Luxor – Exclusive and Private Visit on Day 8 of Your Egypt Vacation
The name Luxor represents both the present-day metropolis that was ancient The bes, and the temple on the eastern bank which adjoins the town. “Luxor” derives from the Arabic al-uksur, meaning “fortifications”. That name in addition was adapted from the Latin castrum which referred to the Roman fort built around the temple in the later third century AD. The temple of Luxor has, since its inception, always been a sacred site. After Egypt’s pagan period, a Christian church and monastery was located here, and after that, a mosque (13th century Mosque of Abu el-Haggag) was built that continues to be used today.
In ancient Egypt the temple area now known as Luxor was called Ipt rsyt, the “southern sanctuary”, referring to the holy of holies at the temple’s southern end, wherein the principal god, Amun “preeminent in his sanctuary”, dwelt. His name was later shortened to Amenemope. This Amun was a fertility god, and his statue was modeled on that of the similarly Min of Coptos. He also has strong connections to both Karnak and West Thebes.
Known in ancient times as “the private sanctuary (Opet) of the south,” the temple proper is located south of Karnak. The present temple is built on a rise that has never been excavated and which may conceal the original foundations. The early building may rest on a no longer visible older structure dating back to the 12th Dynasty. However, since neither the cult nor any part of the temple appears to predate the early 18th Dynasty; the few Middle Kingdom fragments found here more probably came from elsewhere and were transported to Luxor after the original buildings were dismantled.
The earliest reference to the temple comes from a pair of stelae left at Maasara quarry, in the hills east of Memphis, inscribed in regnal year 22 of the reign of Ahmose, c. 1550 BC. The text records the extraction of limestone for a number of temples including the “Mansion of Amun in the Southern Sanctuary.” But structural evidence appears at Luxor only during the co-rule of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III c 1500 BC. These elements are now built into the triple shrine erected by Ramesses II, c 1280 BC, the most substantial remnant of Luxor temple’s Tuthmosid phase. The shrine was erected inside the first court, in the northwest corner, and reused elements from the original chapel dedicated by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III.. This small building had been the last of six barque stations built along the road that brought Amun and his entourage from Karnak to Luxor every year during the Opet Festival.
We also know that Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) built a sanctuary to the sun next to the Luxor Temple that was later destroyed by Horemheb.
We also know that Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) built a sanctuary to the sun next to the Luxor Temple that was later destroyed by Horemheb. The temple we see today was built essentially by two kings, Amenhotep III, (the inner part), and Ramesses II, (the outer part). The overall length of the temple between the pylon and rear wall measures about 189.89 by 55.17 meters (623 by 181 feet).
The original function of the temple of Luxor, apparently dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut and their son Khonsu, appears uncertain. However, recent hypotheses suggest that the temple of Luxor, a collection of irregularly developed structures begun during the reign of Amenhotep III and then expanded, particularly by Ramesses II, and still further enlarged in later years, should be considered a sanctuary dedicated to the celebration of the royal ka.
Hence, Luxor Temple was the power base of the living divine king, and the foremost national shrine of the king’s cult. This doctrine of divine kingship separated the Egyptians from their neighbors in Mesopotamia and from the later medieval “divine selection and right of kings” of Europe.
Plan of Luxor Temple
Kingship was believed to be ordained by the gods at the beginning of time in accordance with ma’at., the well-ordered state, truth, justice, cosmic order. The reigning king was also the physical son of the Creator sun-god. This divine conception and birth was recorded on the walls of Luxor Temple, at Deir el-Bahari, and other royal cult temples throughout Egypt. The king was also an incarnation of the dynastic god Horus, and when deceased, the king was identified with the father of Horus, Osiris. This living king was thus a unique entity, the living incarnation of deity, divinely chosen intermediary, who could act as priest for the entire nation, reciting the prayers, dedicating the sacrifices.
A road was built in the 18th Dynasty to link Karnak to the north with Luxor to the south. Although the position of this road must have coincided with the avenue seen in front of Luxor temple today, the latter, along with the sphinxes flanking it, date to the reign of Nectanebo I in the 30th Dynasty. However, we believe that Nectanebo I only refurbished the road and lined it with new sphinxes. The mudbrick ruins on either side of the road are all that remains of the town of Luxor during the later and post-Dynastic periods.
There was a girdle wall built around the temple that consisted of independent massifs of sun-dried brick abutting at their ends, built of courses set on a triple system that ran concave horizontal concave.
The gate through which one would pass from the avenue to the esplanade in front of the temple was constructed after the Dynastic period, for the brick wall around this courtyard is contemporary with the Roman fort built around the temple at the beginning of the 4th century AD. Substantial remains of the walls, gates, and pillared stone avenues, can be seen east and west of the temple. Buildings used in this transformation and which no longer exist in whole include a chapel dedicated to Hathor that was erected during the 25th dynasty reign of Taharqa and a colonnade of Shabaka, later dismantled. A modest mudbrick shrine dedicated to Serapis during Hadrian’s reign and which still contains a statue of Isis survives at the court’s northwest corner.
Two red granite obelisks originally stood in front of the first pylon at the rear of the forecourt, but only one, more than 25 meters (75 feet) high, now remains. The other was removed to Paris where it now stands in the center of the Place de la Concorde. These obelisks were not of the same height, and they were not on the ame alignment, probably to make up in perspective for this difference in height.
Six colossal statues of Ramesses II, two of them seated, flanked the entrance, though today only the two seated ones have survived. The one to the east was known as “Ruler of the Two Lands”.
Although Amenhotep III built the temple proper, it is fronted by a 24 meter high pylon of Ramesses II. The pylon and the courtyard beyond, also built by Ramesses II, is oddly out of alignment with the axis established by the other pre-existent buildings. This non-alignment may have resulted from consideration for the small shrine built during the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Hatshepsut. Some scholars also think that the alignment may have been made so that the pylon would be on the same axis as the processional way leading to the Karnak Temple. Reliefs and texts on the outside of the first pylon relate the story, in sunk reliefs, of the battle of Qadesh against the Hittites. Other later kings, particularly those of the Nubian Dynasty, also recorded their military victories on these walls (Shabaka on the inner pylon walls). The pylon towers once supported four enormous cedar-wood flag masts from which pennants streamed.