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Published: October 28th 2019
With our departure from Egypt approaching much too fast, our last day in Luxor had the third of my trip highlights, a visit to the Temple of Karnak. The granddaddy of all Egyptian temples, the one that was added on for over 2,000 years.
The visit was bittersweet. It is without a doubt an awe inspiring sight, but it's also heartbreaking to see how much of it is damaged or entirely missing. After our visit I told Amr Hassan, our Tour Director, that I wanted a time machine, and I was sincere. To have seen this monument in its heyday must have been an incredible experience.
The largest religious building ever made, the area of the sacred enclosure of Amun alone could hold ten average European cathedrals. The great temple at the heart of Karnak is so big that St. Peter's, MIlan, and Notre Dame Cathedrals would fit within its walls.
The Hypostyle hall at 54,000 square feet and featuring 134 columns is still the largest room of any religious building in the world!
Needless to say, this visit was a highlight of the trip. The scale is so enormous, and even the hieroglyphs were mostly oversized.
Temple of Karnak
Scale map of the temple.
I know a lot of reconstruction is ongoing, and I hope in the next few years additional areas currently ruined will be restored to a semblance of their previous glory. But I also know that a problem with restoring some of the areas is that Pharaohs would tear down and repurpose predecessors' monuments to build their own so the writing in the scattered blocks of stone are hard to fit together.
I completely lost my sense of direction inside the temple. Many of the pylons are almost unrecognizable and some areas are mostly rubble. It has been hard to pinpoint just exactly where inside the temple a particular photo was taken, except for the obvious ones. I saw some of my travel companions taking video. Maybe for places of this scope, a video with narrative would be helpful next time.
After our visit to Karnak we moved to the Luxor Temple, smaller but very beautiful.
We were told that the avenue of sphinxes that once linked the two temples is going to be restored. I am assuming the main portion of the sphinxes will be replicas but still, it would be amazing to stroll between the two
temples.The whole Corniche is being renovated and beautified. We walked through much construction and dust back and forth between the ship and the street, much to the exasperation of Amr and, specially, the hard work of those handling our luggage, but I'm sure it will be really beautiful when it's finished.
This time we rode. The temple is very close to the street, and parallel to the riverbank.
The temple was built between 1390-52 BC, but it was completed by Tutankhamun and Horemheb (who usurped most of King Tut's work) and then added to by Ramses II. Toward the rear of the temple there is even a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great.
This temple, like most others, saw its hypostyle hall converted into a Christian church. Eventually, while the temple was buried, the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it. The mosque was preserved when the temple was uncovered and it's still part of the site.
For me, the fact that Tutankhamun was involved in the construction of this temple made it special. I enjoyed this temple very much.
On our way back to the ship, our last stop
was at a papyrus shop. There, we were given a demonstration of how it's made and then had time to view a display of art works. I decided to buy a modest reproduction of a hunting scene with Tutankhamun and his wife. It's orange tones go well in my bedroom.
Here, once again, I was surprised by one of those gestures of generosity. I was admiring a drawing of the goddess Bastet in her cat form and the salesman handed it to me as a gift. I was thrilled! It's a beautiful small picture that goes perfect in my living room.
Did the Egyptians came up with the concept of lagniappe that we are so accustomed to here in New Orleans?
It's funny that I, a person who feels total indifference verging on aversion towards cats, ended up coming home from Egypt with both a statuette and a painting of a cat!
To complete our visit to Luxor, we had chosen to attend the Sound & Light at Karnak that evening. About an hour in length, the show encompasses a walk through the temple as different areas are lit up to lead the way and you
Temple of Karnak
Approaching the first pylon, the last to be built at Karnak and is the main entrance to the temple.
listen to the voices of the various Pharaohs tell you about their contributions. Then the second part of the show tells the history of the temple and its constructions, and meaning. It was very interesting, and the sight of some of the play of lights was beautiful.
As a bonus, we got to drive past the Luxor Temple on our way to the show, and got to admire it lit up for night tours. It's the only temple that it's open at night. I wish I'd had the opportunity to go back for a second visit at night. I'm sure it would be unforgettable.
All in all, the visit to Luxor was memorable. I hope to be able to return some day and, hopefully, spend more time there seeing many of the additional ancient treasures in the area.
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