Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Luxor, Egypt
Visited: July 2019
The sun is beating fiercely upon my face as I walk onto the street from my hotel in downtown Luxor. I fumble down the dirty sidewalk, squinting while I wait for my eyes to adjust to the harsh morning sunlight that reflects from the pavement around me. Immediately, my wife and I are accosted by several men in galabiyas (traditional long shirts that flow to the ankle) and keffiyehs (turbins). We try to ignore their calls of “galesh” (horse-cart) and “felucca” (sailboat).
As we walk away, a few of them step in front of us, an attempt to force us to stop walking and interact with them. One of the men grabs my arm as I walk past, but I pull my arm free and keep walking. Another man calls out “tax” (short for taxi). I reply to them firmly “la shukran” (no thank you in Arabic), but this does little to deter them. A few of the men follow us up the street for a block or two, demanding answers to questions like, “where are you from?”, “where are you going?”.
One man exclaims “good to see you again, I work at your hotel”. I reply, “no you don’t” and continue walking. He yells back “let me show you the bazaar?”
A seated statue of Ramses II at Luxor Temple
We have been traveling in Egypt for a couple of weeks now, so being mobbed by aggressive touts seems normal to us. The best way to handle this is to give them nothing. Simply answering a question, or even making eye contact, can lead to a confrontation, it’s best to pretend like they’re not even there.
I feel for these guys, times have been tough, and tourism has been way down in Egypt since the revolution in 2011. Many westerners have concerns about the potential for terrorist attacks in the country. Unfortunately, this means that the travellers who do come to Egypt are beset by mobs of desperate people trying to eke out a living by preying on the few tourists that do come. While this can be extremely irritating, we have not really felt like we have been in any real danger walking around Luxor.
We are headed to Luxor Temple. It’s just a few blocks from our hotel, so I don’t need a taxi or horse-cart today, much to the dismay of the entourage that is following us down the road.
The entrance to Luxor Temple is lined by statues of Ramses the Great
Luxor temple is unique in terms of ancient Egyptian temples, mainly because it does not seem to be consecrated to a single god, or pharaoh. Instead, it is the place where pharaohs held their coronation ceremonies to be crowned king. The temple was originally built during the New Kingdom around 1400 BC, around the time when the capital of ancient Egypt was moved from Memphis (Cairo) to Luxor.
Entering Luxor Temple, we are awestruck by the enormous monolithic statues of Ramses II and obelisk that guard the entrance. Originally two obelisks stood here, but one was traded to France for a clock that adorns the Mohammed Ali Mosque in Cairo.
We almost miss the Avenue of Sphinxes just behind us that originally ran for over 3 kilometers to the nearby Karnak Temple. The grand roadway is lined with 6-foot tall stone sphinxes on pedestals, watching over all who pass. As I stand at the entrance, I try to imagine what the temple must have looked like when ancient pharaohs walked along the procession to their coronation ceremony.
Avenue of Sphinxes
We have come alone, without a tour, so other than a couple of solo travelers, we have the entire temple to ourselves. We even stop for a while along the promenade to rest in the shade of an enormous column which has been carved to represent a papyrus flower.
The Abu Haggag Mosque is at the center of the temple. It was built during the 13th century and is still an active place of worship today. It is not uncommon to see temples for Christianity or Islam in the ruins of ancient Egypt. Many of the people who occupied or conquered Egypt in later periods built their own places of worship and claimed the temples for their religion. In fact, an older Christian church once stood in the very place where Abu Haggag Mosque stands today.
A minaret of Abu Haggag Mosque peaks out from between the columns of Luxor Temple
My favorite thing about Luxor Temple is in the very back of the complex. At the end of the promenade of columns is the inner sanctum of the temple. The structure that stands today is much newer than the rest of the Luxor Temple Complex. It was built by Alexander the Great around 323 BC, when he conquered Egypt for the Greeks. Alexander’s advisors wisely told him that the only way to hold Egypt was to assume their religion, or at least convince the Egyptians that he had. For this reason, Alexander coerced a high priest into telling the people of Egypt that he was the son of the god Amun and built the chapel in the back of Luxor Temple to prove his dedication. Many scholars claim that Alexander the Great was crowned pharaoh of Egypt here in Luxor.
Inside the chapel built by Alexander the Great
As we approach Alexander’s chapel, I notice yet another layer of history in the form of frescoes that partially cover the hieroglyphs that were carved into the rock. Clearly, the Romans had also laid a claim to this place during their occupation, plastering over the Egyptian gods and drawing in their own deities. It is amazing to stand in a place where so much history has taken place and to see the evidence of everyone who laid a claim to it over the centuries.
Columns topped with a papryus flower motif
When you get to Luxor, you literally can’t miss Luxor temple. It’s located right in the center of town along the banks of the Nile, just a few blocks from the bus and train stations. Admission was 160 Egyptian Pounds when we were there, but you can check here for current pricing. There really is no need to join a tour to see Luxor Temple, but you will have no problem finding a guide if you want one. If you are staying in Luxor, just walk up to the temple and have a look around. If you go in the early morning, you will probably be able to beat the crowds that pour in from the Nile cruise boats and have the temple to yourself.