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 Luxor Travel Guide



Overview of Luxor, Egypt




This large statue of Ramesses II is located near the front of Luxor Temple


Located in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt) Luxor has a population of approximately a half a million people. This colorful city  is 325 miles south of Cairo and located on the east bank of the Nile. Most tourists arrive here by air, tour some of the numerous monuments in the area and then depart  on a Nile River cruise destined for Aswan.

In order to provide you with some background on what you will see in the Luxor area, we start this section with a brief description of why there are so many temples and monuments in the Luxor area, as well as with a description of the fundamental architectural plan on which most  Egyptian temples were constructed.

If you prefer to skip to our section on temples and monuments, click any of the following links to read about  Luxor's specific attractions, which are detailed on three pages.  They include a page on Luxor proper (Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple), a page on the Theban Necropolis (Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut's tomb, Medinet Habu, Colossi of Memnon), and a page on nearby Dendera Temple

Additionally, for a breathtaking experience, you might want to consider taking a hot air balloon ride at sunrise that will float you over many of the temples in the Theban Necropolis (also known as the Valley of the Dead). Finally, Luxor is a great area to shop, especially for alabaster bowls and vases, as well as jewelry.

The Luxor area is popular with tourists because of its large collection of some of the  most important monuments associated with ancient Egypt during the Age of the Pharaohs. In addition, Luxor is the primary embarkation point for holiday cruises on the Nile.

Those considering a visit to Luxor should be aware that 59 tourists were killed during a terrorist attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut in 1997.  Islamic fundamentalists planned and executed the attack on helpless tourists.   Since that time there have been no terrorist attacks in Luxor or its surrounding area. See this article from the BBC  for details on this historic tragedy.  In addition, nineteen tourist were killed as a result of an accidental  explosion on a hot air balloon ride over the West Bank of Luxor in February 2013.

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 Thebes was 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 desert sands.

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.

Plan of the Temples

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 other purposes.

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 Temple, and Karnak Temple.

Our page on the West Bank will introduce you to the monuments of the Theban Necropolis (Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut's tomb, Medinet Habu, and the 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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