Karnak Temple – the largest ancient religious site in the world

On our last day in Luxor we planned to visit Karnak Temple, a complex containing a large group of temples. It is situated two kilometres north of Luxor Temple, and the two temples were originally connected by the “Avenue of Sphinxes”. We arranged a horse and carriage for 6 EGP to Karnak Temple; this was surprisingly cheaper than a taxi. On arrive we organised a one hour tour for 60 EGP, the tour guide shared a few unknown and interesting facts, but a tour guide isn’t necessary.

We entered the temple complex from the west and were presented with a small avenue of ram-headed sphinxes which lead to the first pylon on the inner Temple of Amun-Re. The first pylon is incomplete with temporary mud-bricks still remaining behind, providing an insight into its construction. After the first pylon was the Great Forecourt which housed a large number of open-air artefacts. After the second pylon was the Great Hypostyle Hall, a forest of one-hundred-and-thirty-four columns, initially constructed by Seti I and majority completed by Ramesses II. Between the third and fourth pylon was a large obelisk from time of Thutmose I. In all, there are ten pylons with the last being built by Horemheb.

One of the interesting things within Karnak Temple is the Sacred Lake used by priests to purify them. At the corner of the lake is a sculpture of a scarab beetle which the ancient Egyptians worshipped as a representation of the sun god Ra, due to the similarities between the rolling of the dung and rolling of the sun across the sky.

The rest of the time we enjoyed exploring the temple complex, with its hundreds of artefacts scattered around. There were hardly any other tourists which made for good photographs.

Ram-headed sphinxesHieroglyphs on one of the columns in the Great Hypostyle HallStatue of Ramesses wearing double crown
Workers enjoying a breakSonya next to the Granite Scarab BeetleEgyptian worker
Egyptian statue modified to form a Christian crossStatues near East GateSonya with remains of two sitting statues
Red granite RamessesColumns of Great Hypostyle HallSonya at the obelisk of Thutmose I
Travis in front of the Great Hypostyle HallClosed papyrus bud columns of Great Hypostyle HallTravis and Sonya at the Great Hypostyle Hall
Great Hypostyle HallGreat Hypostyle HallTemple of Ramesses III
Temple of Sethos IISonya outside the First PylonAvenue of Ram-headed sphinxes

After visiting Karnak we headed back to the heart of Luxor.  Unsure what to do for the rest of the afternoon, we stopped at an outside restaurant that enticed us with 8 EGP bottles of Egyptian ‘Stella’ and which overlooked the Luxor Temple.  Cold beers on a hot day, it was a relaxing way to spend the rest of the afternoon that reminded me of Australia.

That evening we caught the sleeper train back to Cairo.

Luxor – the world’s greatest open air museum

From Aswan we caught a train to Luxor arriving late in the afternoon. After the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor is the most visited tourist destination in Egypt. Luxor sits on the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, with the majority of the city on the East Bank of the Nile and the Tombs and Temples on the West Bank Necropolis. We gave ourselves two days only to visit all of Luxor’s sites, it would be rushed.

On arrival we checked into our hotel and then made our way to Luxor Temple, situated in the heart of Luxor. On arrival it was already sunset but the temple was lit up which provided a different view, and one that wasn’t part of a sound and light show. Entering the temple we were presented with the first pylon on the left and Avenue of Sphinxes on the right. The Avenue of Sphinxes now consisting of fifty or so sphinxes, originally connected the Temple of Luxor with the Temple of Karnak, a little over two kilometres away. The government is attempting to restore the avenue, but it unfortunately means destroying existing local housing.

Walking along the Avenue of the Sphinxes towards Luxor Temple gave a magnificent view of the first pylon. A pylon is a monumental gateway, placed at the entrances to rooms of temples. The pylons would be covered in Egypt stories chiselled in to the stone. The Luxor Temple first pylon was named Pylon of Ramesses II and led to the Great Court baring the same name.  Outside the first pylon was also a large red granite obelisk, obelisks where commonly found in pairs at the entrance to temples. The missing partner was gifted to France and is standing at the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

The Great Court of Ramesses II consists of columns with capitals of closed papyri buds (representing Lower Egypt) interspaced with statues. From the Great Court is the Colonnade consisting of two magnificent rows of columns with capitals of lotus flowers (representing Upper Egypt). Before entering the temple sanctuaries was the Sun Court of Amenhotep III.

Head of Ramesses IIAvenue of SphinxesFirst Pylon, obelisk and sitting statues of Ramesses II
Travis and Sonya outside First PylonFirst Pylon, obelisk and sitting statues of Ramesses IIOne of the two obelisks
Sitting Ramesses II statues at the entrance to the Great Court of Ramesses IITravis in the Great Court of Ramesses IIStatues of Ramesses II in the Great Court
Travis and Sonya in the Great CourtSitting Ramesses II statueStatue of Ramesses II and his queen Nefertiti
Papyrus bud columnsBound OxSonya at the Colonnade

On the way back to the hotel we stopped to have dinner at a corner restaurant. We tried karkadé (Hibiscus tea) which is very popular in Egypt.

Abu Simbel – reign of Ramesses the Great

We awoke at 2:45am the following morning to start the journey south to Abu Simbel. The hostel had packed us breakfast (bread, boiled egg and juice) and we hopped onto the bus at 3am to pick up other travellers along the way.  As Abu Simbel is about forty kilometres north of Sudan, there are some rules around travel there – buses need to travel in a police escorted convoy and there are regulated times for these convoys departing Aswan. The three hour bus ride was quite uninteresting – mostly desert outside and so I slept most of the way. One highlight was seeing the sunrise across the bare, flat horizon, it was very beautiful.

Nothing can really describe the feeling of awe as you look above at the huge statues of Ramesses II carved out of the side of a mountain over two thousand years ago.  The depictions inside the temple were also quite amazing, of war, family life… and the wonderful statues of Ramesses with the three gods – Ra, Amun and the Ptah god of the underworld which is the only statue which the sunrays do not fall upon inside the temple.

There is also another temple next to Ramesses temple, the temple of Hathor and Nefertari – built for his wife Nefertari. Inside were pictures dedicated to the beautiful Queen.

We headed back to the bus back to Aswan. At Aswan, we stopped at a local restaurant and tried koshary – something we had seen Egyptians eat in Cairo.  Koshary seemed to be a mix of beans, rice, pasta… it was interesting, but by then I had already grown quite fond of falafel and much preferred eating that.

We decided to leave Aswan for Luxor that afternoon so headed to the train station.  We purchased tickets on the train and settled down for the ride to our next destination, Luxor.

Four colossal statues of Ramesses II outside the Great TempleSonya and Travis outside the Great TempleClose up of one of the Ramesses II statues
Sonya next to the ear of the Ramesses II collapsed statueHorus statue outside the Great TempleStoreroom wall carvings
Inner Sanctuary featuring Ra-Horakhty, the deified Ramesses II, Amun Ra and PtahInside the Hypostyle Hall with eight Ramesses II as Osiris statuesRamesses II as Osiris statues
Close up of one of the Ramesses II statuesSonya outside the Great TempleKing Ramesses II and Queen Nefertari outside Temple of Hathor and Nefertari
Egyptian standing at the door of Temple of Hathor and NefertariTravis outside the Temple of Hathor and NefertariView of the Great Temple cut in the hill