and all its vast surrounding areas represent the wealthiest heritage site in the entire world, as well as one of the largest ones with still intact reliefs and carvings.
Luxor, Karnak and the Opet Festival
Just like all other temples built during the times of the New Kingdom, Luxor was also a place for worship, and it was specifically built for the Egyptian Opet Festival. It is an annual celebration where the statues of gods Amon, his wife Mut, and Khonsu, their child, were followed by a large procession., and it was held usually in the season when the Nile flooded. When talking about Luxor, we simply cannot miss mentioning Karnak temple, because these two worshipping grounds are connected with a two-mile long avenue comprised of 700 sandstone sphinxes. This Avenue of the Sphynxes was built by the sovereigns of the 30th Dynasty who had humanized their features, by giving them the resemblance of a human head.
So, the procession started at Amun’s temple in Karnak, and went through the Avenue all the way to Luxor temple. This religious ceremony was about rebirth, marriage and fertility. Usually, the king was always re-coronated to fortify his claim to the throne and his rule. The festival lasted anywhere from 11 days to almost an entire month.
The Great Divine
So how does this divine beauty look? It is built like other temples in the era of New Kingdom, but the importance of the location and its size is what sets it apart. During its high, not many had the chance to witness its glory – only chosen few could enter the temple. Mud walls were built around it so that they would clearly separate the commoners from the divine. At the time, only the pharaoh, the priests, and few selected officials could dwell in Luxor’s sacred chambers. It was, after all, a house of the gods’ king.
As with all the temples of that time, the entrance to Luxor as well begins with a pylon. A pylon is a “gate” leading into the temple’s courtyard. This Great Pylon of Ramses II is ornamented with two statues of Ramses II himself, sitting at the entrance. During its prime, here were 6 statues altogether, but only these 2 remained. There were two obelisks here too, but only one stood the test of time to this day, and stayed where it belongs. The other 25-meter giant is a resident of Paris since 1833, now living in the Place de Concorde. An obelisk is a tall column made of stone, which formed a pyramid shape at the top. On it one can find various reliefs depicting accomplishments of the pharaoh who is in charge of its building.
Once you pass the pylon and the obelisk(s), you will arrive at the outer courtyard of Ramses II. There can be found a shrine dedicated to Thutmosis III. Many temples at the time contained at least one courtyard, where some had multiple. They were the perfect place for displaying statues of past and present pharaohs.
Fun Fact: The Temple of Luxor was lost under the Luxor city Streets, and laid buried there for more than 1000 years. It was discovered during the ground breaking for the mosque when people found it underneath.
Luxor has another courtyard, the Amenhotep III court, connected to the Ramses II courtyard by a hallway of columns called the colonnade. These columns depicted papyrus buds, as did most of the columns in this type of architecture. Usually, it was papyrus, but other plants and herbs found its way on them too, especially ones that were blossoming next to the Nile. The Luxor temple was constructed out of Nubian sandstone blocks, from the southwest Egypt.
Luxor also contains a Sanctuary, built by Alexander the Great, vestibule, “Sancta Sanctorum”, hypostyle hall decorated by Tutankhamen and Horemheb.
Luxor Temple in Numbers
- 2623 slaves worked on building the temple.
- 260 meters long
- $2.2 million dollars was spent on restoration in the 90’ies
- 65 meters is the width of the Ramses II Pylon, and it stands 24 meters tall.
- 1393 BC was estimated as its date of origin