Egypt – Karnak Temple & Luxor Temple

– SEPTEMBER 06, 2015

We had our final morning on the cruise ship and it was a great experience.  Today we will check out of the ship, go to see two amazing temples, then get dropped off at the hotel we will staying at in Luxor for a few more days.  Starting off today we have the Karnak Temple complex.

The complex is a vast open-air museum, and the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia.  It is the second most visited historical site in Egypt; only the Great Pyramids of Giza near Cairo receive more visits.  It consists of four main parts, of which only the largest is currently open to the general public.  The term Karnak often is understood as being the Precinct of Amun-Ra only, because this is the only part most visitors see.  The three other parts, the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV are closed to the public.  There also are a few smaller temples and sanctuaries connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amun-Re, and the Luxor Temple.

The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used.  Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere.  Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming.  The deities represented range from some of the earliest worshiped to those worshiped much later in the history of the Ancient Egyptian culture.  Although destroyed, it also contained an early temple built by Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), the pharaoh who later would celebrate a near monotheistic religion he established that prompted him to move his court and religious center away from Thebes.  It also contains evidence of adaptations, using buildings of the Ancient Egyptians by later cultures for their own religious purposes.

One famous aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re, a hall area of 5,000 m2 with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows.  122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.

The architraves on top of these columns are estimated to weigh 70 tons. These architraves may have been lifted to these heights using levers. This would be an extremely time-consuming process and also would require great balance to get to such great heights.  A common alternative theory regarding how they were moved is that large ramps were constructed of sand, mud, brick or stone and that the stones were then towed up the ramps.  If stone had been used for the ramps, they would have been able to use much less material.  The top of the ramps presumably would have employed either wooden tracks or cobblestones for towing the megaliths.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

In Ancient Egypt, the forecourts of the Temple and the area adjacent to the main entrance doorway of the Precinct of Amun were a privileged place of contact between the God and the population, who had limited access to the Temple.  From the reign of Amenhotep III onwards, royal colossi erected in front of the entrance Pylons were subjects of popular cults.  Processional appearances of statues of the Gods, each in its naos and place in a sacred boat were also cause for much rejoicing for the entire Theban population.

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Karnak Temple

Access to the Temple of Karnak is gained today, through what is a late addition to the Temple: the First Courtyard, built in front of the east-west axis of the XIVth and the IVth century before our era.  Horemheb (1333-1306) built the Second Pylon which then became the entrance to the Temple, and in front of which several monuments were installed.  Around 1200 BC, Seti II built a triple repository chapel for the sacred barques of the Theban triad: Amun, Mout and Khonsu.  For the great annual processions such as the Beautiful Feast of the Valley or the Opet Festival.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

Ramesses III then built his temple in front of the south mole of the Second Pylon for the same repository purpose.  Under the Bubastid reign (around the turn of the first millennium), the area in front of the Temple was transformed into a closed courtyard.  A large colonnade commemorating the pharaonic monarchy was placed against the enclosing north and south walls.  The dromos extended at this stage, from the landing tribune to the Second Pylon, passing between the barque repositories of Seti II and Ramesses III.  Later, Taharka (690-664) had his monumental portico entrance installed on the axis of the courtyard and placed some of the sphinxes in front of the Bubastid colonnades.  Nectanebo then began building the First Pylon which closes the western side of the Great Courtyard.  This pylon remains unfinished, explaining the presence of mud-brick of the construction ramps.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

The Hypostyle Hall was installed by Seti I in the courtyard between Horemheb’s Second Pylon and the Third Pylon of Amenhotep III, covering up an Amenhotep IV/Akhnaten doorway.  The northern wall of this door depicting Amenhotep IV defeating the Asians is reconstructed in the Open-Air Museum on the site.  It is impossible to know if the central nave is contemporary, or prior to the construction of the other 122 columns.  It may have formed a colonnade similar to the one visible in the first courtyard in the Temple of Luxor.  The hall was completely decorated in raised relief by Seti I, apart from the south-east corner which remained uninscribed until Ramesses II sculpted it in sunken relief.  Ramesses II also re-engraved the south-west corner in sunken-relief, initially engraved by Seti I in raised relief.  The decoration of the columns was completed by Ramesses III, Ramesses IV and Ramesses VI while later, Herihor added his name to the base of the walls.

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Karnak Temple

The Hypostyle Hall between the Second and Third Pylons measures 103 meters in width by 53 meters in length.  Its 134 columns imitate the primeval papyrus marsh.  The main nave is flanked by two rows of six open-bud papyrus capital columns and was lit by clerestory windows on either side.  The other 122 smaller closed-bud columns support the lateral naves which were lit through openings in the ceiling.  Conceived by Seti I as a separate temple from the Ipet-Sut where Amun met with the Ennead during the annual festival.  The Hypostyle Hall is described in texts inscribed in the architraves as a “temple of millions of years”, a place where the royal cult & the cult of Amun were celebrated.  The coloured decoration on the inside portrays the ceremonies carried out here, such as the sacred barque festival or the daily religious rituals, whereas the decorsation on the outside walls portrays the military victories of Seti I on the north side and Ramesses II on the south side.

On October 3rd 1899, a dozen columns toppled over in the northern part of the hall.  Huge scale construction was then undertaken to restore them to the manner they exist today.

On a light note, in the movie “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen” the final battle between Optimus Prime against Megatron, Starscream and the Fallen takes place in the hypostyle hall at Karnak.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

In 1903, an extraordinary discovery happened in the north-west of the courtyard in front of the Seventh Pylon, which had already revealed architectural elements dating from the Middle and New Kingdoms.  Over 700 statues in stone and 1700 in bronze were unearthed after digging was made difficult by the infiltrations from the water table.  The work lasted until 1907 and most of the statues ended up in the Cairo Museum.  Genealogies can be reconstituted from the statues of various generations from the same Theban families.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

The sacred lake is a vast rectangular basin, 200m long by 117 m wide, situated in the area delimited by the Amun sanctuary in the North and the first two courtyards on the North-South processional axis in the west.  The lake is already present in the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III, but its current shape dates from the XXVth Dynasty.  Filled by the water-table, the lake for Ancient Egyptians was a direct contact with Noun – the primal ocean where all life originated.  Access to the lake was gained through the Seventh Pylon, where the priests purified themselves daily and where the sacred barque navigated during religious ceremonies.  The blanks around the lake were occupied by buildings of various natures.  In the north, a monument was dedicated by Taharqa to Ra-Horakty, the rising sun represented as a dung beetle.  During his reign the monument scarab in red granite was transported here from the Temple of Millions of Years of Amenhotep III on the West Bank.

The area on the south side of the Sacred Lake is the economic zone of the Temple where offerings were stored and prepared in storerooms, some of the most recent of which are still visible.  In some texts, a breeding area for fowl for ritual offerings is mentioned.  The eastern side of the lake is the administrative and residential area.  Dwellings from the Late Period were found when building the Sound and Light platform.  According to inscriptions found in them, they were occupied by priests carrying out a monthly ritual cycle in the Temple.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

The term “Barque Sanctuary” refers to complex of chambers found east of the Fifth and Sixth Pylons designed for the Sacred Barque of Amun.  Two red granite pillars in front of this sanctuary, in the name of Thutmoses III, portray the heraldic symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt – the lily flower and the papyrus stalk.  The chapels just behind them date from just before the Ptolemaic Period.  This sanctuary replaced the previous one dating from the New Kingdom.

Around 1500, Hatshepsut modified the central area of Ipet-Sut and added a podium to the western façade of a temple of Amenhotep I that occupied the so-called Middle Kingdom courtyard.  She built her a new sanctuary, the Red Chapel, on this podium and surrounded it with offering chambers.  Thutmoses III then modified this quartzite chapel before finally dismantling it and replacing it with his sanctuary in red granite.

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

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Karnak Temple

Later we went back to Karnak Temple to see the amazing Karnak Temple Light & Sound show.  It had lights and speakers set up throughout the temple with ropes to stop the group at specific intervals.  Then a story would broadcast on the history of the item and a light would highlight it to combine the senses of sight and sound in a very intriguing manner.  This was a special event that really was worth more than the admission ticket.

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show (this is one of my favorite photos thus far on the trip)

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

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Luxor – Karnak Light & Sound Show

Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the Nile River in the city today known as Luxor and was founded in 1400 BCE. Known in the Egyptian language as ipet resyt, or “the southern sanctuary“.  In Luxor there are six great temples, the four on the left bank are known to travellers and readers of travels as Goornah, Deir-el-Bahri, the Ramessuem, and Medinet Habu; and the two temples on the right bank are known as the Karnak and Luxor.

To the rear of the temple are chapels built by Tuthmosis III, and Alexander. During the Roman era, the temple and its surroundings were a legionary fortress and the home of the Roman government in the area.

The Luxor temple was built with sandstone from the Gebel el-Silsila area, which is located in south-western Egypt.  This sandstone from the Gebel el-Silsila region is referred to as Nubian Sandstone.  This sandstone was used for the construction for monuments in Upper Egypt as well as in the course of past and current restoration works.

Like other Egyptian structures a common technique used was symbolism, or illusionism. For example, to the Egyptian, a sanctuary shaped like an Anubis Jackal was really Anubis.  At the Luxor temple, the two obelisks (the smaller one closer to the west is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris) flanking the entrance were not the same height, but they created the illusion that they were.  With the layout of the temple they appear to be of equal height, but using illusionism, it enhances the relative distances hence making them look the same size to the wall behind it. Symbolically, it is a visual and spacial effect to emphasize the heights and distance from the wall, enhancing the already existing pathway.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – The massive First Pylon and the red granite obelisk.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – sitting Ramses II Colossus.

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Luxor Temple – sitting Ramses II Colossus.

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Luxor Temple – head of Ramses II Colossus.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – Islamic mosque over pharaonic temple.

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Luxor Temple – Islamic mosque over pharaonic temple.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – Sitting Ramses II Colossus statue.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscription.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple – the peristyle court.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – Roman mural in an inner chamber.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – wall inscriptions.

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple

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Luxor Temple – Avenue of Sphinxes that once stretched to Karnak Temple.

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Luxor Temple – Avenue of Sphinxes that once stretched to Karnak Temple.

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Luxor Temple – Avenue of Sphinxes that once stretched to Karnak Temple.

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Luxor Temple – A well preserved Sphinx.

We also made a point of driving by the Luxor Temple at night to see it lit up…simply beautiful.

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Luxor – Luxor Temple at Night (the massive First Pylon)

Next up will be the Valley of the Kings, including the tomb of the great King Tut!

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.