This pair of time-worn monoliths on the main road from the river, standing guard over the threshold of the Theban Necropolis, are all that remains of a temple built by Amenophis III around 2400 years ago. At 18m high and weighing 1000 tons, they have remained strong and steady despite years of a change in their surrounding landscape. Surrounded by fields, the Nile waters rose each year, until upriver dams ended the annual floods in 1964 to reach the Colossi’s feet.
Legend has it that they could once sing; a whistling sound documented by the ancient Greeks was probably produced as the statues’ stones, warmed by the sun’s early morning rays, gradually expanded and rubbed against one another along an existing crack. Outraged that they wouldn’t sing for him, Roman Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211 AD) repaired the crack and left them silent. A stele at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo poetically describes the temple as being built from ‘white sandstone, with gold throughout, a floor covered with silver, and doors covered with electrum’. It takes a visit to the Colossi to truly understand the experience of this description.
The Theban Necropolis is the sprawling, secluded cemetery located in the hills and wadis (valleys) of the Nile’s West Bank. The ancients called it ‘the place of truth’ and the ‘Western Lands’, where life’s journey ended and another, everlasting one, began. When French author André Malraux remarked that ‘Egypt invented eternity’, he spoke a poetic truth, since Egyptian civilization was based on a compelling belief in the afterlife. For the Ancient Egyptians, the sun’s daily transit from east to west, its night-time disappearance and its return at dawn, was a symbol of both inevitable death and eternal renewal.
At first, eternity was reserved for pharaohs; only those who could afford proper mummification and well-equipped tombs could achieve immortality. Over the course of several dynasties, however, funerary rites became available to a wider public, starting with high-ranking officials, but also eventually extending to funerary workers. The royals are buried in a rocky labyrinth, whose inaccessibility helped protect their remains. The vivid drawings and inscriptions of tomb interiors were not mere decorations, but prayers and incantations addressed to the gods, along with celebrations of the deceased’s familylife and achievements. Against the odds, and benefited by Luxor’s warm, dry climate, many are still intact. But the imprint of millions of annual visitors has taken its toll. Some tombs are under restoration, others allow only limited access. Check with your guide or ticket vendors for the latest information about which are open for viewing.
The Valley of the Kings, offering a plethora of splendid tombs, warrants return visits. Nearby lies the Valley of the Queens, once known as Ta- Set-Neferu, ‘the place of the beautiful ones’. The tombs of the royal ladies and their children are less in grandeur than the kings’, but equal in the artistry and mastery of their inscriptions. While the burial grounds of highranking officials, the Valley of the Nobles, was more accessible, and therefore more subject to raiding a few important examples remain.
This astounding necropolis suffered from tragic devastation as a fashion for everything Egyptian swept Europe in the early 19th century, and the resulting craze for artifacts was fed by unscrupulous tomb raiders long before the principles of modernday archaeology were developed. Visitors through the ages have left disfiguring graffiti scratched into walls and statues, destroying artwork that thousands of years had spared. The phenomenon is not new; people have always left their mark, and Luxor’s tombs and temples bear examples of ancient Greek, Coptic and Latin graffiti, as well as the flowery script of 19th century travelers. Today’s visitors, however, are able to enjoy these priceless treasures in the atmosphere of respect and reverence that the monuments deserve.
Set in a curving bank of steep cliffs with a commanding view of the river valley, the Temple of Hatshepsut was built in perfect harmony with its majestic surroundings. Seen from a distance, its three-level façade looks almost futuristic testimony to the timelessness of great art. Designed by Hatshepsut’s steward and architect Senenmut, it took eight years and tremendous manpower to build a fitting tribute to the woman who ruled Egypt as pharaoh for nearly half a century (1503-1452BC). Hatshepsut called it ‘the splendor of splendors’, and some still consider it one of the most striking architectural works on earth.
The faces of the statues decorating the colonnades show traces of ochre, a reminder that these monuments were once vividly colored and must have presented an even more dazzling spectacle than they do today.
For the pharaohs, temple building was a way of thanking the gods for military triumphs, demonstrating their greatness to their people, and ensuring their memory would be honored in posterity. Ramses II (19th Dynasty, 1304-1237BC) was a prolific builder, and the great temple at Abu Simbel was amongst his most exceptional works. While the Ramesseum lies half in ruins, it is nevertheless one of the loveliest sites in Egypt. The temple precinct is scattered with shards of ancient pottery and fallen blocks, the most sensational of which is a large sculpture of Ramses II’s muscular torso. His monolith, carved into a single piece of Aswan granite, once stood almost 17 meters high, dominating the local countryside. Even now the Ramesseum, with its wind-gnarled trees full of chirping birds, has an ambiance full of the romance of a great, but fallen, power.
Grandiose and gracefully proportioned, set apart from the majority of the other West Bank buildings, Medinat Habu is second in size only to the Great Temple at Karnak. Ramses III admired and imitated his ancestor Ramses II’s style of building, and like him was an aggressively successful military leader. Statues of the lionheaded Sekhmet, fierce goddess of revenge. The first pylon and inner court graphically depict the pharaoh’s victories over the Libyans and Phoenicians. The complex was added by later rulers, and the decoration of the second court - dedicated to religious matters and later made into a church - creates a very different mood. Remnants of its original mud-brick enclosure wall are interspersed with the ruins of Jeme, the Coptic town inhabited for centuries and.