Egypt Tour 3:
Karnak, Luxor, and Thebes

Walk Like an Egyptian?

Karnak, Luxor, and Thebes

Thebes began as a city of relatively little importance. When the Old Kingdom gradually fell apart, the city grew as did the aspirations of the rulers. Eventually, the Theban princes conquered all of Egypt.

In typical Egyptian fashion, Thebes consisted of two cities. On the east bank, they built a city of the living. On the west, they built their City of the Dead, the burial place for pharoahs.

Meanwhile, a place of some ceremonial significance, Karnak, emerged as the foremost religious site in Egypt. It started out this way. The Egyptians worshipped a trilogy of gods, a father, a mother, and a son. Karnak formed the central shrine for Amun, the father. Each year, about the time of spring, a largest festival would take place in which workers sailed and manhandled a figure of the god to Luxor, a shrine for his godwife. Their "divine meeting" (having godly sex) signaled the beginning of spring and the fathering of the pharoah himself.

The Middle and New Kingdom Kingdom:
From Akhenaton to Moses

The Middle Kingdom emerged when the local princes of Thebes suceeded in reuniting the country. Pretensions aside, their rule only lasted through two dynasties, or a little over 200 years. The foreign invaders, the Hyksos, overwhelmed the country and ruled as pharoahs.

The New Kingdom spawned a thousand novels. The long-lived 18th dynasty spawned a veritable cast of characters. These included Hatshepsut, who ruled as "regent" for her stepson but actually ruled as pharoah, Amenhotep, the religious heretic, and Tutankhamun, "King Tut," who died as a teenager through assassination. Perhaps because they lived so long, the 19th dynasty became genetically defective and had elongated heads.

Their sucessors, the 19th dynasy, included the Ramses line and built a world empire, fought with the Hittites, and "Let Moses's people go." Under Ramses II, the pharoahs built another capital closer to the center of their truly Middle Eastern empire in the Delta. Thebes declined, yet still Herodotus called it "The City of 1000 Gates," and Karnak remained a major temple almost until the Christian era.


The plain sister among these shrines, Luxor really came alive during the festival of Ophet when Amun's statue came to wed that of his bride.

Walls of Luxor temple

Well, at least it's not crumbling yet.


The key to understanding the construction of Karnak lies in forgetting all logic. Each pharoah added a new addition to the temple, each designed to distact visitors from previous contributions. At least once, a pharoah totally changed the orientation of the entire complex. As a result, the complex emerges as an architectural accumulation, not a single, planned work, rather like some cathedrals of the Middle Ages.

Still, Karnak doe hold three basic temples, that of Amun, the father, Monthu, the mother, and Khonsu, the child. Since the father has the prominence, almost all of the additional building adds to that cental temple.

The central approach avenue.

Typically, Ramses II puts up a statue of himself.

Columns without rows

The avenue of Sphinxes.

Do you think these look like frogs?

Thutmose defeated the Hyksos, but didn't have
time to add much more than this obelisk.

Hahsetput, the "female pharoah," erected this.


Akhenaton built this sub-temple before he swore off worshipping the Egyptian gods.

These make good visual effects.

A massive courtyard

It says: "If you can read this, thank a scribe."

I have forgotten.

The Egyptians considered the scarab a symbol of life.

Don't try this at home.

Are you talking to me? Are you talkin' to me?

The unrestored Monthu temple.

A smaller temple in the "Open Air" Museum.

The Theban City of the Dead

Suffice it to say that the pharoahs thought a lot about dying and the afterlife. Temple thieves thought a lot about their next meal. Thereby hangs a tale.

Eshewing the pyramids of their forebearers, the Middle and New Kingdom pharoahds contented themselves with really expensive burials inside the mountains of Thebes. As soon as crowned, the pharoah immediately started work on his own tomb. As soon as he died, construction ended. Between these two points, lay years of elaborate, deceptive, expensive work at digging and decorating. Still, in almost every case, the thieves ended up getting the stuff.

Eventually, the priests resorted to putting all of the bodies of the pharoahs together outside their original tombs along with that of the priests of Karnak. In the sorting process, some ended up in the wrong coffins. It's more than a bit ironic to think of some pharoah ended up not even in the right coffin with none of the jewelry and finery he intended to remove..for all eternity.

These two Memnon Collossi guard the entrance to the City of the Dead.

Make that three Collossi.

The Temple of Hatshepsu site of a massive massacre of tourists several years ago.

He's saying "Yes, I take baksheesh" (tips).

Related Eyptian Tours:
Back to Tour 2: Southern (Upper) Egypt
On to Tour 4: Alexandria

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