The Luxor area of Upper Egypt was the Thebes of the ancient Egyptians – the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Today it is famous for its temples and the nearby Valley of the Kings.
On the east bank is the modern town of Luxor. Running alongside part of the river bank and separated from it by the corniche is Luxor Temple. Modified over many centuries, its main pylons, or gates, are on the northern end. In front of them is one obelisk – its companion was given to France and taken to Paris where it was erected in Place de la Concorde on 25 October 1836.
Just south of the temple is the Old Winter Palace Hotel – used early this century by Lord Carnarvon as work proceeded on West Bank excavations and preliminary work on the tomb of Tutankhamun.
At the northern end of town is the sprawling Karnak complex of temples built over a span of about 1,500 years. It is famous for its main Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns. One can wander for hours amongst the ruins. Starting at the first pylon, one walks back through time to the earlier constructions toward the rear.
About halfway between Luxor and Karnak temples is located the Luxor Museum – one of the best in Egypt.
|The West Bank was the domain of the deceased and it is dominated by mortuary temples and hundreds of tombs.|
The major temples include the Ramesseum – the famous mortuary temple of 19th-dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II. Walking amongst its ruins evokes a special feeling and the fallen colossus shows how even the mighty have fallen. This was the site from which Belzoni removed the famous bust now in the British Museum. Belzoni’s signature can still be found carved in stone in a couple of places within the Ramesseum, along with those of other well-known personalities of 19th-century Egypt.
Stories of the Ramesseum and the display of the enormous bust of Ramesses II in the British Museum moved the 19th-century English poet Shelley to write “Ozymandias”:
|I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Medinet Habu was Ramesses III’s attempt to copy his ancestor. The complex was added to over the centuries following, but it is most impressive and shouldn’t be missed. The artisans from the nearby town of Deir el-Medina moved in to the compound when things got unsafe and the construction of Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings came to a halt.
The mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty Queen Hatshepsut is a masterpiece of design and has been under restoration for about a century. It is built into a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs and does not look out of place in the 20th century, even though it was constructed during the early 15th century BC.
|The mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty Queen Hatshepsut is a masterpiece of design and has been under restoration for about a century.It is built into a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs and does not look out of place in the 20th century, even though it was constructed during the early 15th century BC.|
Most famous of all on the West Bank is the Valley of the Kings. Although its modern paths detract a little from its atmosphere, it is still possible to feel the link to the distant past – especially when most of the tourists have left earlier in the day.
Tutankhamun’s tomb is one everyone wants to visit – and should if possible – just to appreciate how small was the area that contained the riches now partly on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
However, there are many other more impressive tombs. There is no guarantee which ones will be open during a visit, but try to see those belonging to Thutmose III (the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt), Ramesses III, IV and VI, and Horemheb. That of Horemheb contains examples of how workmen created wall reliefs. The tomb of Seti I is a masterpiece, but structural problems keep it closed these days.