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Published: January 6th 2008
Luxor Temple at nightThe photo above shows the First Pylon at Karnak Temple
Luxor Temple is beautifully lit at night so it's worth visiting the site at sunset. The gateway is flanked by massive pylons, one obelisk and two enthroned colossi of Ramses II
As soon as I stepped off the plane at Luxor airport I realised that late November is an ideal time to visit southern Egypt. I could feel a warm, dry breeze on my face when I left the plane. Humidity levels are low all year round due to the surrounding deserts so I didn't see a single cloud on the clear blue sky for the duration of my stay.
I got my visa at the airport (US$ 15) and negotiated a taxi ride from the airport into the centre of Luxor (LE40 or EUR5). What most people think of as Luxor are actually really three different areas, consisting of the City of Luxor
on the east side of the Nile, the town of Karnak
just north of Luxor and Thebes
which is on the west side of the Nile, just across from Luxor.
The taxi driver dropped me off on Corniche el Nil, next to Luxor Temple
. Here, I boarded the local ferry (LE2 return) which runs as soon as it is reasonable full - usually every 15 minutes or so. I chose to sit upstairs on the
The colossus of Ramses II at Karnak, busy with package tour tourists
sun deck so that I could enjoy the view on the Nile during the short crossing. I disembarked on the other side of the river and successfully managed my way through numerous taxi drivers toward the hotel I had pre-booked. Despite its location at the end of a rather dusty side street the hotel was easy to find, thanks to both the map on the hotel website and the description in the Rough Guide
. I had deliberately chosen to stay at El Fayrouz
(LE80 single B&B) due to its relatively remote location on the west bank of the river, making it both cheaper and quieter than any other place in Luxor on the other side of the river.
In ancient times, the Temple of Luxor was the centre of Opet which was the most important festival in Luxor. Construction work on the temple began during the reign of Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC. The only major expansion effort took place under Ramses II some 100 years after the first stones were put in place. Luxor Temple is thus unique among the main Egyptian temple complexes in having only two Pharaohs leave their mark on its architectural
Rub a dub dub three men in a tub - er, boat
On the Nile ferry between Luxor and Thebes - a 5min crossing for some EUR 0,12
structure. Luxor temple is divided into different courts and halls. With each court the spaces become darker, more holy and originally more restricted in their access. By the time of the Arab conquest, the temple was largely buried underneath accumulated river silt, to the extent that the Mosque of Abu Haggag
was built on top of it in the 13th century whilst the actual temple structure survived.
I entered Luxor temple (LE50) next to the 24m high First Pylon
which was built by Ramesses II. It is decorated with episodes from the Battle of Kadesh, where Ramesses and his army defeated the forces of the Hittites. The pylon was originally flanked by six colossal statues but only two have survived. Also surviving is a 25m tall granite obelisk, one of a matching pair until 1835 when the other one was taken to France (where it can be found in the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris). The pylon gateway leads into the Great Court
which was built by Ramesses II. This peristyle court features 74 columns around its four sides and was the furthest most were allowed to progress. Behind the courtyard lies the processional Colonnade
Eight Pylon, Temple of Amun
A local guide encourages tourists to climb the ancient monuments in order to have their picture taken - in return he will ask for a baksheesh (tip)
built by Amenhotep III - a 100m corridor long lined with papyrus-capital columns. The friezes on the walls describe the various stages of the Opet Festival and were put in place by Tutankhamun. The Sun Court
is a second large court, again surrounded by papyrus columns. Beyond lies a small Hypostyle Hall
, the last area before the Sanctuary
at the far end of the temple.
Despite it being surrounded by busy main streets Luxor Temple still is an awesome sight. Although much smaller than Karnak Temple it does not fail to impress, particularly at night when it is beautifully lit up.
Karnak temple (LE50) is located some 3km north of Luxor Temple. By far the cheapest and most interesting way to get there is to hop on one of the frequent city minibuses which run on pre-defined routes (the Rough Guide to Egypt
shows a dotted line on the city map which describes the routes of the minibuses). Just hail one heading north and ask to be dropped off at Karnak Temple. Fare rules are simple: it's always as low as 25 Piaster (that's LE 0,25 or EUR 0,03) per person per way wherever you
These ram-headed sphinxes flank the processional way towards the first pylon of the temple of Amun
Karnak Temple is huge - there are over 25 temples and chapels in the complex. Sanctuaries, obelisks and groups of columns all feature heroic deeds of the sponsoring Pharaoh. As many as 30 of them contributed to the buildings, enabling Karnak Temple to reach a size, complexity and diversity not seen elsewhere. The whole complex was built over a period of 1,300 years and includes several of the finest examples of ancient Egyptian design and architecture.
The First Pylon
is surprisingly roughly finished and was never completed. Behind the first court lies the Great Hypostyle Hall
, considered one of the world’s great architectural achievements. It is filled with 134 enormous pillars, the highest 24m tall and each about 10m around. It is difficult not to be impressed by this magnificent forest of stone columns.
Behind the Great Hypostyle Hall and to the side of the fourth pylon lies the Sacred Lake
. The fallen Obelisk of Hatshepsut
can be seen nearby. The impressive eight pylon - also constructed by Hatshepsut - is officially closed however when the tourist police does look the other way it is easily possible to sneak through the fence and have a close look
Horus and Ramses II
A relief in rose granite
at the impressive pylon.
Beside visiting Luxor temple there is not too much to do in Luxor itself. Make sure to visit a traditional market street
somewhere outside the overpriced tourist bazaar in Sharia-al-Souk. For example, head down Sharia Yussef Hassan at the northern end of the bazaar and you'll soon find yourself immersed in a colourful, vivid market.
For lunch or dinner, try the traditionally furnished Sofra
- one of the best places in Luxor for good and inexpensive food.
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