Every single person we know who has been to Luxor has told us about visiting Luxor and Karnak temples on the East bank, so we had decided long before arriving here that we'd visit both places during our time in Egpyt.
You can do both in one day, lots of people do, but we had heard, and read, that Karnak in particular is a huge site and can take hours to see everything. We also had the boys with us, who by this point had seen A LOT of historical Egyptian sites and we didn't want them to get bored and zone out so we decided, as we had plenty of time here, to split the visits. Our first target was the Luxor Temple complex. We set off on the weekend at the end of the second week of our trip.
Walking along the West bank path from our house to the boat crossings you can see the towers of the temple rising across the water and as we sat on the boat across (which Jake drove most of the way!) it was exciting to think we'd soon be there.
We arrived quite early in the morning, before it got too hot, and as we crossed the checkpoint and car park we realised there was a huge crowd/queue by the entrance. This was the first Egyptian site we'd visited without a guide and we were a little nervous about how to get our tickets, but if being in Egypt had taught us anything so far it was that you just have to take a deep breath, smile and go for it.
We found the ticket office, bought our tickets (we paid around £8 for each adult with a discount for Jake and Dexter was free) and approached the now even larger crowd.
As we got closer I realised that most of the people in the crowd looked like they were in tours, having arrived on one of the half a dozen coaches parked nearby. The hold up was because for each coach there was one guide with all the tickets trying to make sure that everyone was accounted for and get everyone through the turnstiles and security checkpoint. Realising this my emerging Egyptian spirit kicked in and we walked directly through the middle of the crowds, people parting like in the stories of the Red Sea, right up to the security guards where in less than a minute our tickets were stamped, bags checked and we were in.
Through the other side the first thing you notice is the huge obelisk rising in front of you. It's 80 feet high and flanked by seated and standing statues of Pharoah Ramses II. There were once two obelisks, one either side of the entrance, but one was moved to Parise, at the Place De La Concorde, in 1830. (Do you remember the broken clock at the Cairo Citadel I wrote about in a previous post? That was given in return for this huge monument).
Hard to believe that the entrance and huge court behind the obelisk was once almost completely covered in sand all but forgotten but now is part of a site visited by thousands of people from around the world every year.
As I've done in other posts I'm going to give my highlights here. We decided not to get a guide this time (although there were plenty waiting around just inside the entrance willing to offer their services for a few pounds) and instead relied on things we'd read before visiting and while seeing other sites in Egypt plus the information boards dotted around.
Sitting in the court of Ramses II you are surrounded by huge columns (over 70 in this one area) carved to look like papyrus. These columns are repeated throughout the complex, often in pairs and always intricately carved.
The temple area has been used by many religions over the years and, sadly, when new people arrived they inevitably changed/destroyed or defaced what was there before. During the Roman era the whole temple was used as a fortress and the chapel built for the goddess Mut was transformed into a church,
The site is unique in that there is a working mosque on site and as we walked through the central colonnade and into the Hypostyle hall the call to prayer filled the air. We read that there has been some kind of continuous religious worship on this site for 3 and a half thousand years. There's an energy here that I felt on a few occasions while in Egypt, a feeling that, religious or not, this is a special place, able to bring comfort and meaning to so many people.
Around the edges of the main temple complex is an area known as the "Open Air Museum" (although I think they could technically say the whole site was one). Here there are various statues, relics and carvings found in excavations throughout the years and each given a small spot with plenty of information boards to help you figure out what you are looking at. (My phone had actually overheated at this point so my only photo from this section is some pigeons Dexter spotted roosting in the ancient walls!).
My favourite, and arguably most iconic part of the site is the, newly reopened, avenue of the sphinx (Also known as Avenue of the Rams or Rams Road). It's a 3km avenue that connects the complexes of Luxor and Karnak. In ancient times it was used once a year during the Opet festival when Egyptians would walk the road carrying the statues of gods Amun and Mut in a huge intricately carved boat to symbolise their marriage and also the fertility of the Pharoah. At the end of the procession the Pharoah would be re-crowned and then there would be 11 days of feasting and celebration. Thousands of sphinx and chapels would have lined the route and it would have been a huge spectacle.
As with so much else from this era most of the road and sculptures were lost to looting, damage and the enchroaching desert sands over the years. In the late 1940's part of the road and several sphinx were rediscovered (by Egyptian archaeologist Mohammed Zakaria Ghoneim), bringing the story of the avenue back into public knowledge and over the following decades huge efforts were made to bring the area back into it's full glory.
In November 2021 the pathway was reopened to the public in an impressive opening ceremony and you can now walk the whole route from Luxor to Karnak, between hundreds of sphinx.
A few things to say about the walk:
1) Take water, lots of it, it's hot and there is little shade to be found. There are some covered benches dotted around and a bridge half way provides some much needed respite from the sun.
2) Most of the sphinx are found closest to the two temple sites, with the middle of the avenue being thin on the ground with actual statues. The Egyptian archeologists responsible for the site are still working hard to unearth and display more treasures but, understandably, it takes time, and many will have been lost forever.
3) Take time to look at the information boards dotted around, they give great insight, into the work that's been done to enable this amazing piece of history to be accessible again. They also show some really interesting photographs of the excavation work too.
4) If you do need to buy refreshments there are a couple of kiosks along the avenue but they are very expensive.
5) You need tickets for both sites to walk the whole way along. Buying tickets to one or the other gives you access to half the avenue and then you can either turn around and go back or exit the site at that point.
6) Did I mention it would be hot?
As I mentioned before, we didn't do both sites in one day so we only walked to the halfway point on this trip before turning round and retracing our steps. It was wonderful to be there, so soon after it being opened, and I'm sure it's going to get better and better as time goes on.
A few hours after arriving we had seen all we wanted to and were feeling rather warm so we left the temples behind and made our way to a coffee shop/cafe called Aboudi for some lunch and cold drinks. Aboudi's is fab, really friendly staff and great, reasonably priced food and drink. If you are lucky enough to grab a table on their balconies you also get a wonderful view of Luxor Temple as you eat.
Although Luxor temple would be the first of many temple complexes we would see I think it will stay in my memory as one of my favourites and if you ever find yourself in this part of Egypt I'd definitely recommend taking half a day to explore.