Ten hours after leaving Cairo on a sleeper train, we pulled into a station and stopped. It was 6am, I rolled off the bed in my cabin to go to the bathroom and to find out if this was our stop as we heard no announcement. As I opened the door, the train conductor was running towards me in a bit of a panic (while getting dressed) telling us this is our stop. He was alerted by our awaiting driver at the train station. I forgot about the bathroom, we grabbed our things and literally ran off the train which started moving just after we stepped off. The conductor thought that we were going to Aswan (another 4 hours away) because that’s what the ticket said.
Tip: If you ever attempt this trip, notify the conductor upon boarding of your stop, the tickets ALL say Aswan by default.
We stayed at the Nefertiti Hotel (a real gem) for 2 nights. The 3rd night was spent docked in Luxor aboard the five star Nile cruise ship the MS Armco II before setting sail to Aswan.
The luggage was dropped off at the hotel and we set off to explore Luxor with our guide.
Today, the city of Luxor is home to a long list of monuments and as such is labelled “the world’s greatest open air museum”. In ancient times, this city was well known for its high social status, luxury, religious sites and political status.
Karnak Temple Complex
We arrived at 7am and had the whole complex to ourselves for a while. Spanning over 200 acres on the East bank of the Nile, the Karnak Temple complex dates from around 2055 BC to 100 AD and was primarily dedicated to the Theban triad (Gods Amun, his consort Mut, and their son Khunso). It was constructed over a period that spanned 2000 years by many pharaohs, each one adding their own designs giving Karnak its diversity and complexity.
The most famous section is the Hypostyle Hall, built by Seti I, it contains 134 giant columns with the 12 largest standing 80 ft high. Inscriptions on the northern wing depict Seti’s battles. The southern wing was built by Ramesses II and depicts his peace treaty with the Hittites.
Other areas of interest and much wonder in the complex are the Processional Way of ram-headed sphinxes, Temple of Khonsu, Tuthmosis III Hall, Thutmose III Pylon, First pylon, Ramesses III Chapel and sacred lake.
Don’t take my word for it, go see it yourself and stand amongst the 80-foot stone columns in absolute amazement. There’s also a statue here, that I think looks like the singing and dancing statue from (Sesame Street) Ernie and Bert’s trip to Egypt.
Entrance cost: 120 EGP
Located on the east bank of the Nile, it is connected to Karnak Temple by the Avenue of the Sphinxes. It was constructed between 1100 BC to 1600 BC by King Amenhotep III and King Ramses II. The annual Opet Festival (to honour the god Amun) is believed to have occurred here.
At the entrance of the first pylon, two pink granite obelisks once stood 80 ft. tall. Presently, only one obelisk remains in place, the other was gifted to France and stands in the Place De La Concorde.
In later periods, parts of the temple were also used as a church and monastery. Also, sitting on top of the temple’s ruins, you will find the Abu Al-Haggag Mosque. The temple of Luxor was covered by centuries of debris, sand and rubble. The mosque’s door indicates what was once street level. Today, this mosque is still fully functional.
This makes me wonder just how much of ancient Egypt is still buried below the sand.
Entrance cost: 100 EGP
This museum definitely has a collection that goes for quality over quantity. It houses one third of the world’s Egyptian treasures and is definitely worth visiting. All artifacts including statues, jewelry, pottery, royal mummies, items from burial chambers, wall extracts etc. have all come from nearby sites in Luxor. The museum definitely doesn’t have the volume when compared to Cairo, but the displays, labels and presentations are much better. I found it to be enlightening, having a guide also helps.
The Temple of Seti I at Abydos
The city of Abydos is believed by Ancient Egyptians to contain the tomb of Osiris (the God of the Dead and the underworld). It was therefore a city of religious significance to the Ancient Egyptians. The temple of Seti I was dedicated to Osiris and contained 7 shrines dedicated to 7 Gods: Osiris, Isis, Horus, Amun Ra, Ra Horakhty and Ptah, and Seti I as an immortalized king. Due to its location, this temple isn’t heavily visited, it takes about 2.5 hours to get there by car from Luxor.
Entrance cost: 40 EGP
One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, Dendara temple is primarily dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love, joy and motherhood. The temple contains columns that has the head of Hathor, many of which have been defaced by people in later eras that did not support the ancient Egyptian beliefs. Temple ceilings are extraordinary and still have much of the original bright blue paint. Elaborate depictions can be found on the ceiling such as the ancient Egyptian zodiac and the sky goddess Nut who swallows the sun every evening and rebirths it at dawn. The temple complex also contains several shrines and crypts for that are open for viewing.
Entrance cost: 80 EGP
Valley of the Kings
Sorry folks, I don’t have any photos of this spectacular site as photography isn’t allowed. It’s definitely a must see in Egypt. Valley of the Kings became Egypt’s royal burial ground during the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) and contain 63 discovered tombs of pharaohs and royal families.
Different tombs are open during different periods. One general admission ticket gets you access to 3 tombs, Tut Ankh Amen’s tomb comes at an extra charge. We visited the spectacular tombs of Ramses IV, Tuthmosis III, Menttuherkhopshef and Tut Ankh Amen. Apart from the mummies, tombs contained all the things the rulers would need in the afterlife; things such as food, clothes, sacred items, jewelry and furniture. As you walk through the tunnels of the tombs, the walls are filled with colourful paintings and inscriptions about the pharaoh’s life and religious rites.
The tomb of one pharaoh still remains undiscovered, Ramses VIII.
General Admission Ticket: 160 EGP
King Tut Admission: 200 EGP
The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
The first known female monarch Queen Hatshepsut built this temple during her reign as pharaoh between 1479-1458 BC. She was the stepmother of Thutmose III who was too young to rule at the time of his father’s death, she broke tradition by crowning herself pharaoh. During her reign Egypt’s economy prospered through trade.
Some statues in the temple depict Hatshepsut in male clothing with a beard. The second level of the temple has chapels dedicated to Hathor and Anubis. Hatshepsut often worshiped Hathor as a female ruler. It was also not uncommon for temples to have a chapel for Anubis as it was logical to worship the god who had an important role in the afterlife.
It was even “a man’s world” in ancient Egypt with there being a long standing line of male monarchs. After Hatshepsut’s death her name and images were removed from public records by Thutmose III. He went on to change the records by claiming her accomplishments and reign. She remained unknown until the mid-19th century when monuments were discovered during excavations of the site.
As a side note, there are great scented Egyptian perfume oils named after her.
Entrance Cost: 80 EGP
Colossi of Memnon
These 2 giant 18m tall statues of Amenhotep III sit on the west bank of the river Nile. The statues portrayed Amenhotep sitting with hands upon his knees facing east and were built at his temple’s entrance. There are almost no remains of this temple and the statues themselves are very badly damaged from earthquakes and flooding. The statues were eventually associated with the Trojan War hero Memnon because there were reported cries at dawn from the northern statue (caused by the stone type and cracks in the statue). Hence, the name.
Entrance cost: Free
Built by Ramsses III, Medinet Habu is the second largest ancient temple (16 acres) found in Egypt. It was built to practice mortuary rituals and worship the god Amun. Depictions on the walls show religious ceremonies, life and battles during the reign of Ramsses III. When the temple was excavated the remains of severed human heads were found on display in a likely attempt for Ramsses III to show control over other regions. Pretty interesting stuff right?
Entrance cost: 40 EGP
This memorial temple of Ramsses II was dedicated to the god Ra. The temple walls depict many of the successful battles during his reign. The temple has been battered over time by earthquakes and Nile flooding. Remains of the colossus of Ramesses once 17m tall, can be found at the temple’s entrance.
Entrance cost: 60 EGP
Ancient Workmen’s Village in Deir el-Medina
This small village comprised of artists and workers who were the builders of the royal tombs located in the Valley of the Kings. It dates back to the reign of 18th dynasty King Thutmose. Above the village, hidden in the rocks the workers constructed their own tombs. They are not large tombs when compared to royal tombs but the interiors are also filled with beautiful paintings and detailed carvings.
During our visit, we were the only two visitors at the site which turned out to be a stroke of luck. Our guide said that there was a new tomb that is now open to the public, we would be the first members of the public to enter. Sorry, photos aren’t allowed here, but these tombs are nothing less than spectacular!!!
Entrance cost: 60 EGP
So what else can you do in Luxor when you are not visiting a temple site?
If you’re in to Hookahs, why not stop and have a smoke at one of Luxor’s many cafes. I had a strawberry flavored smoke at the Nefertiti’s Al Sahaby lane restaurant. While the flavor was nice, my lungs are definitely not conditioned for any type of smoking.
You can also explore a bit of Luxor on foot. It is nice to stroll along the banks of the Nile, there are benches where you can sit and watch some feluccas sail on by. Walking through souks is always a fun activity (I think the vendors are most aggressive in Cairo). The souks are filled with scents of exotic spices, teas, scarves, clothes, fruit and other souvenirs. We met a vendor with a tiny papyrus shop, who showed us his pretty drawings (he was also a hugger). If you decide to buy, haggle, it’s expected. There are a few churches in the area that might be worth exploring, we wandered into the Michael Angel Church. The city streets are filled with small horse drawn carriages for hire and if you are a horse lover, the condition of the horses can be heartbreaking to see; I wished the horses were healthier.
Luxor is also a popular spot for hot air balloon rides. After a lot of shopping around, the Nefertiti was able to arrange one for me at $58USD including hotel pick up and drop off. The ride lasts about 45 minutes whilst you float over the Valley of the Kings and other archaeological sites.
Luxor is an amazing city full of history. There are still many dig sites in progress. If you were an archaeologist, would working in Luxor would be a dream come true? It would be for me! What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.
Up next the Nile Cruise.