Luxor: an open-air museum

Luxor: an open-air museum

In the South of Cairo is the Egyptian paradise of monuments. Born from the ruins of Thebes, Luxor houses from the Karnak complex of temples, which is similar to a fort, and the oldest religious centre in the world, to the Valley of the Queens, where the tombs of 80 men and women from Ancient Egypt may be found. Beautiful hotels, built at the site, make Luxor into a city of the present and past.

 
 


Cairo – Little over 700 kilometres south of Cairo, on the banks of the Nile, is a paradise of monuments of humanity. Also known as Thebes in ancient times, Luxor, in Egypt, is currently an interesting combination between the past and present. The city houses the Temple of Luxor, the Karnak complex of temples, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and the Temple of Hatshepsut. Beside these monuments of culture and history, however, is a great variety of beautiful hotels. Luxor was the ancient capital of the New Kingdom, between the 18th and 20th Dynasties of the Pharaohs of Egypt.

The grand Temple of Luxor, in the centre of the city, immediately stands out to those arriving. It was built during the reign of Amenhotep III and modified soon after by Ramses II. To the site, the pharaoh added six monumental statues and two obelisks. One of the obelisks was offered to France in 1831 and it now embellishes the Place de la Concorde, in Paris. A little further on, around three kilometres away, is the Temple of Karnak, also built during the reign of Amenhotep III. It is similar to a fortified city and is known for housing one of the most important religious centres in Ancient Egypt and the oldest in the world.

A true open-air museum, the Karnak complex of temples is the second most visited site in Egypt, second only to the Pyramids of Giza, in Cairo. For several centuries, in ancient times, Karnak temple complex was the main religious centre in the whole of Egypt. “This was the main temple for cults to god Amon. But as was the case with several other temples of ancient Egypt, other gods and goddesses were venerated there,” explained Mahmud, a guide who works at the site. The temple is composed of four main parts. One of them is dedicated to the cult of Amon. The other two are turned to two other gods and there is also the temple of Amenhotep IV.

But at the site there are also a series of small temples and sanctuaries, found outside the area circled by the walls. “Research and excavations in the last 40 years make it possible for us to know, for example, that the construction of the temple of Karnak took over 2,000 years, explained Mahmud. According to him, Ramses II and his son Merenptah also lived there, as did other Pharaohs who, as time went by, added monuments to the site. “The great difference between the Karnak temple complex and all others existing in Egypt is the fact that almost 30 pharaohs contributed to its construction. This explains the size, the complexity and the diversity of the monuments,” explained Mahmud.

The western bank

On the other bank of the Nile, the western bank, in Luxor we may find the several tombs of different pharaohs. The Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens are where they may be found. “The pharaohs thought that they should bury their dead on the other bank of the Nile. While the city of Thebes (turned to the living) was found on the eastern bank, all the tombs of the kings are on the western bank,” clarifies the city guide.

In the Valley of the Kings, the main royal necropolis of ancient Egypt, which also dates back to the New Kingdom, around 62 tombs have been discovered to date. Many of them, however, are closed to the public by Egyptian authorities. “We had to close many of the tombs due to the humidity caused by a great number of tourists. Human transpiration and even breathing favour the propagation of fungi fatal to the fragile and precious paintings, very hard to keep on the walls. The phenomenon contributes to the acceleration of the loss of colour,” explained Yussef Mohamed, who is responsible for the preservation of the site.

Among the 62 tombs discovered to date, just 25 are of kings or members of the several dynasties. The others are of high-level employees or people who could not be identified. The most famous site and the most visited in the Valley of the Kings is that of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922. In the Valley of the Queens, where another 80 tombs may be found, of men and women, the most important ones are those of prince Amun-her-khepeshef and of queen Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II. The tomb of Nefertari was discovered in 1903 and is today the best known at the site.

The mortuary temple of queen Hatshepsut is the most beautiful monument on the western bank. It is partly cut into the rock and blends into the grandeur of the limestone face that supports it. Seeing it is an impressive spectacle for all those who visit the site. Queen Hatshepsut, who belonged to the 18th Dynasty, reigned over Egypt for 22 years and was the first woman in history to be the head of government.
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