Egyptian Schedule – Day 5

The idea of going down to Luxor is that we take a boat (specifically something like this boat) and we cruise a bit down the Nile. If everything goes right, today our schedule features: Karnak; Luxor (which is ancient Thebes, in case you’re confused); the Valley of Kings and the Hatshepsut mortuary temple; the Memnon […]

The idea of going down to Luxor is that we take a boat (specifically something like this boat) and we cruise a bit down the Nile.
If everything goes right, today our schedule features:

  • Karnak;
  • Luxor (which is ancient Thebes, in case you’re confused);
  • the Valley of Kings and the Hatshepsut mortuary temple;
  • the Memnon colossi.

So let’s see what that’s going to be about.

1. Karnak

The construction of the Karnak Temple Complex was begun during the reign of one Senusret I (1971–1926 BC) during the so-called Middle Kingdom, which means it is approximately contemporary to some of the stuff we saw in Memphis and around 700 years younger than the Pyramid of Djoser. This means that the stepped pyramid and these temples are separated by around the same time span we have between us and Notre-Dame. Most of the buildings come from the New Kingdom (1550 – 1069 BC), but the site remained relevant all the way into the Ptolemaic Kingdom (305–30 BC), which means Cleopatra. To give you an idea of the significance, the area was known as “The Most Selected of Places” (Ipet-isut) and a centre of worship for the so-called Theban Triad: the sun-god Amun, his consort Mut and their son Khonsu, god of the Moon.

Yes, I’m talking about this guy.

It consists of four main parts:

  1. the Precinct of Amun-Ra;
  2. the Precinct of Mut;
  3. the Precinct of Montu, dedicated to the Falcon-God of War and very poorly preserved;
  4. the Temple of Amenhotep IV, a.k.a. Akhenaten, now dismantled because the guy made enemies with the wrong priests.

The Precinct of Amun-Ra is the only part that’s accessible to the public, or so I’m told, and it’s dedicated to the Sun-god. As you can see above or from the map below, it consists of a large precinct with the temple and surrounding elements including a Temple of Ramses III, who was assassinated by one of his minor wives Tiye during a thing called the Harem conspiracy.
One of the most prominent features is the corridor of Sphinxes, originally leading to the temple from the quay. The access is believed to have been mainly by boat and the complex must have been a thing to behold.
Begun by Seti I and completed by Ramesses II, the Great Hypostyle Hall was originally designed by Hatshepsut, our favourite Pharaoh, and it covers an area of 5,000 sqm, again around the size of Notre-Dame. The roof was supported by 134 columns arranged in 16 rows: the central row is higher, with columns measuring 10 meters in diameter and 24 meters in height. Ten. Fucking. Meters. Of. Diameter.
They’re covered in inscriptions and scenes of battles, most of them being Ramesses II’s endeavours against the Hittites and the consequent Peace Treaty of Kadesh.


The Precinct of Mut was on the south side of the Amun complex, leaving the Sacred Lake on your left, and it’s approximately 90,000 sqm. The temple overlooks another sacred lake, interestingly enough sporting a more gentle shape than the rectangular one reconstructed near her consort’s temple. Within the lake, archaeologists have found human remains arranged as if they were bound and purposefully placed under the basis of the temple’s columns. I don’t think I want to know.
You reach it through a gate of the Ptolemaic period, and it was visited by many people including Napoleon, but it’s currently being excavated (which is why it’s not visitable). Amongst the many discoveries, incredible black statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet were probably commissioned by Amenhotep III and arranged like trees in a forest.



2. Luxor

The Luxor Temple was constructed around 1400 BC and, it consists of two courts connected by a colonnade. Two obelisks marked the entrance, though only one survives. Well, technically, the second one survives too, but it’s in Paris in Place de la Concorde. Their height and position were studied to give an optical illusion of grandeur, leveraging a perspective trick and enhancing their relative distances.
During the annual Opet Festival, a grand statue of Amun was paraded down the Nile from the nearby Karnak Temple and brought into this temple through this entrance, also overlooking the river. The statue stayed in the temple for a while, symbolically lying with a statue of his consort Mut. A ritual marriage took place in the so-called Birth Room, but it’s not the kind of marriage you expect: the Pharaoh conjoined with Amun-Ra himself to rejuvenate both his fertility and his role as a divine intermediary, was re-crowned and emerged reborn from the chamber.
Another Avenue of Sphinxes leads up to the temple, and it’s also called The King’s Festivities Road or Rams’ Road in relation to the festival’s rituals. It was originally 2,000 meters long and contains over 600 statues divided into three kinds of shapes: statues with a lion’s body and a ram’s head, possibly erected during the reign of Tutankhamun; full rams built by Amenhotep III in a distant location and later transferred to Karnak, proper Sphinxes with the body of a lion and the head of a human.
Shrine stations are scattered through the avenue, leading us to think the procession had reflection and resting points as it happens in some modern celebrations pertaining to other religions. Each station had a purpose and was dedicated to a figure: we had stations for cooling the oars of the sun god, stations to empower the statue with divine qualities and stations to reflect on certain moments of the god’s life. Shrines were built through many eras, as testified by the existence of much younger constructions dedicated to Serapis and Isis.

3. The Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is possibly the most famous necropolis ever, it was built around the XVI Century BC, and it was used for a period of around 500 years hosting not only pharaohs but also dignitaries and functionaries of the State. The current count of tombs is placed at 65, but recent discoveries have demonstrated that we’re far from done excavating.

Tombs usually consisted of a long sloped corridor dug inside the rocky sides of the valley, descending through multiple halls that were probably a reference to the sun god’s own descent into the underworld. Sometimes the corridor has a sharp 90-degree turn: in these cases, the layout is known as “bent axis”. Other times, the corridor simply ventures straight into the belly of the earth. Eventually, it reaches the burial chamber. Tombs often present a well, a sort of shaft designed to prevent flooding from rainwater.

The star of the valley is undoubtedly Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter and his gang in November 1922. Hatshepsut is also buried here, in a uniquely shaped tomb.

4. The Colossi of Memnon

According to the Greek, Memnon was a mythological king of Aethiopia, a great warrior considered equal to Achilles and who sided with Troy during the war. He never existed. So why does he have two colossal statues erected in his honour nearby Thebes? Well, he doesn’t. I have no idea why, but someone at a certain point thought these were his statues while in fact they represent Pharaoh Amenhotep III. That’s life. Even for a statue.
The Northern colossus is significantly more damaged than its twin, allegedly after suffering an earthquake around 27 BC, and it has peculiar cracks that, when channelling the wind, reportedly make the statue sing. Strabo was the first to hear its wails, followed by Pausanias, Tacitus, Philostratus and Juvenal. The statue was quickly thought to have oracular powers, and people came from outside Egypt in the hope of hearing its words.



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