Sam's Exotic Travels to Luxor Temple, Spanning Egyptian and Roman Influences
Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the River Nile in the city today known as Luxor (ancient Thebes) and was founded in 1400 BC. Known in the Egyptian language as ipet resyt, or Southern Harem, the temple was dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Chons and was built during the New Kingdom, the focus of the annual Opet Festival, in which a cult statue of Amun was paraded down the Nile from nearby Karnak Temple (ipet-isut) to stay there for a while, with his consort Mut, in a celebration of fertility – whence its name. Access to the temple is from the north, where a causeway lined by sphinxes once led all the way to Ipet Sut in modern Al-Karnak. This road was a later addition, dating from the time of Nectanebo I in the 30th Dynasty.
The temple properly begins with the 24 meter (79 ft) high First Pylon, built by Ramesses II. The pylon was decorated with scenes of Ramesses's military triumphs (particularly the Battle of Kadesh); later pharaohs, particularly those of the Nubian 25th dynasty, also recorded their victories there. This main entrance to the temple complex was originally flanked by six colossal statues of Ramesses – four standing, and two seated – but only two (both seated) have survived. Modern visitors can also see a 25 metre (82 ft) tall pink granite obelisk: it is one of a matching pair. The other was taken to Paris in 1835 where it now stands in the centre of the Place de la Concorde.
The pylon gateway leads into a peristyle courtyard, also built by Ramesses II. This area, and the pylon, were built at an oblique angle to the rest of the temple, presumably to accommodate the three pre-existing barque shrines located in the northwest corner. It is atop the columns of this courtyard that the Abu Haggag mosque was built: on the eastern side, a doorway leads surrealistically out into thin air some 8 metres (26 ft) above the ground. After the peristyle courtyard comes the processional colonnade built by Amenhotep III – a 100 metre (328 ft) corridor lined by 14 papyrus-capital columns. Friezes on the wall describe the stages in the Opet Festival, from sacrifices at Karnak at the top left, through Ammon's arrival at Luxor at the end of that wall, and concluding with his return on the opposite side. The decorations were put in place by Tutankhamun: the boy pharaoh is depicted, but his names have been replaced with those of Horemheb.
Beyond the colonnade is a peristyle courtyard, which also dates back to Amenhotep's original construction. The best preserved columns are on the eastern side, where some traces of original colour can be seen. The southern side of this courtyard is made up of a 32-column hypostyle court that leads into the inner sanctums of the temple. These begin with a dark antechamber. Of particular interest here are the Roman stuccoes that can still be seen atop the Egyptian carvings below; in Roman times this area served as a chapel, where local Christians were offered a final opportunity to renounce their faith and embrace the state religion. Moving further in stands a Barque Shrine for use by Amun, built by Alexander, with the final area being the private quarters of the gods and the Birth Shrine of Amenhotep III (his divine origin is depicted in careful, touching detail on the walls).
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