The Temple of Luxor (daily from 6 am till 9 pm) was built by the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III (1387-1349 BCE), the grandson of the military genius Tuthmosis III, and expanded by the 19th Dynasty pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE). Numerous other sovereigns, including Tutankhamun, Horemhab, and Alexander the Great enriched the construction with reliefs, inscriptions, and minor buildings.
The temple was built for the glory of Amun-Re, King of the gods, which was called by the Ancient Egyptians the “Southern Harem of Amun”. Most of the complex is well preserved, particularly the wall reliefs, as it was covered in sand and built over by the town until excavations started in 1885 by Gaston Maspero. The structure follows the classic of the pharaonic temples: the pavement progressively rises and the roof declines from the entrance to the inner sanctuary. Only the Pharaoh or the High Priest in his stead was permitted to enter the darkened inner sanctuary and behold the statue of the deity. Nowadays the temple lies in the heart of Luxor town, and every so often from the setting for a production of Verdi’s Aida (performed last year, 2019, at Hatshepsut Temple).
The First Pylon (Ramses II’s Pylon):
The Temple of Karnak was joined to the Luxor Temple by the avenue of sphinxes which leads straight up to the entrance pylon of Luxor Temple. The pylon is decorated with reliefs of Ramses II’s victory in the Battle of Qadesh (as he claimed). On the left side of the pylon are the Egyptian camp and the war council; on the right side is the Battle of Qadesh. Below, in vertical bands of inscribed hieroglyphs, is the so-called Poem of Pentaur, which celebrates the pharaoh’s courage. The four large vertical slits on the façade were meant to hold the flagstaffs.
Fronting the pylon are two seated colossi of Ramses II, and 4 standing ones (some of which were restored recently). Four baboons support a superb obelisk (25m tall), the twin of which has adorned the Place de la Concorde in Paris since 1836 when Mohamed Ali Pasha had gifted it to the Queen of France. In return, the Queen of France had gifted Mohamed Ali a clock that adorns his White Mosque at the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo.
Ramses II’s Open Court:
The pylon leads to the Court of Ramses II surrounded by two rows of papyrus-bud columns, and statues of Ramses II in the intercolumnar space. Perched high up to the left of the court, and easily missed at first, is the Mosque of Abu Al-Haggag, the patron saint of Luxor, who is buried on the site.
On the western wall of the court is a beautiful relief of a funeral procession led by 17 of Ramses II’s 100 or so sons. On the northwest side of the court is the shrine of the sacred barks. It was built during the time of Hatshepsut and is dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu.
Mosque of Abu Al-Haggag:
Founded in the 12th century by the Sufi mystic Abu Al-Haggag, the mosque was built when the temple was almost completely covered in silt and sand. When excavations began on the temple, and houses were cleared away, the local people refused to allow any disturbance of the mosque. Since the picturesque mosque hangs about 13 meters above ground level, with its foundations exposed.
An annual Sufi mawlid (birthday festival) is held every year during the month of Sha’aban (the 8th month of the Islamic calendar) to celebrate the saint’s day. This is the largest festival in Upper Egypt.
Colonnade of Amenhotep III:
A portal (original entrance of the temple) leads from Ramses’s Court into the impressive Colonnade of Amenhotep III, of exquisite proportions and a fine example of the architecture of this period. The colonnade is made of two rows of seven columns.
The reliefs on its walls, dating from the time of Tutankhamun (1333-1323 BCE) depict the great Opet festival that took place each year at the height of the flood. During the festival, the sacred statue of the god Amun-Re was taken out of the sanctuary at Karnak and, amidst great pomp and ceremony, transported in a scared barge to Luxor Temple to be reunited with the statues of his consort Mut and their son Khonsu. It remained here for a few days of celebrations and festivities, before being returned to Karnak Temple.
The occasion offered the people of Thebes a rare opportunity to glimpse the statue of Amun-Re, a chance repeated at the end of the year when a second festival (Valley Festival) was held in which Amun-Re was carried across the Nile to visit the mortuary temples of the pharaohs on the west bank of Luxor.
Reliefs illustrating preparations for the Opet festival can be seen on the right-hand wall of Amenhotep III’s Colonnade (some of which was restored in the 1970s), including a rehearsal by dancing girls. They show the procession beginning at the gate of Karnak Temple, shown complete with flagstaffs, from which white-robed priests bear the sacred barge of Amun-Re down to the water’s edge. An enthusiastic audience claps hands in unison, and it is accompanied upstream by celebrates along the shore; a sacrifice of slaughtered animals is followed by a group of acrobats, and finally, offerings are made to the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu at the Temple of Luxor.
On the opposite wall are scenes of the festival’s return procession. The barges are floated downstream, and the final sacrifice and offerings of flowers are made to the deities at Karnak Temple.
At the beginning of the colonnade are two fine limestone groups of the pharaoh and a queen.
The Court of Amenhotep III:
The colonnade gives access to the second court, or the Court of Amenhotep III, lined on three sides by double rows of bundle columns with closed capitals.
An important discovery was made in the Court of Amenhotep III at the end of 1989. When flagstones were being lifted to check on the tilt of the land and possible undermining of the temple’s columns, archaeologists found a hidden cache containing, among other objects, life-size statues of various New Kingdom pharaohs. Many of them are displayed in the New Hall of the Luxor Museum.
The Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III:
The fourth side of the court is actually a transversely-placed Hypostyle Hall with four rows of eight columns each, of the same type as those in the courtyard.
Beyond this hall are several chambers, some of which were adopted by the Roman into Roman chapels and churches. Alexander the Great added a small chapel with reliefs of himself as an Egyptian.
Birth Room (Mamisi) of Amenhotep III:
Other rooms open off around the sanctuary, like the interesting Birth Room of Amenhotep III, with relief decorations chronicling the divine conception and birth of the king: Amun speaking with Thoth, with the pharaoh, and with the queen; Khnum fashioning two new-born figures on his potter’s wheel (Amenhotep III and his Ka (spirit); Thoth announce to Mutemuya, mother of Amenhotep III, that she has conceived; Mutemuya, pregnant, being taken before Isis and Khnum; Mutemuya on her bed, assisted by the deities of childbirth; the nursing of the infant and his presentation to Amun.
The Holy of Holies:
Behind the sanctuary, is the Holy of Holies, which was inaccessible to common mortals and the majority of the priests. Here was kept the statue of Amun, into his presence only the pharaoh and the High Priest was allowed to come for the purpose of celebrating the liturgical ceremonies.