Thursday, September 10, 2015


The Luxor Temple was our sixth Egyptian Temple in three days. We had already been to the Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Ramses III, and Karnak temples. It was also our third major event on a single day, following a very early-morning hot air balloon ride and a visit to Karnak Temple. To say this trip was intense is a huge understatement. A trip like this pretty much has to be intense, however. The likelihood of returning to this area of the world is pretty slim, partly because of the length of our bucket list and the limitations of our finances, and partly because of the general turmoil in the region, so we (and our tour company) felt the need to cram as much into the allotted time as possible.

No worries. I at least had some context for the Luxor Temple, for I had seen its reproduction in Las Vegas many times:
Picture from here 
Imagine my surprise when it didn't look like that at all. In fact, Las Vegas Luxor = Cairo's Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, 313 air miles away. Someone really needs a geography and history refresher.

I had to start at ground zero, which meant looking at this map, which helped a little bit:
This temple was built mostly by  Amenhotep III (1391-1353), completed by Tutankhamun (1332-1323 BC) and Horemheb (1306-1292 BC), and then added to by Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), who many believe was the pharaoh in Moses's story, and, whose gigantic statues we had seen near the Valley of the Kings. Amenhotep and Ramses each had his own courtyard, as shown in the diagram above, at the back end is a shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC), and somewhere in the Ramses II section is an Islamic mosque that is still in use.

This was once a happenin' place. In fact, it still is.

I found these instructions from the Luxor Temple Inspeection [sic] people helpful, although I was puzzled by the random use of capital letters. However, since I can't write a single word in Egyptian, I shouldn't be critical.
Did I give them a "tine"? I don't remember that.
 A broad avenue once connected Karnak and Luxor, a distance of about two miles:
In ancient times, the entire length was lined with sphinxes. Many sphinxes still stand as sentries at Luxor, just as we had seen them at Karnak.
The head of one of the sphinxes, sans body and cobra head piece:
I do like the effect of the palm tree growing out of this head in the photo on the left:
Ouch! That's a serious stubbed toe!
The enormous first pylon leads to Ramses II's courtyard:
This is what one artist thinks it may have looked like in its prime:
Picture from here
The entry is flanked by enormous statues of a seated Ramses II wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, representing his power over a unified Egypt (and drawing attention to the strength of his neck):
Two eighty-foot-tall red granite obelisks used to also stand on each side of this doorway, but only one remains. The other is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, having been a gift from the Egyptian government to France in 1833.  (I'll bet they wish they could have it back.)
Ramses again, this time overseeing the inner court. The "Selfie Generation" has nothing on the pharaohs:
Bob standing in front of Ramses II gives a feel for how imposing the figure is:

By the way, the Luxor Las Vegas does have a bit of the real Luxor, a statue of a seated pharaoh:
Someone was trying to get it right. 

At this point I lose track of what part of the temple I took pictures in. We were wandering on our own through Ramses and Amenhotep's sanctuaries, and it's hard to tell them apart, so I won't try.

There are a few places where the color has been miraculously preserved:
Or at least partly preserved:
But even where the color has been washed away, the detail is still incredible. Spread throughout the temple are cartouches for Tutankhamun, Horemheb, Seti I, Ramses II, and Seti II.
When I consider how guarded the art is in the Louvre and other museums, I think it is mind-boggling that we can walk right up to these ancient artworks, touch them, and even lean on them without setting off a chorus of alarms. Future generations may not be allowed to get as close as we did.
You've got to love a pharaoh who will feed the birds. Is he giving them cupcakes?
In the panel below, the pharaoh chats with Amun-Ra, the chief deity of the Egyptian empire who is distinguished by his funky two-plumed crown and the ankh in his left hand:
Two kinds of columns:
Every time we turned the corner, there was another astonishing, mind-blowing thing to look at, something that all by itself would be worthy of a half-hour-long lecture about the hieroglyphs, the architecture, or the historical significance:

These men in their long gallibayas and white hats seem timeless--they could have looked the same 100 or 500 or even 2,000 years ago:

What a fantastic spectacle these engraved columns and soaring figures must have presented in their prime 3,000 years ago. The amount of labor expended on this and other temples is beyond comprehension.
Sorry about your heads, fellas:
The Great Court of Ramses II:
One of the more unique structures at Luxor Temple is Abu Haggag Mosque, built in the 13th century on top of a pharaonic temple and rebuilt in the 19th century.
We didn't go inside, but we enjoyed the sand-colored outside with it's crenelated walls and unusual domed minaret:
Luxor Temple had a little bit of everything--years of remodeling by twenty pharaohs, a mosque, and even a headless Greek statue. 
That's tough to top. (No pun intended.)

On our way out, we passed a group of art students coming to do some plein air painting. I would like to have seen their products and perhaps taken one home:

Luxor Temple was our final stop in Upper Egypt. The next morning we packed our bags and flew 300+ miles aboard a small plane to begin the next phase of our adventure in Lower Egypt's Cairo.


Nahguib Mahfouz is an Egyptian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, which is why I picked up his book Arabian Nights and Days, written post-award in 1995. The novel assumes familiarity with the classic Arabian novel One Thousand and One Nights and is meant to be a sequel of sorts.  I found some of the stories fascinating, such as one about a man who gets his head cut off but lives on in another body, even seeing his own head hanging in the village. Mahfouz has a very unique Middle Eastern brand of magical realism that reminds me a lot of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There were many references that I just didn't get because of my superficial knowledge of One Thousand and One Nights, but I really enjoyed getting a taste of Arabian mysticism.


  1. I recall that one of the sections you picture, boxed in a corner, had representations of Alexander the Great. The adoption of Egyptian ways by the Greeks and Romans is amazing to me. It seems we could learn something from them.

  2. It's amazing that all of these places were once brightly colored. They are incredible in their stone-colored form. Imagine how much more fantastic they would be with all their original colors.

  3. One of my favorite movies is the Fifth Element and when I saw the men in their white robes, I thought of that one. I also like the one with the magnetic doors between times and lands (forgot the name) and the reading of hieroglyphs is one of the critical plot points. So fascinating to see all these temples through your eyes!