Egypt: Luxor Temple

The entrance to the Luxor Temple feels much more complete than that of Karnak. There is the usual Pylon of stone on either side but with an obelisk added and two seated pharaohs guarding the entrance with two more standing pharaohs on each side. Luxor has so much more ‘stuff’ than Karnak. The reason for the difference is easy to explain.

Karnak is a shrine to the gods – Amun, Mut, and Khonsu specifically with a plethora of shrines to other gods added over the centuries. Whereas the Luxor Temple is specifically a temple to the Pharaohs and the yearly rejuvenation of their rule. So, it seems to me that the pharaohs went out of their way to make sure everyone knew what big powerful kings they were.

Ramses II in particular left his mark on the temple. He added the grand pylons at the entrance. The statues guarding the entrance, two seated and four standing, are stylized depictions of him. Ramses II also added the first courtyard with seventy-four Lotus bud columns and even more statues of himself. As I said, this is a temple to the Pharaohs by the Pharaohs – look how great we are!

At one time a grand scene of Ramses II going into battle decorated the Pylons. You can just make out the remnants of the carvings that were originally painted in bold bright colors. Also, there were originally two obelisks set at the entrance, but the smaller of the two was gifted to France in 1829 and is now in the Place de la Concorde in the center of Paris. We drove past it on our stop-over in Paris.

The city of Luxor was built on the ruins of Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt. The power of the pharaohs was centered around the worship of the Gods at Karnak and rejuvenated every year at Luxor during the flooding of the Nile with the Festival of Opet. They were then buried in the Valley of the Kings across the river on the west side of the Nile. Thebes was the site of more than sixty festivals and feasts annually. It was the center of both religious and political power for centuries.

Alexander the Great recognized this and had a shrine built here after he conquered the country. He had his image stylized as a pharaoh and carved into the walls depicting him receiving his power from Amun. This is the Amun-Min version of the god with one arm, one leg, and a massive penis! On our visit, there was a line of people to see this carving. Apparently, massive penises are very popular with tourists!

The Luxor temple complex has been an important religious site for more than 3000 years. The original temple was dedicated to Amun, the God of the Air. Romans used it as a church and monastery that was then converted into a Mosque that is still in use to this day.

Our personal guide Ahmed knew that I was an engineer and writer. At Karnak, he pointed out the temple of Ptah – the god of architects and engineers. At Luxor, he showed us an image of the goddess of writing and knowledge – Seshat. (My new favorite goddess.) The image is carved into the back of the throne of one of the seated Ramses II statues inside the temple. You would never notice it unless someone pointed it out.

The central aisle through the galleries will take you to the most important room in the temple: the room where the god’s barq was kept. They have a replica displayed inside, but again there was a line to peek in and no lighting, so it was impossible to get a good picture of it.

All the professional guides in Egypt are required to be Egyptologists. Seriously, they are experts at the stuff. Our guide, Ahmed, had a PhD in Egyptology. When we visited the temples, he flooded us with information. The history of the sites and the narrative of the stories carved into the stone is so vast that it would take a PhD to absorb it all. We did our best to retain and understand as much as we could, but it did not take long before it was a blur of names and symbols. This was when I stepped away and began just looking for great photos.

Ancient temples and the world’s tourists surrounded us. I was literally eating up the culture and the atmosphere. I loved it. I took hundreds of pictures here and got my first taste of the monumental architecture of Egypt.

As an avid photographer, I love looking for the perfect picture of a scene. I tend to see what I want in my mind’s eye and then attempt to recreate it. Egyptian temples are a treasure trove of photo ops. I love a good space and the massive stone construction provided some great shapes and shadows to work with.

In the back corners of the temples, you will run into locals that have staked out prime locations and will point out extra special photo ops for a few dollars. I am sure they make a pretty good living during the tourist season.

When I travel, I like to step away from the group to explore and absorb the atmosphere of a place. I did that here. I avoided touching any carvings, but not everyone is so careful. However, I did place my hand on the rock of the temple and even hugged one of the massive columns. I always hope to feel something – such as an energy reaching down 3500 years to somehow connect with me. There was nothing there to feel, but it was still thrilling to be able to place my hand in the same place another person had touched hundreds of generations ago.

That is how travel can really put your life into perspective. Compared to the age of this place, my life is a grain of sand. How could my daily stresses mean anything in comparison?  

Gute Reise!

By Wayne Kearney

I am an engineer and struggling writer. By day I improve manufacturing processes and by night I write what ever the voices in my head feel like.

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