Originally named Thebes or Waset to the ancient Egyptians, it was a major power centre in ancient Egypt during the Golden Age. The pharaohs built many grand monuments, along with vast tombs and burial sites for their queens and royal siblings. Many of these ancient ruins are well preserved and include the likes of both the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, where some spectacular tombs can be found.
Luxor is built on Thebes, mostly on the east bank of the River Nile. The pharaohs typically resided in northern Egypt, but chose to head down to this region during the 10th dynasty, and it soon became the major power centre.
The settlement transformed from an isolated agricultural place into the capital of Egypt and flourished during the Golden Age, from 1570 BC to 1090 BC, when Thebes was home to a population exceeding one million.
VALLEYS OF THE KINGS AND QUEENS
The all powerful, wealthy Theban Pharaohs showed off their mastery by building elaborate monuments, many of which remain today in the Theban Necropolis (burial sites). These include the Valley of the Kings, which is home to many tombs, the most famous of which is that of King Tutankhamen.
All of this craftsmanship meant that large teams of workers were needed. These labourers resided within the Artisan Village, Deir el-Medina, today featuring just the perimeter wall. The Valley of the Queens was built as a fitting tribute to the kings, featuring dozens of burial sites for the pharaohs' wives and families, including Queen Nefertiti.
TEMPLE OF KARNAK
The celebrated Temple of Karnak (Ipet-isut) is the biggest attraction in modern Luxor today, being home to a complex of striking buildings. It is more than 2,000 years old and was built to honour the gods. Another of the major monuments of this illustrious period is the Temple of Luxor, of Ramesses II, mainly noted for its Court of Ramesses II and the Abu'l Haggag Mosque.
The Avenue of the Sphinxes was built to connect the temples of Karnak and Luxor. This was used to stage grand religious processions at festival time.
Queen Hatshepsut had a temple built for her out of limestone, known as Deir El-Bahri, during the 18th dynasty,
FORGOTTEN AND REDISCOVERED
Thebes was dismissed by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC and the place slid into obscurity following the arrival of the Greeks. To add insult to injury, the Romans went about systematically defacing much of the architecture in the 1st century BC.
Luxor lay in relative obscurity for centuries until Napoleon arrived on the scene at the end of the 18th century, followed by teams of eager archaeologists. One of those was acclaimed English archaeologist Howard Carter, a knowledgeable Egyptologist who peered inside Tutankhamen's tomb for the first time on 26th November, 1922. It was the richest find in centuries since the original tombs had all been raided, while this one had remained hidden. Interestingly, King 'Tut' was a minor Pharaoh who died in his early twenties. His magnificently gilded sarcophagus now forms the centre piece of Cairo's famed Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
Incidentally, as per prophesies of curses, Carter and his team suffered a series of mishaps as a result of opening this 'Pandora's box'. Interest in Egypt and its ancient artefacts grew considerably and visitors soon flocked to Luxor to witness this latest discovery first hand.
The Luxor Museum resides back in the city, near the River Nile, and tells more of the history of Luxor through some amazing artefacts relating to the monuments and tombs of the area.
Over the centuries, the Islamification of the Egyptian Nile and invasion of the Romans, the Ottomans and eventually the British would pale in comparison to early Thebes history. The world's very first international tourists began arriving in their masses when Thomas Cook organised cruises along the Nile in the middle part of the 19th century. However, the nationalism years of President Nasser and the subsequent modern upheavals centred on Cairo largely passed this city by.
Colossi of Memnon
The Egyptian sun god Ra, was often depicted as a scarab beetle.
1. Karnak Temple
Situated along the banks of the River Nile, this temple has everything you can imagine. Within its precincts are the Great Temple of Amun (Ancient Egyptian god of the sun and air), the Temple of Khons, and the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III. It is not built to a single unified plan but represents the building activity of many successive rulers of Egypt, who competed with one another in adding to and adorning this great national sanctuary, which became the most important of Egypt's temples during the New Kingdom.
All the monuments here are on a gigantic scale, dwarfing visitors as they gaze up at mighty columns and colossal statuary. Even if you're short on time, don't scrimp on your visit here. You need at least three hours to try and make sense of the entire complex.
2. Valley of the Kings
The famed Valley of the Kings, hidden between rocky escarpments, was the final resting place for the kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. Their main attraction is their wonderfully vivid wall paintings. Since it was believed that the dead man, accompanied by the sun god, or perhaps having become one with the sun god, sailed through the underworld at night in a boat. The walls of the tombs were adorned with texts and scenes depicting this voyage and giving the dead man instruction on its course.
Within the valley are 63 tombs, including the famous boy-king Tutankhamun. The tombs are open on a rotation system to preserve the paintings as much as possible from the damage caused by humidity.
3. Luxor Temple
Presiding over the modern downtown district, is Luxor Temple. Built first by Amenophis III, (1390-1352 BC), on the site of an earlier sandstone temple, it was dedicated to the god of Amun, his consort Mut, and their son the moon god Khons. Like all Egyptian temples, it comprises the chapels of the gods with their vestibules and subsidiary chambers, a large Hypostyle Hall, and an open Peristyle Court, which was approached from the north by a great colonnade.
The temple was added to and changed by a procession of pharaohs, including Amenophis IV, who obliterated all references to the god Amun within the temple and added the Sanctuary of the god Aten. later Tutankhamun completed the temple (1336-1327 BC). He had the walls of the colonnade embellished with reliefs and in turn destroyed the Temple of the Aten. Seti I, restored the reliefs of Amun and Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), extended the temple significantly, adding a new colonnaded court at the north end.
Toward the rear there is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC).
The temple has almost been in continuous use as a place of worship, right up to the present day. During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was converted into a Christian church, and the remains of another Coptic church can be seen to the west. Then for thousands of years, the temple was buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. Eventually the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today.
4. Temple of Deir al-Bahri (Queen Hatshepsut's Temple)
This Temple is magnificently situated at the foot of the sheer cliffs fringing the desert hills. The light colored sandstone of the temple stands out prominently against the golden light brown rocks behind. The temple complex is laid out on three terraces rising from the plain, linked by ramps, which divide it into a northern and a southern half. Along the west side of each terrace is a raised colonnade. (a long sequence of joined columns)
The terraces were cut out of the eastern slopes of the hills, with retaining walls of the finest sandstone along the sides and to the rear. The temple itself was also partly cut from the rock. Inside, the complex is richly adorned with statues, reliefs, and inscriptions.
Queen Hatshepsut had herself represented with the attributes of a male pharaoh, with a beard and short apron, to demonstrate that she possessed all the authority of a king.
5. Luxor Museum
This museum holds a collection of beautiful exhibits from the local area, which tells the story of ancient Thebes from the Old Kingdom right up to the Islamic Period. The museum's prize possessions are the two Royal Mummies of Ahmose I and what is believed to be Ramses I, in two rooms on the ground floor, which make this visit a highlight.
The upper floor has a dazzling collection of amulets, silver bowls, tomb furnishings, and sacred tablets running across the middle of the floor space. Visit the re-erected Wall of Akhenaten. The 283 sandstone blocks are covered with painted reliefs and originally belonged to Akhenaten's Temple of the Sun at Karnak.
6. Medinet Habu
Medinet Habu often gets overlooked on a West Bank trip, but this is one of Egypt's most beautifully decorated temples and should be on everyone's West Bank to see list. The complex consists of a small, older temple built during the 18th dynasty and the great Temple of Ramses III, associated with a royal palace, which was surrounded by a battlemented enclosure wall four meters high.
The main temple area was built exactly on the model of the Ramesseum and, like the Ramesseum, was dedicated to Amun. The reliefs here are some of the best you will see on the West Bank.
7. Colossi of Memnon
Beside the road that runs from the Valley of the Queens and Medinet Habu towards the Nile are the famous gigantic statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. Carved out of hard sandstone quarried in the hills above Edfu, they represent Amenophis III seated on a cube shaped throne, and once stood guard at the entrance to the king's temple, of which only small traces are left.
The South Colossus is better preserved than the one to the north. It stands almost 20 meters high and the base is partly buried under the sand.
The North Colossus is the famous "musical statue," which brought flocks of visitors here during the Roman Imperial period. Visitors observed that the statue emitted a musical note at sunrise and this gave rise to the myth that Memnon was greeting his mother, Eos, with this soft, plaintive note. The sound ceased to be heard after Emperor Septimus Severus had the upper part of the statue restored.
If you walk behind the statues, you can see the vast site, currently being excavated by archaeologists, where Amenophis III's temple once sat.
The great mortuary temple built by Ramses II and dedicated to Amun, lies on the edge of the cultivated land, 2 kilometers south of Deir el-Bahri. Although only about half of the original structure survives, it is still a highly impressive monument.
The north tower and south tower are inscribed with reliefs of Ramses II's battle with the Hittites, similar to the reliefs of Abu Simbel. On the South Tower, the whole of the left hand half of the wall is taken up by the Battle of Qadesh. Scenes here portray Ramses in his chariot dashing against the Hittites, who are killed by his arrows or flee in wild confusion and fall into the River Orontes, while to the right, you can make out the Hittite Prince and the enemy fleeing into their fortress.
Inside the First Court are the remains of a colossal figure of the king, which is estimated to have originally had a total height of 17.5 meters and to have weighed more than 1,000 tons.
9. Valley of the Queens
The tombs in the Valley of the Queens mostly belong to the 19th and 20th dynasties. A total of almost 80 tombs are now known, most of them excavated by an Italian expedition led by E. Schiaparelli between 1903 and 1905. Many of the tombs are unfinished and without decoration, resembling mere caves in the rocks. There are few incised inscriptions or reliefs, with much of the decoration consisting of paintings on stucco.
Only four tombs are open for public viewing, but one of the group is the famed Tomb of Queen Nefertari, only reopened in 2016, making a trip here well worth it. The Tomb of Queen Nefertari, Wife to Ramses II, is regarded as the finest of the West Bank's glut of tombs. The walls and ceilings of the chambers here are covered with dazzling, highly detailed and richly colored scenes, which celebrate Nefertari's legendary beauty.
10. Felucca Ride to Banana Island
If you have had your fair share of temples and tombs for the day, there is no better way to relax in Luxor than to take a felucca ride to Banana Island. Five kilometers upriver from Luxor, this teeny palm-shaded island is the perfect place to chill out and relax.
Hop on a felucca in the late afternoon after a long day of temple and tomb viewing, and sit back to watch the Nile river side views as the boat captain raises the sail and you slide up the river. If you sail back just on sunset, you'll get to see the river at its most majestic.
11. Hot Air Balloon Ride over Luxor at Sunrise
For great aerial views over the entire west bank, with its temples and village farmland tucked between the escarpment, take a hot air balloon ride, the town's most popular activity, with balloons all taking off just after sunrise.