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The Silk Route - World Travel: Teple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt
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Egypt: Luxor, Karnak & Dendera
1989 and 2000

Luxor Temple of Karnak Temple of Luxor Temple of Hathor at Dendera
Egypt

The magnificent temples of Luxor and Karnak are best seen early in the morning before the bulk of the tourists arrive, or late in the day when they have left.

The impressive Temple of Hathor at Dendera is very well-preserved, atmospherically set on the edge of the desert some way north of Luxor.

Luxor

The Old Winter Palace, Luxor
The Old Winter Palace.
The Old Winter Palace, Luxor
View over the Nile from our room at the Old Winter Palace.

On our first visit to Luxor we stayed in the Sheraton, which was fine, and had a nice outdoor barbecue and we had a room with a Nile view - essential!

On our second visit we stayed at The Old Winter Palace, which is a wonderful much more atmospheric place: high-ceilinged rooms, sweeping staircases and an enormous restaurant. We loved our room, with a view of the Nile and across to the Necropolis of Thebes - a fine place to watch the sun setting over the desert.

The Old Winter Palace, Luxor

The People's Ferry is the smaller boat approaching the moored larger boat - passengers must cross the larger boat to reach the shore ...

The People's Ferry, Luxor
... a great place for people-watching.
The Old Winter Palace, Luxor
Pool and sunken bar at the old Winter Palace.
The Old Winter Palace, Luxor
The hotel gardens were extensive and very green.

Breakfasts in the hotel were great - particularly the waffles. But having tried the "French" restaurant we couldn't really recommend it - overpriced and poor wine choice.

When we go back, however, we shall certainly stay here again if we can!

The People's Ferry, Luxor

 Luxor
One of the many carriages available for hire.
 Luxor
Tourist stalls at the entrance to the Temple of Luxor.

We got into the habit of getting up very early, spending the morning visiting sites, then returning for lunch and relaxation in the afternoon in the shade by the pool - a most pleasant way to spend time.

feluccas

Later we'd visit the bazaars and barter for sandals, or galabias, or just wander around, down to the People's Ferry perhaps, and watch people go about their daily lives.

We followed a recommendation to visit the museum at Luxor and found it excellent. It is well organised and well lit with some wonderful artefacts. Highlights were a beautiful statue of Tuthmosis III, several Hatshepsut-related items - a wall painting depicting her as consort to Tuthmosis II and items from Deir el Bahri - and 24 statues found in 1989 at Luxor temple, especially the red granite Amenhotep III.

Luxor

 

Temple of Karnak

Osphinxes
The avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leads to the massive First Pylon.
temple of karnak
Beautiful lotus-decorated square column in front, the symbol of Upper Egypt, and papyrus on the column behind, symbol of Lower Egypt.

Temple of Karnak

 

 

The Temple of Karnak is a fabulous, fascinating place which takes some time to explore. We found it was walkable from the Old Winter Palace but I wouldn't recommend it in the heat of the day or from the other side of town!

There is an awful lot to see here and a good guide or guide book is essential if you want to learn more than superficial history. But there is much to be said for simply wandering the ruins, as early or late in the day as possible, and simply taking in the atmosphere and colossal achievements of the builders.

Temple of Karnak
Avenue of ram-headed sphinxes approaching the Temple of Amun-Ra.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Lotus bud columns in the huge side chambers of the Hypostyle Hall.
Temple of Karnak
Temple of Karnak.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak

Dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khons the complex covers 200 acres and its many temples were constructed over a long period of time, stretching from the Middle Kingdom (2000BC) to the time of Ptolemy Auletes (80-51BC). The largest and most important is the Temple of Amun-Ra - the largest in the world.

Temple of Karnak
Temple of Karnak
A massive statue of Ramses II and a much smaller representation of his wife Nefertari at his feet in the Great Court of the Temple of Amun.

The temple is oriented roughly NW-SE with the main entrance on the NW side. Here the approach to the temple - from what was once a quay on the Nile - is lined with ram-headed sphinxes leading to the first pylon.

Although the sphinxes date from Ramses II, the pylon was constructed in the XXV (Ethiopian) Dynasty. It is 113m wide, 43m high and 13m thick - a massive structure and nearly twice the size of the entrance pylon at the Temple of Luxor.1 Through the first pylon is the Great Court - the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes once continued through here.

SW from the Great Court is the small temple of Ramses III. The SE side of the court is formed by the second pylon on the SW end of which is a famous biblical scene of the defeat of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, by the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshank I.




The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
The massive columns in the Great Hypostyle Hall.

Through the second pylon is the magnificent Hypostyle Hall - the largest chamber of any temple in the world: 54000 square feet containing 134 immense columns.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Deeply incised decoration on the columns of the Hypostyle Hall.

Temple of Karnak.

The Great Hypostyle Hall is truly spectacular, it is almost impossible to take in the scale of the building, one of the finest sites in Egypt.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak

The hall has a high central aisle along the NW-SE axis with 6 huge campaniform open papyrus columns lining each side, each around 23m high and 3.5m in diameter.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Temple of Karnak.
Temple of Karnak.
Karnak
Papyrus bundle columns.
Temple of Karnak.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Campaniform (bell-shaped)2 open lotus blossom column.

Beyond these the hall is a forest of closed lotus bud columns on both sides, strictly regimented in rows and lower in height than  the central aisle.

Exiting the Great Hypostyle Hall through the Third Pylon the small Court of the Cachette is on the SW side - in the early 20th century several thousand bronze statues and 800 stone statues were excavated here.1

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Temple of Karnak
Obelisk, Tuthmosis I.


Obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut
Obelisk, Hatshepsut.


Temple of Karnak.

Between the third pylon of Amenhotep III and the fourth pylon of Tuthmosis I there were once two pairs of obelisks erected by Tuthmosis I and Tuthmosis II - only one of the pair of Tuthmosis I remains standing.

Defaced image of Hatshepsut, Temple of Karnak.
Image of Hatshepsut defaced on the orders of
Tuthmosis III, Temple of Karnak.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Statue wearing a feathered crown.

Beyond the fourth pylon are the obelisks of Queen Hatshepsut. Only one remains standing, the other fallen and in pieces, but both would originally have been capped with electrum - an alloy of gold and silver - so that they would have been visible from afar, reflecting the sun.

The upright obelisk is 30m high and is the largest in Egypt. On its base an inscription tells of the origin of the obelisks in the quarries of Aswan and how they were prepared and transported to Luxor in the sixteenth year of the queen's reign.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak
Original colours in the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III, Temple of Karnak
Original colours in the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnak

 

Further east through the fifth and sixth pylons and the jumbled remains of the Middle Kingdom Temple lies the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III.

The sacred lake, the  Temple of Karnak
The Sacred Lake, Temple of Karnak.
The Temple of Karnak

SW of these structures the Sacred Lake, created by Tuthmosis III, was used for ritual purposes by the priests of the temple.

After our first visit we knew we'd need a lot of time to see everything when we returned so second time around we made sure we arrived when the site opened.

Temple of Karnak
Beautifully tapered fluting represents bundles of papyrus.


Temple of Karnak
The Temple of Karnak

We spent another three hours exploring this magnificent temple complex and as usual taking lots of photographs.

It was very hot by the time we left so we took a horse-drawn carriage back to the Old Winter Palace - highly recommended. The horse looked really tough but it was either cunning or lazy as it regularly slowed down unless "encouraged" to move faster by the driver!

 

 

The Temple of Luxor

The Temple of Luxor

 

Lying alongside the Nile, and once connected to the Temple of Karnak by an avenue of human-headed sphinxes, the Temple of Luxor was constructed entirely at the end of the XVIII Dynasty and first half of the XIX Dynasty.3

The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor

The temple was begun by Amenhotep III (1417 - 1379BC) on the site of a Middle Kingdom temple and was dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun Ra, his wife Mut, and their son the moon god Khonsu.

It is oriented NE-SW with the main entrance on the NE side. Here a line of human-headed sphinxes, added by Nectanebo of the XXX Dynasty (380-343 BC), once stretched all the way to the Temple of Karnak.

The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor


The Temple of Luxor
Through the Pylon of Ramses II.

The sphinxes lead to a massive pylon which, along with the court behind it, was added by Ramses II (1304 - 1237BC).

The Temple of Luxor
The pylon of Ramses II, entrance to the Temple of Luxor.
The Temple of Luxor
Baboon sculptures at the base of the obelisk.
Male hamadryas baboons were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.1

 

 

The pylon was originally fronted by six statues of Ramses II, two seated and six striding, and two obelisks. Now only the two sitting statues and one striding remain, along with one of the obelisks - the other now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

The Temple of Luxor
Looking back to the Pylon of Ramses II and the obelisk. On the left can be seen the edge of a small temple built by Tuthmosis III to house the sacred boats of the Theban Triad.

The pylon walls are carved with scenes from the Battle of Kadesh which Ramses fought against the Hittite king in the fifth year of his reign. Ramses claimed this as a massive victory, though he failed to take the city. Further battle scenes are depicted on the western temple wall through the great pylon.

The Temple of Luxor
The columns in the foreground are from a much later church. Behind these is the Court of Ramses II with the Mosque of Abu el Haggag and the First Pylon beyond. The back of the great seated statue of Ramses II can be seen on the right.
The Temple of Luxor
The double columns once extended around the Court of Ramses II

The great Court of Ramses II is reached by passing through the pylon. A chapel in the north west corner dedicated to Amun Re, Mut and Khons was built by Tuthmosis III (1504 - 1450BC) and his step-mother Hatshepsut 200 years before Ramses incorporated it into his court. Ramses' court follows the lines of this older chapel and explains why it is out of alignment with the Amenhotep-era building.

The Temple of Luxor

The colonnade, the Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
North west corner of the Court of Ramses II.
The Temple of Luxor

In the north west corner is a small temple built by Tuthmosis III which has three niches to house the sacred boats of Amun, Mut and Khonsu.

A mosque has also been incorporated into this court, the Mosque of Abu el Haggag who died here in 1243. Though the minaret is eleventh century, the mosque itself dates from the nineteenth.1

The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
On the left is the end of the Court of Ramses II, centre is the Colonnade of Amenhotep III, on the right the Court of Amenhotep III.
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The colonnade, the Temple of Luxor
The Colonnade, Temple of Luxor, looking back to the Pylon and Great Court of Ramses II - the pylon entrance is distinctly off-axis.
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
Ramses II
The colonnade, the Temple of Luxor

At the opposite end to the entrance to the Court of Amenhotep III through the pylon is the Great Colonnade of Amenhotep III. On each side of the colonnade is a huge black granite seated statue of Ramses II - on the right a smaller figure of his wife Nefertari stands by his right leg.

The Temple of Luxor

The fourteen columns of the colonnade are topped with open lotus blossom capitals, stand almost 16 metres high and lead south to the Court of Amenhotep III. They are without doubt the single most impressive feature of the temple.


The Temple of Luxor
Queen Nefertari stands with her hand proprietarily on the calf of her husband Ramses II.
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
In the Court of Amenhotep III.


The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor

 

The Temple of Hathor at Dendera

Temple of Dendera

Visiting Dendera in 2000 we began from Luxor in convoy with an armed guard, the Egyptians still being very sensitive after the attacks at the Temple of Hatshepsut.

Travelling along the Nile and a canal for some way it was an experience to see local village life along the river bank: little girls in "western" dress running alongside the convoy laughing and waving, men and boys bouncing along on donkeys laden with vegetation, black-clad women striding along with loads on their heads - bundles of cloth, stacks of egg boxes - against a backdrop of reed-fenced enclosures and mud brick buildings.

Hathor

At Quena most vehicles peeled off for Hurghada on the coast and we were left alone in our air-conditioned mini-bus with our guide and one other vehicle to cross the Nile to Dendera. When we arrived we were the only visitors with our guide - we couldn't believe our luck! 

The Temple of Hathor at Dendera is well-preserved and a most impressive temple site to visit, atmospherically set on the edge of the desert.

Temple of Dendera

Hathor, the city goddess, has the face of a cow with distinctive ears and she can be seen adorning the temple at the tops of columns, arches, and most obviously on the facade of the temple. Although a temple would have stood at this site for many centuries the current buildings date from the second century B.C., being Ptolemaic in origin, with decorations continuing into the Roman period.

 

Temple of Dendera
Temple of Dendera
Temple of Dendera

 

The central doorway of the facade leads to a huge hypostyle hall which is amazingly well-preserved. One of the best things about the temple is that  the roof and ceilings are intact, albeit blackened by the smoke of countless Roman fires.

Regrettably many of the beautiful cow goddess faces have been hacked out by Christians but the hall is still a most impressive spectacle, every surface covered in carvings.

This huge hypostyle hall leads on to smaller halls and an inner sanctuary.

Temple of Dendera
The goddess Nut devours and gives birth to the sun each day.

 

Colour is still visible in some paintings on the ceilings of astronomical subjects including winged scarabs and sun disks and a magnificent depiction of Nut, the sky goddess, who swallows the sun at the end of each day. At each dawn the sun is then reborn.

Temple of Dendera
Hathor heads adorn the columns - the ceiling inside is the one with the goddess Nut showing the death and rebirth of the sun each day.
The winged sun disk above the columns is another representation of Horus.

Throughout the halls numerous brown bats with translucent wings roost in the doorways.

Temple of Dendera
In the crypts.

 

Temple of Dendera

At the far end is the entrance to the crypts. I can't imagine how they accommodate large numbers of visitors but being on our own we were privileged to be able to visit the underground rooms, climbing down a rickety stair and through a narrow entrance to a passageway with wonderful inscriptions and decorations on the walls, including a beautiful Horus, the "husband" of Hathor. One of the annual festivals held in ancient times at Dendera was the journey of Hathor, in the form of a statue, up the Nile to visit Horus at the Temple of Edfu.

Temple of Dendera
Temple of Dendera   Temple of Dendera   Temple of Dendera   Temple of Dendera


Dendera




Dendera
The south wall of the temple with lion-headed waterspouts.

Another important annual festival involved carrying Hathor to the roof of the temple to absorb the sun's rays. We climbed the ceremonial staircase on one side of the temple which is decorated with images of the goddess being carried up to the roof, descending by a staircase on the opposite side which has images of the goddess being carried down.

On the roof there are chapels and the ceiling of one room has a copy of a marvellous unique ancient zodiac ( the original is in the Louvre).

Dendera
The Sacred Lake, also known as "Cleopatra's Pool"!

From the roof the surroundings of the temple can be seen, including "Cleopatra's Pool", actually the Sacred Lake, together with a marvellous view over the surrounding landscape.

Dendera
Dendera
Cleopatra and her son Caesarian.

 

Dendera

 

 

 

The outer faces of the temple walls bear some wonderful carved figures, including Cleopatra with her son by Julius Caesar called Caesarian on the south wall. Here can also be found the small Temple of Isis.

 

Dendera
Temple of Isis
In the left background can be seen the remains of mud brick walls which once surrounded the site. There is a false door in this southern side of the temple - the entrance is on the north side.

 

The complex has the remains of three Birth Houses (one is completely in ruins). These were important in establishing the pharaoh's relationship with the god Horus, and thus his divinity and right to rule, by a ritual association with the god's birth celebrated in the Birth House. One of the Birth Houses at Dendera shows Ptolemy born of the gods, a descendant of Horus, and therefore a true ruler of Egypt.

Dendera
Three Birth Houses with the ruined mud brick wall behind which once enclosed the site.

Dendera is magnificent, one of my favourite Egyptian sites and well worth the effort of travelling to see it.

References

  1. Egypt Michael Haag, Cadogan, 1999.
  2. Gutenberg Project: MANUAL OF EGYPTIAN ARCHAEOLOGY AND Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt.
  3. The Temple of Luxor Simpkins Splendor of Egypt series