“Royal Thebes, Egyptian treasure house of countless wealth, who boasts her hundred gates, through each of which, with horse and car, two hundred warriors march.” – Homer, The Iliad, Book IX
From the days of Amenhotep to the days of Napoleon to modern day people like Thomas Cook, ancient Thebes or the modern day Nile River Valley and specifically Luxor have captivated people the world over. Egyptomania is truly mesmerizing. Seeing these ancient treasures kept secret for centuries up close and personal is a visceral feeling of fulfillment. You are experiencing the oldest of treasures and of history that we have here on Earth. It is a very powerful place to be; to see the great River Nile in all its glory; to feel the power of the bygone eras; and to make yourself a small part of the history of the cradle of civilization. Luxor for me was just that; it was awesome.
I stayed at the Sheraton Luxor which is right on the Nile. I was fortunate to get a suite upgrade which had a massive wrap around balcony with unreal views of the Nile at all times of the day and night. The Nile in Luxor and the Nile River Valley is spectacular. Calm, blue and imposing. It looks like the mighty Nile of biblical times that you’ve read about for all these years. Much different than the filthy river that you get up north in Cairo where you barely even take note of it because it looks so dirty. In Luxor, the Nile flourishes with feluccas and dinner boats but it looks even more amazing at sunset (below) with the mountains of the Valley of the Kings as the back drop looking from the east bank.
Modern day Luxor is divided into three main areas to visit. The city of Luxor itself, which is a patchwork of buildings, many falling apart and/or old and decrepit looking but with a cool undoubtedly Egyptian feel with the back alley restaurants and bars. Then there is the incredible temple complex at Karnak and the necropolis of ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile.
Karnak Temple is to me the highlight of any trip to Luxor. It is massive in scale at some 2 square km. It is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of pharaohs. It main structure, the Temple of Amun, is the largest religious structure ever built. This was where the god lived on Earth.
Aside from the main temple there are numerous other attractions such as the great court and the great hypostyle hall, the inner temple and the great festival hall of Tithmosis III. These other structures are stunning. They are massive as I said and they make you stare in bewilderment at how they were constructed so many centuries and millennia ago. It is ancient Egypt at its best.
Walking the halls of the great hypostyle hall is truly memorable. It is built over an area of some 5500 square meters, which is enough to house both St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in the Vatican. It is an unforgettable forest of some 134 towering papyrus shaped stone pillars. It makes you feel very small and you feel very fortunate to be there. It is truly awe inspiring, not to be cliché but it really is.
The only real strange thing about the Karnak Temple is that it is full of young Egyptian teenage boys. Now you’re probably thinking, “so what, it’s Egypt, they’re allowed to be there too.” Obviously, but here is the thing; there are throngs of them and they just sit around taking pictures of tourists and making comments. The very androgynous looking boys apparently are there as a form of sex tourism for older women, especially of European descent. I have never heard of this but apparently it is really big at Karnak Temple and a known thing; so much so that guide books and regular people speak of it.
Older women from Europe, at Karnak on holiday will start chatting with these young (like 10-15 year old boys) and bring them back to their hotel rooms or whatever for sexual purposes. The whole thing is actually really disturbing and I feel awkward even writing it but it is apparently true. Aside from that, the boys constantly bug you for pictures. They want to take pictures of you alone for no reason with their camera phones. It is very strange. They then run back to their gaggle of little buddies and compare pictures or something. Again, very strange and I am not exactly sure what to make of it but I felt compelled to write about it. They just stand around in the temple, not looking at anything, just taking pictures and waiting for older women. Aye!
Luxor Temple is next on the hit list in Luxor. It is a strikingly beautiful monument smack dab in the middle of Luxor town. It was largely built by the New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses II. It has some of the best preserved statues and hieroglyphic carvings (above) in ancient Luxor. The light is best in the morning apparently. I was unfortunately there at dusk but it was still striking.
Luxor Temple also contains a hypostyle hall but on a much smaller scale than Karnak but perhaps even better preserved. The obelisks are fascinating as are the avenue of the sphinxes which runs all the way to Karnak Temple. The main entrance to the temple was originally decorated by 6 huge statues of Ramses II but now only 2 sitting statues (below) and one standing remain but they are still awesome.
There were also originally two pink granite obelisks at the entrance, one of which still stands. The other stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. If you know Paris well, you’ll remember that there is a massive obelisk in the area between the bottom of the Champs Elysee heading toward the Louvre where there is that massive traffic crossing before you reach the sitting park in front of the Louvre. That’s it! I didn’t know that until the other day and am fascinated by it.
Before Luxor Temple I headed over to the west bank to see the Valley of the Kings because it apparently closed much earlier and I wanted to make sure I got over there. It is some 25-30 minutes by taxi to get there because you have to drive all the way to the bridge over the Nile, well out of town. It is worth the jaunt out and the history is in the air but it is not nearly as cool a site as you want it to be.
The Valley of the Kings is of course most famous for the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century when Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut). The site itself looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark and in fact you feel a bit like Indiana Jones while you are there. The reality though is that you are surrounded by hordes of tour groups, mainly Italians and French and they are brutal to deal with. It is very difficult to maneuver about in the small tombs when they are crowded so either go very early or just go to the tombs where the tours aren’t.
The tomb of King Tut is an extra ticket that costs 100 Egyptian pounds but if you have a student card as I do, even though I am not a student you save 50%. It is like this at all the sites so try and get a student card before you come to Luxor because you’ll literally save $80 or so if you see all the sights.
The tomb itself, aside from just actually being there, isn’t much to see. You walk down; there is an Egyptian guy who brings you in. The walls are barren, unlike most of the tombs. You cannot take pictures inside the tombs and they are very strict about that so I respected their wishes and didn’t. There is a sarcophagus of King Tut on one side and his mummified body on the other side.
It is weird standing over the small body of King Tut where you can actually still see one of his white teeth if you get close enough. The guy will let you through the fence for a small tip. Standing over the dead has never made me comfortable, especially when it’s actually just a small boy before you but King Tut is significant and worth the visit.
The other tombs are much more immaculately decorated on the walls. The tombs of Ramses II, III, VI and IX are fantastic although they all start to look the same after a while, especially if you are fighting with throngs of tourists. It’s cool to see how they built them and also the lengths they go to keep grave robbers and treasure hunters away although this generally proved fruitless. Bring lots of water and enjoy, it’s pretty cool to be there but don’t expect anything too mind blowing visually.
There are several other sites in and around Luxor including two museums, the Mummification and the Luxor Museums; that I didn’t go to because I am battling some stomach issues as is inevitable in Egypt. So I am currently in Hurghada and heading up into Sinai shortly for a few days before heading up into Jordan and Israel. I am looking forward to what is coming and basking in what’s already been an amazing trip.