Today I crossed the river again to visit the sites on the Luxor’s east bank.  I reached the centre of Luxor, which was much nicer than the part I had visited the day before, with a pretty waterfront opposite the Temple of Luxor.

The view across the Nile from Luxor’s corniche
Luxor Temple from the outside

My first visit was to the Luxor museum – a small but high quality collection of the items found in the area. I particularly liked this statue of the god Sobak with pharaoh Amenhotep III.  There were also two mummified bodies on display; I wondered if the owners would have appreciated being dug up to be inspected by tourists.

The god Sobak, Pharaoh Amenhotep III and me
Mummy of Pharaoh Ahmose

From the museum I walked up along the Nile to Karnak, a place of superlatives. This complex of temples became Egypt’s most important religious site when the kingdom’s capital was moved to Thebes (now called Luxor) and royalty started to be buried in the Valley of Kings on the city’s west bank. Starting around 1950 BC, for nearly 2000 years  successive pharaohs sought to leave their mark for posterity by adding to the previous structures. The most impressive and largest buildings were constructed during the reigns of Seti I and Rameses II, around 1290 BC.  The final complex consisted of a huge central temple to Amun, the local god, and several smaller temples devoted to other gods, and covers a vast area. The central Temple of Amun alone is bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral and St Peter’s Basilica combined.

The entrance to Karnak

Just past the entrance archway – or “pylon” – an incredible sight opened up of the 134 huge decorated columns that make up the Great Hypostyle Hall, part of the central Temple to Amun. Entering this area felt like going into a thick forest, with huge stone pillars instead of trees. I wandered around, straining my neck to look up at the fragments of the ceiling, some of which still carried the original painting from ancient times. I stayed for thirty minutes, soaking  in the sheer vastness of the temple, and feeling smaller and smaller.

The Great Hypostyle Hall
A forest of huge decorated columns
I felt smaller and smaller…

After this amazing sight, I explored the central area further. Then I wandered further south to find a “no entry” sign apparently blocking further progress. A guard gestured to me to come through, and led me to a small Temple of Horus. We were completely alone, and it felt a world away from the crowds in the centre of the complex or the bustling city of Luxor. This temple also gave a good view back over the main complex.

Looking back at the central temples of Karnak

I continued exploring these remote outer parts of the complex. Many areas had “no entry” signs, but friendly guards would usher me through in the expectation of receiving “baksheesh” when I had seen everything. In these little-visited places, I wondered if the guards hadn’t put up the “no entry” signs themselves as a way to augment their salaries. I finally ended up at the remote Temple of Mut (the mother goddess) on the very edge of the site.

Mut and me

Beyond it lay a marsh – a reminder that in ancient times, the temple complex was often flooded by the Nile. After three hours of walking and admiring the vast monuments of the Temple of Amun and the quieter smaller temples in the outskirts, I felt that the marsh made a logical end to my visit of one of antiquity’s most impressive monuments.

The complex of Karnak finally ends

I found the southern gate to the complex where a long, straight ancient road led back to Luxor Temple – the recently-excavated Avenue of the Sphinxes, so called because for the entire 3km of its length the path was flanked by statues of sphinxes, rams or cows on either side. I thought about the countless Egyptian priests that must have used this path for hundreds of years – it was a wonderfully atmospheric way to say goodbye to Karnak.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes
Luxor Temple comes into view

The temple of Luxor was something of a disappointment in comparison to Karnak. It was less impressive than other temples I had seen in Egypt, and was much more crowded than Karnak had been.

The entry to Luxor Temple

The best time to see this temple is at night, when it is illuminated, but I was tired after so much walking and did not want to wait. Instead I strolled down the Corniche along the Nile, admiring the view as the sun set.

Sunset on the Nile

It was very pleasant, and even the continual approaches by taxi drivers, people selling things and caleche owners did not spoil my mood. Some of this hassle was done with a good dose of humour. Some examples:

“Why you walk like an Egyptian?” (taxi and caleche drivers)

“Welcome to Alaska” (salesmen trying to get your attention)

“I will hassle you tomorrow” (taxi driver who had stopped working for the day, said with a big smile)

To round off the day, I popped into Winter Palace, the grandest and most historic hotel in Luxor. It was here that Howard Carter announced the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. It had a wonderful colonial style including a comfortable bar where I had a drink and a snack to celebrate the day’s sightseeing.

A well-deserved drink at the Winter Palace

At the beginning of the day, I was worried about having “ancient ruin fatigue”. But the huge, sprawling Temple of Karnak was a sight that even the most jaded traveller would find awesome.

2 thoughts on “Karnak

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  1. Waouh ! Amazing pictures and great report! You are a brave Teddy Bear and a real explorer, Trouspinet ! You must have been really exhausted after visiting those magnificent sites and walking the 3km from Karnak to Luxor. And you know how to treat yourself well! Thank you for sharing your adventure!


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