What Luxor, Egypt attraction is the largest place of worship ever built?
It doesn’t take a wizard to proclaim the magnificence of Karnak Temple in Luxor. After the pyramids at Giza, it’s the 2nd most visited site in Egypt. It’s really a temple complex, with multiple temples added and embellished by a long series of pharaohs over the course of 2,000 years. It was known to the ancient Egyptians as The Most Sacred Place and is reputed to be the largest place of worship ever built anywhere.
Southern Egypt is called Upper Egypt because it’s upriver from northern (Lower) Egypt. The Nile is one of the rare rivers that flows northward, from central Africa to the Mediterranean Sea.
Here are our suggestions of 5 things to see or do there:
Over 60 acres of colossal statues, obelisks, relief carvings of pharaonic adventures and pylon after pylon after pylon (10 in total) make up Karnak Temple. The Hypostyle Hall is Karnak’s most famous feature, where the central aisle is lined with 70-foot columns, backed on either side by a forest of 30-foot columns. It’s literally jaw dropping. Relief carvings cover the columns and traces of original paint are not hard to find, especially if you look up.
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
The mortuary temple of one of Ancient Egypt’s very few female pharaohs is located at the base of towering cliffs at Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis, across the Nile from Luxor. It’s a stunning setting and the temple design is quite different from other Nile Valley temples.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
A valley deep within the mountains on the west bank of the Nile, across from ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), holds the burial grounds of New Kingdom pharaohs, their families and members of the nobility. To date, over 60 tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings. In many of the tombs, walls and ceilings are painted in scenes from the life of the tomb occupant, happy experiences to be carried into the afterlife, as well as prayers and spells. The way to the afterlife was treacherous; and tomb paintings envisioned a successful passage, with the help of various gods.
TEMPLE OF ISIS AT PHILAE
The temple of Isis, also known as Philae Temple, was originally located on Philae Island in the Nile. In the 1960s, Philae Island was largely submerged in the new Lake Nasser reservoir, so the temple was dismantled and moved to higher ground on Agilka Island. Nevertheless, the temple is still known as Philae.
We don’t recommend swimming in the Nile. But a quiet sail on a traditional felucca will get you close enough to the water to dip your fingers.
Deir el-Medina (also known as Valley of the Artisans) is the remains of a village near the Valley of the Kings, where the workers lived – architects, craftsmen and laborers – who designed and built the tombs that would usher their pharaohs to the world beyond.
This was extremely important work; a proper tomb helped ensure the pharaoh’s passage to the afterlife, as important for the people he left behind, his subjects, as it was for him. Although pharaohs were understood to be mortal men (and a very few women), they were believed to be a channel for divine power. Their actions directly affected whether Egypt was blessed or cursed by the gods. If pharaohs successfully entered the afterlife, they became fully divine and continued to represent their people as the sun god Ra and/or the god of the dead, Osiris.
Tomb builders and craftsmen worked in the oven-like insides of mountains by the light of small oil lamps. They carved long corridors and rooms out of solid rock with copper chisels. Rock walls were covered in plaster to make a smooth surface for the tomb paintings. Paints were made mostly from minerals. Blues and greens signified status because they were more expensive to produce.
The Egyptian Royal Cubit was the measurement used by the architects and engineers. It was approximately 52 centimeters, based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the end of the middle finger. The cubit was subdivided into 7 palms, which were further subdivided into 4 fingers.
We know a lot about the architect and foreman of Deir el-Medina during the reigns of Amenhotep II, Tutmose IV and Amenhotep II in the 14th century BCE. His name was Kha and his wife was Meryt. Their exquisite little funerary chapel in the village is beautifully painted with scenes of their everyday life as a kind of prayer for what they hoped to carry into the afterlife. Even better, in 1906 their tomb was discovered in the nearby hills, INTACT. It’s one of the very few Ancient Egyptian tombs discovered that was not robbed of its contents many centuries ago. Kha and Meryt were quite well to do, probably noble, and they packed beautifully crafted objects to serve them in eternity. The contents of the tomb are in the Egyptian Museum in Turin Italy.
Deir el-Medina makes a good contrast to the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings. Clear footprints of the homes and the very human scale of the place, as well as the scenes of everyday life in tomb paintings give a good sense of how average Egyptians lived 3,500 years ago. A number of jewel-like little tombs have been discovered and are open to visitors. Admission tickets generally allow entrance to 3 tombs, which ones will rotate. Extra admission may be required for some tombs and chapels.
The path used by the workers to travel to work each day is still very usable and takes roughly an hour to walk.
Click here to see our tours to Egypt. Deir el-Medina can be added to fully private programs. Touring from Nile cruises may not include the site.
This morning we flew from Cairo to Luxor for a 4-night Nile cruise. Flight time was exactly one hour.
Luxor airport is pretty low-key. We had our bags and were on our way within about 15 minutes of landing. The drive from the airport to the center of Luxor, where our boat was docked, is less than 5 miles.
Although some of the cruise boats were double parked so cruisers had to walk through a boat or two to reach their vessel, we were lucky to find ours parked right alongside the dock. We were cruising on the deluxe 5-star Amarco, in a junior suite.