Luxor – the old capital of Egypt
After spending three nights in Cairo we flew to Luxor (known as Thebes in ancient times) that is almost halfway through the length of Egypt. Luxor became the capital of Egypt after Memphis was abandoned due to a lack of water.
I think now is a good time to tell you a bit about Egypt and it’s history.
Egypt is populated on the banks of Nile, just a few kilometers on either side. Apart from the green patches on both sides of the river the rest of the country is desert. It is fair to say that Egypt exists because of the Nile.
The Niles flows from South to North and divides Egypt into two parts- Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.
In 3109 BC, Narmer was able to conquer and unite Upper and Lower Egypt to form a kingdom and to become the first Pharaoh. For the next three thousand years, Egypt was ruled by thirty dynasties of Pharaohs.
The Pharaohs were unmatched in grandeur in the whole world. Keep in mind we are talking about 5000 to 2000 years period from today. The only other matching civilization I am aware of, from that period, was Indian civilization as depicted in Ramayana (estimated to have occurred 5000 years ago) and Mahabharata (estimated to happen about 3000 years ago). But there no trace of their existence, while temples, tombs and even the bodies of people with perfect skin, nails, and hair from that period still exist for Egyptian civilization.
The three thousand years of Pharaoh history is divided into four periods.
Old Kingdom (3100 BC – 2025 BC) when 1st to 10th dynasties ruled. This was the period when the Great Pyramids of Giza were built.
Middle Kingdom (2055 BC to 1550 BC) when 11nth to 17th dynasties ruled.
New Kingdom (1550 BC to 525 BC). It is the most significant and prosperous period when the 18th to 26th dynasties ruled. This was the period of Tutankhamen, Seti I and Seti II and all of the Ramses ( 1 to 9). Moses and Jew’s exodus happened in Ramses II’s period.
The Late Period, that lasted from 525 BC to 332 BC, when the last four dynasties ruled before the arrival of Alexander in 332 BC, which started three hundred years of Greek rule followed by another three hundred years of Roman rule.
From the airport, we went straight to the famous temple of Karnak. Karnak Temple was built by three different Pharaohs ( Seti I, Ramses I and Ramses II ) over a period of 180 years.
More than a temple, Karnak is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons, and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and Pharaohs. It was believed this temple was the place where the gods lived on earth.
Everything is on a gigantic scale. It has two entrances marked by ten pylons constructed by different Pharaohs (A pylon is a monumental gateway with sloping sides forming the entrance to temples).
Inside the second pylon is the Great Hypostyle Hall, the greatest religious monument ever built. Covering 5500 sq meters, the hall has a forest of 134 gigantic papyrus shaped stone pillars. The papyrus plant was very important to ancient Egyptians. They believed that these plants surrounded the primeval mound on which the life was first created.
The columns, roof and the wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall have relics telling the stories of the Amun-Ra the local god of Thebes and Seti I. The hall was designed by Ramses I and completed by Seti I and Ramses II.
The two largest obelisks ever erected in Egypt are also here. They were erected by the pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut to the glory of her father Amun. One of them is still standing while the other one is broken. Its upper shaft lies near the sacred lake.
Our second stop was the Luxor temple. Where the Karnak Temple has massive pillars, the Luxor temple had massive statues. Situated right at the banks of the Nile, the Luxor temple was built by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. Later, Alexander the Great and Romans added to the temple, converting a part of it into a church.
Centuries later, a mosque (known as Abu Haggag Mosque) was built on the ruins of the temple which still stands there and still a place of worship.
This makes Luxor temple the only shrine in the world which has a temple, church and a mosque in the same precinct and the oldest practicing center of worship dating back to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC.
But Luxor’s biggest attraction is the Valley of the Kings. Just a few kilometers out of the city it has tombs of pharaohs, including that of Tutankhamen. The discovery of Tutankhamen tomb is the most important discovery in Egyptian history as it was the only tomb of a Pharaoh that was found intact.
We first saw the valley from the hot air balloon the next morning and then visited it later in the day.
About forty tombs have been discovered so far. While many more exist there without a trace, excavations were going on at a few new discoveries while we were there.
We visited the three best ones on the recommendation of our guide who had seen them all. Out of those, I found Ramses IV’s tomb the most remarkable. Well-preserved and with colorful relics. Most surreal was seeing his massive stone sarcophagus in the burial chamber. It was the only tomb we visited which had the sarcophagus still inside, rest have been taken out and preserved in the museums.
Ramses IX’s tomb had unfinished relics that showed ancient techniques of making relics. First, the junior artists will draw using black ink followed by senior artists correcting the mistakes by red ink, while the master artist completing the final picture and coloring (a poster below describe the process better).
Ramses III’s tomb was remarkable for a long shaft that is twisted at an angle.
Not far from the Valley of is the Kings is an impressive temple commissioned by a female Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut, who also commissioned many other structures including an obelisk in the Karnak temple.
Luxor is a beautiful place. I liked it even more than Cairo. It has a beautiful walk by the Nile, well-paved and well-lit, a big square outside the Luxor temple and Abu Haggag Mosque. People were exceptionally friendly and helping. The Vodafone salesperson helped for half an hour (ahead of the queue) to set things up and make sure our phone is working properly.
I am a lot behind in my posts as Wifi was not easily available in Egypt. We had to buy a SIM and loading pictures through it was next to impossible.
In my next post, I will write about cruising through the Nile and a glimpse of real Egypt.