Not that 5:00 is a nice hour for anything, but it’s definitely a nicer hour to get up than to take a plane. Leaving was scheduled for 6:00 (with sail-off at 14:00), and I would not have minded had it been earlier to be honest. However, given that most of my group had arrived at midnight, there might have been a riot…
Breakfast was not too well stocked, but there was coffee and eggs for energy through the morning as we were going to be out from 6:00 to 14:00 – a full eight hours. We started late because the tour guide was late… not a good sign. The group had 18 people plus him, and he really did not sound either enthusiastic nor particularly knowledgeable to be blunt. We had a coach booked for us and we set off to visit the main elements in the city of Luxor [الأقصر] and its surroundings, the Unesco World Heritage Site Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis. We started towards the West Bank of the Nile, the bank of the dead, where the ruins of the Necropolis are.
Our first stop was Medinet Habu [مدينة هابو] a Pharaonic complex, whose most important building is the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III. It was the last monument built in the area, during the pharaoh’s reign (12th century BCE, Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom). The basic structure of an Ancient Egyptian or Pharaonic temple is the pylon – court – hall. The pylon is a massive wall separated in two parts in which a narrow passage acts as gate. The court is a colonnade, and the hall is the area where the sacred spots can be found, covered and darker.
In the case of the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, the complex is surrounded by a mud brick wall with an extra pylon. The temple is decorated with carvings that depict the pharaoh as a great warrior smiting all his enemies. The structure used to be connected to the Nile to the point that there was a so-called Nilometre. In Ancient Egypt, taxation was determined by how high the Nile floods were – or were not.
After the temple, we continued off to the Valley of the Kings | Wādī al-Mulūk [وادي الملوك]. Between the 16th and 11th centuries BCE, after the pyramids had been proven easy to find and pillage, the pharaohs from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth dynasties were laid to rest here. The tombs are excavated into the rock and here was where Howard Carter found Tutankhamun’s grave in 1922. The ticket grants admission to three “standard” tombs, and the most emblematic ones require a separate fee. Our guide pressed us not to buy a ticket for Tutankhamun, and did not even mention other tickets – at this point I decided that I had to read beforehand about what we were going to do the following days in order to be prepared for his attitude.
The first grave we visited was the Tomb of Ramesses IV (KV2) (12th century BCE, Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom). It consists of a long and richly-decorated corridor that ends in a mortuary chamber where the sarcophagus still stands. It has been open to visits from antiquity.
The second tomb was the Tomb of Ramesses IX (KV6) (12th century BCE, Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom), which was unfinished at the time of his death. The entrance corridor is wide, with the walls covered with glass. In this case, the burial chamber was unreachable.
Our final grave was the Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11), whose temple we had seen before. The interesting thing about this tomb was that it ran into another one as it was being built, so the corridor actually has corners before reaching the empty burial chamber.
After the Valley of the Kings, we headed back to the Eastern Bank and made a stop at the Colossi of Memnon [تمثالا ممنون]. Each of the four statues was carved from one huge block of rock, and they signal the entrance to the funerary temple of Amenhotep III (14th century BCE, Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom). The temple is currently being excavated, and it would have been the largest in the West Bank.
Afterwards, we got stuck for a stupid amount of time at an “artisan stonework” shop – a tourist trap to buy souvenirs. Boy, was I miffed, especially when this took out time from temples in Luxor. The first stop in the Eastern bank the was Karnak Temples Complex [الكرنك]. Karnak is a succession of temples, pylons and chapels that started around 2000 BCE, during the reign of Senusret I (20th century BCE, Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom) and continued for 2000 further years, with more Pharaohs adding their own structures. The most impressive area in Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, open to the sky now with a number of columns ending on an open papyrus capital. Other features are the obelisks of Hatshepsut, one standing, the other fallen.
The complex was dedicated to the Theban triad: the god Amun, the goddess Mut (the “mother” goddess with the head of a vulture) and their son Khonsu (god of the moon). Amun was the creator of the universe, and later his cult was merged with that of Ra, the god of sun and light, thus the appearance of the god Amun-Ra, to whom the main temple was dedicated. The huge complex expands right and left, but unfortunately we had little time to explore due to time constraints.
We moved on to Luxor Temple and the Avenue of Sphinxes, also called Rams Road [طريق الكباش]. The Avenue joined Karnak and Luxor, and was flanked by ram-faced sphinxes all along its three kilometres – though the four best preserved ones were taken to Cairo to create a monument in one of the squares. The avenue has actually been walkable since 2021, and you can go from one temple to the other on foot.
Luxor Temple [معبد الأقصر ] was dedicated to the rejuvenation of the monarchy, and many pharaohs were crowned there. It was founded around 1400 BCE, and throughout the centuries has come to host a mosque. In front of it, stands an obelisk, whose twin is in Paris. Behind the obelisk stands the pylon, the court, the colonnade, and a final court before the sanctuary chamber.
We were back on the boat just a few minutes after 14:00 for lunch, and then I found my way to the sun deck to see the sail off… which did not happen till 16:00! All that running through the temples for… nothing. I was not pleased, but I refused to get angry. Instead, I read up on what was to come, did some bird watching – I caught a flock of ibises – and watched the sunset.
In the late evening we reached the floodgate at Esna, which we should have crossed around dinnertime. We got stuck waiting for our turn behind a large LNG ship and a lot of other motorboats. In the middle of nowhere, I was able to see the stars very clearly, and that was pretty.