Why is Luxor so Gifted with Temples?
Luxor was once a modest village that came into its power during the
Middle Kingdom (ranging from 2000 BC to 1760 BC). Then known as Thebes, this area evolved
into the political and religious center of Egypt, as the geopolitical reach of
its pharaohs expanded.
The power of Thebes ( also known as Waset) was significant and it was from here that
a number of well-known pharaohs ruled both
Upper and Lower Egypt. Because of its political prominence and economic success
gifted with largest number of temples and monuments of any Egyptian city.
During the time Egypt was ruled by the Roman Empire the temples and
monuments were eventually abandoned by the Egyptians or closed by the Romans
and some were slowly buried by blowing sands. When Egypt caught the
eyes of the French (Napoleon) and the British during the 18th century, an
"age of exploration was birthed and many of the temples were restored,
which sparked an interest in 'finding" other temples mentioned in texts, but lost to the
The major attractions in Luxor, which is located on the East Bank of
the Nile, are the Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple,
and the new Luxor Museum. On the
west bank of the Nile you will find numerous tombs and temples occupying an area that is called the
Theban Necropolis, where many pharaohs were buried in lavish tombs in the Valley of the Kings
and their queens were buried in the Valley of the Queens.
The important gods of ancient Egypt often reflected which geographical area
of Egypt was in power. Popular gods from different areas were usually adapted by local priests to fit within the
local mythology of the preferred gods of the day.
When the focus of Egypt was on Thebes (now Luxor), the prominent local gods were Amun, Mut (the wife or consort of Amun) and their son Khons. Most of the temples in Luxor and surrounding areas celebrated these gods, who became known as the Triad,
and, at the time, were regarded as the most important of the gods revered in Egypt. Amun’s popularity increased to such an extent that he was associated and
finally merged with Ra into the combined Amun-Ra, one of the most celebrated
of the sun gods in ancient Egyptian history.
Egyptian life during the time of the pharaohs was focused on the god or
gods they chose to honor and the celebration of their gods was a daily event of considerable
importance. It is for this reason that the temples constructed to
honor these gods were of such central focus of Ancient Egypt. Just as religious buildings
today are constructed following a basic blueprint, so it was with the
temples constructed by the ancient Egyptians. Note that each pharaoh
usually focused his patronage on a limited number of gods and built new temples or added to old ones in
order to honor their "holy-patron".
Most of the Egyptian temples were constructed using a similar design, although site specific variations reflect local tastes, the vagaries of history and, in some cases, re-use of the temple for other purposes
than originally intended. The temples were often surrounded by a wall
that was for privacy, but this was often surrounded by a larger
defensive wall. Many of these walls did not survive as, after the Age
of the Pharaohs, they were a prime source of building materials used for
The entrance to the temple was usually constructed as a large ornate
gateway surrounded by impressive walls called pylons.
The pylons tapered toward the top and included reliefs showing the
pharaoh in battle being watched and blessed by the god/patrons honored at
the specific temple.
The first pylon was often preceded by an avenue of
sphinx, obelisks and large
statues of the pharaoh, which, individually, are termed colossus. The first pylon was usually followed by a
central court that included a colonnade. The court was often followed by a second pylon.
Next was a
hypostyle hall that included a “forest-like” grouping of tall columns that
"reached for the sky, although they were enclosed under a decorated roof.
The columns and surrounding area were usually engraved or painted with numerous, colorful
designs. This section was often followed by a smaller hypostyle hall.
Eventually the design, which could include additional halls, led to
the sanctuary in the form of three sacred, inner chambers with the
central and largest chamber housing the statue of the primary temple god. The ancient Egyptians believed that the god’s spirit was in residence at the temple.
For this reason temple priests lived on site and tended to the needs of the
gods on an around-the-clock basis. Each day the gods celebrated at the
temple were fed, adulated,
celebrated and this daily cycle was the pulse that regulated life in the
cities and villages of ancient Egypt.
The entire temple was surrounded by another wall separate from the defensive wall. Often there was a lake for bathing and preparation for religious ceremonies and several outbuildings where the priests lived or where other functions of the Egyptian life-cycle (births, illness deaths) were treated or celebrated, as appropriate.
It is important to note that many of the temples were originally
constructed by the Egyptian Pharaohs and later refurbished, redesigned, or
completely rebuilt by pharaohs who represented the Greek and Romans
conquerors of Egypt. These false pharaohs reigned for a few centuries before the
"pharaonic ages" ended
around the time of the birth of Christ. In a curious twist,
these “foreign” pharaohs adopted the gods of the Egyptians and are said to
have honored them as a way of keeping the peace with the Egyptians. In our
text we describe the temples built by Egyptian pharaohs as Pharaonic, and
those built by the Greek and Roman Pharaohs as Greco-Roman, a practice
used by the
Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Other Luxor Area Attractions
For details on specific attractions in the Luxor area:
Start on the
East Bank for the treasures of Luxor proper including Luxor
Our page on the
West Bank will introduce you to the monuments of the
Theban Necropolis (Valley
of the Kings,
Colossi of Memnon).
Or click here to explore
Dendera Temple, which celebrates Cleopatra.
Click this link if you are interested in a
balloon ride that will float you over many of the temples in the Theban
Necropolis (also known as the Valley of the Dead) as the sun rises over the Nile.
Hot air balloon rides can be dangerous anywhere in the world, so ask for a
recommendation on safety and reliability when considering a vendor. If
you are uncomfortable with the risk, do not take the ride, as your personal
safety is your responsibility.
Click this link for information on shopping for
alabaster bowls and vases.
Click the index at the top of this page for other sections
of our Egypt Travel Guide
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