We kept the Luxor Temple for the last day. It was like saving the best for the last. We left our hotel morning early to avoid the mid-day sun and stayed there until nearly noon. Known as Ipet‑Resyt “Southern Sanctuary” to the ancient Egyptians, the Luxor Temple was located within the ancient city of Thebes (modern Luxor). This sanctuary is laid out parallel to the riverbank and lies around three kilometers south of the Karnak Temple, to which it was once linked with a road bordered with sphinxes. The Luxor Temple is dedicated to the Amun, his wife Mut, and their son, Khonsu, and it was the largest and most significant religious center in ancient Egypt. Being the venue of the important annual festival of Opet, every spring, a flotilla of barges escorted the cult effigies of the Theban divine trio from their temples in Karnak and transported in a grand procession to Luxor Temple so they could visit the god that resides there, Amenemopet. The importance of this temple does not end there. According to historians, in the olden days, the Luxor Temple was also known as “the place of the First Occasion,” because it was here the god Amon experienced a rebirth during the pharaoh’s annually reenacted coronation ceremony.

Luxor temple is surrounded by modern day Luxor

The patrons of the Luxor Temple

Today, much of the Luxor Temple is still well preserved and the remains of this vast complex include the colossal Great Colonnade Hall, almost 61 meters long, with 28 twenty-one-foot-high columns. Just like its contemporary Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple was constructed over hundreds of years and many pharaohs like Amenhotep III, Ramses II, and Tutankhamun added and altered within this complex. The oldest existing structure is a shrine that dates back to the reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (1473–1458 BC). The core of the temple was built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but was completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC). It was then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). Toward the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC). One of the inner rooms contains a series of scenes that are known as the Divine Birth. The scenes depict the amazing story of how the king’s true father was none other than the god Amun himself.

Luxor Temple was an important place of worship for 3,000 years

Luxor Temple in a nutshell

The core of the temple is preceded by a columned hall fronted by a courtyard with columns around its perimeter. Amenhotep III built the Great Colonnade, which consists of two rows of seven colossal columns. Its decoration, most notably the scenes depicting the Opet Festival, was completed by Tutankhamun and Horemheb. As expected, the mighty Ramesses II made many additions to Luxor Temple. In front of the Great Colonnade, he built a peristyle courtyard and a massive pylon, a gate with two towers that formed the entrance into temples. In addition to many colossal statues, the pylon was also fronted by a pair of 25‑meter‑high obelisks made by this great king, but only one remains in place; the other has been at the Place de la Concorde in Paris since 1835–1836. In the late third century AD, the Romans built a fort around the temple, and the first room beyond the hypostyle hall of Amenhotep III became its sanctuary. The original wall reliefs were covered with plaster, and painted in the Graeco‑Roman artistic style, depicting Emperor Diocletian (284–305 AD) and his three coregents. Although these had largely disappeared, efforts are underway to restore these to their former glory.

A magnificent sunset at the Luxor Temple

How to keep a child busy?

Since it was our last day in Luxor, I wanted to soak up as much of its antiquity as possible. No other site could have suited my purpose other than the Luxor Temple itself. So, to keep Akash busy during our visit, I invented a game where he had to locate certain hieroglyphic symbols in every area we explored and collect some treasure (stone or bird feather) to put in our memory box. This trick worked well since Luxor Temple is not only expansive but also wonderfully detailed.

This colonnade was designed to resemble bundles of papyrus

Highlights of the Luxor Temple Complex

Approaching the temple

  • The Luxor Temple complex is accessible by a gate beside the coach park on Sharia Maabad el-Karnak. Behind the ticket office is the Avenue of Sphinxes with human faces – an impressive site that is still under excavation and restoration. In the olden days, this avenue connected the two temples of Karnak and Luxor.

The gateway and pylon

  • The temple gateway is extremely awe-inspiring. It is flanked by massive pylons and enthroned colossi, with a single 25 m tall obelisk. Carved with reliefs, there used to be two such obelisks until one removed in 1835, taken to France, and re-erected on the Place de la Concorde. Behind them are three of the six colossi of Ramses II that originally fronted the pylon. There used to be two standing and four seated ones. The seated ones have Schwarzenegger physiques and sport the double crowns, thus representing the ruler to be the pharaoh of the Two Lands- Upper and Lower Egypt. The pylon is 65m wide and carved with scenes of Ramses’ victory over the Hittites at Qadesh.

    The Court of Ramses

Court of Ramses II

  • This lies beyond the pylon. Surrounded by a double row of papyrus bud columns, it is a very pretty place to catch the sunset. Incongruously perched atop the opposite colonnade, is the Mosque of Abu el-Haggag. It is of the Fatimid era and is dedicated to a patron saint of Luxor.

Colonnade and Court of Amenhotep III

  • This portal is flanked by black granite statues of Ramses, their bases decorated with bound prisoners. One enters the older section of the temple through this portal. It begins with the lofty Colonnade of Amenhotep III. This is perhaps one of the most photographed spots of Egypt. The Colonnade of Amenhotep III is simply jaw-dropping. A stunning processional avenue of giant papyrus columns whose calyx capitals still support massive architraves, it is an exquisite sight. It was Tutankhamun who had the colonnade decorated. At the end of this magnificent colonnade lies the great Court of Amenhotep III. It is surrounded on three sides by colonnades of papyrus-bundle columns with bud capitals.

    In the late 3rd century, during the reign of Diocletian, this section of Luxor became a Roman legionary shrine.

The inner sanctums

  • Beyond, lie the sacred inner sanctums of Luxor Temple – a columned portico, whose central aisle was once flanked by the barque shrines of Mut and Khonsu. Over the years, Roman legionaries plastered the pharaonic reliefs and turned the sanctum into a chapel. Paintings of Roman emperors are visible at some places and these are juxtaposed with patches where the stucco has fallen off to reveal the older original frescoes of Amenhotep offering sacrifices to Amun. The most famous reliefs of the Luxor Temple can be found in the Birth Room of Amenhotep III. The north wall here is decorated with reliefs that emphasize his divine paternity since he was not of direct royal descent. The reliefs show  Thoth leading Amun (disguised as Tuthmosis IV) into the queen’s bedchamber, where, the hieroglyphic caption states, “his dew filled her body”. Examined from left to right, the middle register depicts Thoth foretelling Amenhotep’s birth; Mutemuia’s pregnancy and confinement; Isis presenting the child to Amun; and the god cradling his son.
  • The remaining chambers to the south constituted the private apartments of the gods, but are badly damaged.

    A Luxor trip is an unforgettable experience

    The Court of Ramses

Entrance Fees and Opening Hours

Luxor Temple complex is open daily is between 7 am and 8 pm except for public and national holidays. The entrance fees for Foreigners: Adult: EGP 160 and Student: EGP 80. The fee for Egyptians/Arabs: Adult: EGP 20 and Student: EGP 5.

P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.

Follow the rest of the Luxor series