Luxor Temple, mostly constructed by the pharaohs Amenhotep III (1380–1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279–1213 BC), is a breathtakingly elegant edifice in the center of the current metropolis.
Visit during the day, possibly in the late afternoon, but return at night when the temple is illuminated, producing an unsettling sight as shadow and light interact with the reliefs and colonnades.
Luxor Temple, also known as the Southern Sanctuary, was previously the home of Amenemopet, the ithyphallic Amun of the Opet, and was mostly constructed for Opet festivities, when the statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were yearly reunited with those of Amun of Opet during the inundation season.
Egypt’s Luxor Temple
Amenhotep III substantially expanded an ancient shrine established by Hatshepsut and renamed the vast temple Amun’s southern ipet (harem), the god’s private chambers.
Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Alexander the Great, and different Romans contributed to the edifice throughout the ages.
The Romans built a military fort around the temple, which the Arabs afterwards dubbed Al-Uqsur (The Fortifications), giving rise to the name Luxor.
In ancient times, the temple would have been encircled by a maze of mud-brick residences, stores, and workshops that now lay under the contemporary town, but once the city declined, residents moved inside the partially covered temple complex and constructed their city within it.
A mosque was erected in one of the inner courts in the 14th century for the local sheikh (holy man), Abu al-Haggag.
Excavation work began in 1885, clearing away the hamlet and decades of rubbish to reveal little is left of the temple today, although the mosque still stands.
Luxor Temple is less intricate than Karnak Temple, yet the farther we go within it, the further back in antiquity we go. The avenue of sphinxes that went from the temple to the temples at Karnak 3 kilometers to the north begins in front of the temple.
Ramses II erected the magnificent 24m-high first pylon, which was adorned with reliefs depicting his military accomplishments, especially the Battle of Kadesh.
The pylon was originally flanked by six gigantic statues of Ramses II, four sitting and two standing, but only two of the seated figures and one standing figure survive, as well as a pair of pink granite obelisks, one of which remains and the other stands in Paris’ Place de la Concorde.
Beyond that is Ramses II’s Great Court, which is encircled by a double row of columns with lotus-bud capitals and whose walls are adorned with representations of the pharaoh making gifts to the gods.
On the south (rear) wall is a procession of 17 Ramses II sons with their names and titles, and in front of them is a gorgeous relief, the temple’s first pylon with statues, obelisks, and flags, reliefs depicting his military achievements.
The previous triple-barque temple established by Hatshepsut and seized by her stepson Tuthmosis III for Amun, Mut, and Khonsu is located in the northeastern corner of the court.
The 14th-century Abu al-Haggag Mosque, dedicated to a local sheikh and approached via Sharia al-Karnak, outside the temple precinct, looms over the southeastern side.
Beyond the court lies the earlier magnificent Amenhotep III Colonnade, erected as the great entry to the Temple of Amun of the Opet.
The walls behind the exquisite open papyrus columns were adorned during the reign of the youthful pharaoh Tutankhamun to commemorate the restoration to Theban orthodoxy after the previous king, Akhenaten’s, wayward reign.
The Opet Festival is represented in vivid detail, with the pharaoh, nobles, and ordinary people marching in triumph. Keep an eye out for the drummers and acrobats doing backbends.
The Sun Court of Amenhotep III is located south of the Colonnade and was previously surrounded on three sides by double rows of towering papyrus-bundle columns, the finest surviving of which, with their architraves intact, are those on the eastern and western sides.
Workmen discovered a cache of 26 sculptures here in 1989, buried by priests in Roman times and now housed in the Luxor Museum. The Hypostyle Hall, the first chamber of the old Opet temple, is located beyond, with four rows of eight columns each leading to the temple’s principal halls.
The centre chamber on the axis south of the Hypostyle Hall was the Amun worship shrine, which the Romans stuccoed over in the third century AD and decorated with depictions of Roman officials.
Through this chamber, on each side of which are chapels devoted to Mut and Khonsu, is the four-columned Antechamber, where gifts to Amun were given, and immediately beyond it is the Barque Shrine of Amun, constructed by Alexander the Great, with reliefs depicting him as an Egyptian king.
A doorway to the east leads into two rooms. The first chamber is Amenhotep III’s birth room, which depicts episodes from his heavenly birth.
The moment of his creation is shown, when the god’s fingers contact those of the queen and ‘his dew flooded her flesh,’ according to the accompanying hieroglyphic caption.
The sanctuary of Amenhotep III is the last room; it still includes the remnants of Amun’s statue’s stone foundation, and although it was originally the most holy area of the temple, the bustling street that now runs immediately behind it makes it less atmospheric.
Explore Luxor by Easy Tours Egypt