Tour of Eastern Thebes : Karnak and Luxor

I was awoken rather violently this morning by the sound of people screaming over loud speakers. My first thought was, "God in heaven, what in the world is that! And why is it screaming at me at this ungodly hour???!!!" It was the minarets issuing their "call to prayer" of course, and it was my first encounter with Islamic Egypt. I'm not sure what they were screaming but I wanted with every portion of my being to scream back, "shut up!!!! It's 4:30 in the morning!!!!!!"

After eating breakfast, I was met by my private guide who took me on a two-hour tour of Karnak Temple. Karnak Temple is more of a "complex" than it is a single temple and is comprised of several different temples including the Temples of Amun, Mut, and Montha. For Amun was the chiefest of Gods to the ancient Egyptians. If you were hip in ancient Thebes, chances are you were an Amun worshipper. The first thing that grabs you about the temple is its majestic size and age. The oldest portions of Karnak Temple date back to the reign of Sesostris I in 1971BC and many of the structures are huge and still well intact.

As part of the building philosophy, each pharaoh added on to the existing temples as a way of legitimizing his/her reign (there was one female pharaoh who built structures.) I enjoyed the Kiosk of Taharqo and the Hypostyle Hall the most, but also marveled at the Obelisks erected by Thutmose I and Hatshepsut.

Journal excerpt - Karnak Temple:
Walking alone in Karnak Temple is quite an experience. I keep repeating in my mind that this temple is 5,000 years old. It looks old, but I have nothing to compare it to. . . I've never seen something built by human hands that is so old. I am amazed how well it has withstood time. I would never expect such an ancient temple to still look as good as it does. It's amazing.

One of the first structures that I found significant was the Kiosk of Taharqo. This consisted of a major passageway flanked by sphinx-like rams. For being several millennia old, they are incredible well preserved and powerfully majestic. It is here for the first time that I truly feel overpowered. These statues are not in textbooks and they are not made of paper-machete. These are the real mccoy, ancient structures that pre-date Christ and are undoubtedly of tremendous craftsmanship. I feel a riveting energy standing here and know that a photo or two will not display their greatness. It is so exciting to stand here beneath these structures. I will never be able to explain this feeling.

The Taharquo Line

Taharquo: gateway to Karnak Temple

The Hypostyle Hall, the forest of manmade columns, how ever could you still be standing? Countless tribes have traversed your hallways. Egypt has risen and fallen, Ancient Greece has come and gone; the Roman Empire, The Mongols, Napoleonic France, The British Crown have all been birthed, lived their lives, and sunk into desolation, and you have seen them all. Still you stand. 134 mighty monuments to time and stability that seem too stubborn to die. Ever persevering, you continue to stand watch over Lower Egypt. Oh, to uncover the mysteries of your voice, for you have seen much.

inspecting the Hypostyle

marveling at the "forest of columns"

Obelisks in the grand coutyard

Ramses II - pharaoh at the time of the Exodus

A "restored" column at Karnak

Obelisks in the distance

Ancient paths

My guide interprets the hieroglyphs

Papyrus 101

After leaving Karnak, I headed to "The Papyrus Institute," which was one of two "pressure sales" places that would be on my agenda. Basically, the shtick is this - I was taken by my tour guide to a small store. Upon entry, they offer you a drink, which is customary for you to accept. Then, they teach you how the ancients have been making papyrus paper for thousands of years. It's an interesting process. After the 10-minute lecture, they attempt to sell you legitimate papyrus artwork that they have made and hand painted. They are pretty high-pressure and I did not enjoy the process. However, it's all part of the program and it's a pretty standard feature of many tours.

Next, I was taken to Luxor temple. After touring the temple, it was around 1PM and I was taken back to my hotel room, where I grabbed some lunch and took a three-hour nap. Around 5PM, I was taken on an hour tour of the Luxor Museum. After seeing these things, the day was essentially over. The hot, sun requires and early start and an afternoon siesta. At around 6PM, I returned to my hotel, where I hung out by the pool and relaxed for a couple hours. I would return in the evening to take some photos of Luxor Temple at sunset, but I tried to rest a lot. Time-wise, I didn't get as much for my money as one might expect. However, any more activity after my extensive travel from the states and I think I would have gotten ill. I am definitely fatigued, and need plenty of rest. For me, the tour times were just about perfect for what I wanted to see and experience. Anyway, since I had a private guide and car, I was setting the times anyway, so it doesn't much matter.

Journal excerpt - Luxor temple:
Luxor Temple was one of the first items of antiquity that I saw last evening when I arrived from the States. Illuminated by night, it is quite a sight and standing now in its presence is a special privilege. The Avenue of Sphinxes is a delightful site and many of the statues are still well put together. It's neat to gaze down the avenue and imagine what it must have looked like when they were all intact. Archaeologists believe that the line of statues once continued much farther than what is presently there.

Turning my attention to the Temple, one is easily overwhelmed by the quality and size of the entrance. There is such an overwhelming feeling of surreality. The obelisk, the statues guarding the doorway, and the awesome size of the outer temple walls leave a tremendous impression. It looks so much like a dream or a virtual-reality; computer-generated image that I scarcely believe it's there at all. As I gaze at the scene, I am also reminded here of the movie, "Stargate", which contained graphical representations of Ancient Egypt. That same spooky, "What's going to Happen" feeling is in the air right now, and I am even experiencing some fear at the moment. There is quite a bazaar spirit in this place.

gateway to Luxor Temple

Giants standing guard for milennia

sunset at Luxor

Luxor Temple before dusk

Journal excerpt - Luxor Museum:
Among the most interesting objects here is the large bust of Akhenaten and the wall mural of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and his children offering sacrifices to the Aten. There was also a large, gold bull with black features that I believe was taken from the tomb of Tut. I got evil vibes off that thing, man . . . gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Journal excerpt - Thought of the day for 6/1/01:
I was overwhelmed with what I saw at Karnak and Luxor. My most profound thought today was that if I were to build a temple to honor God (and I lived many millennia ago and had unlimited power and resources), I would probably build a temple like the ones that I saw today. I was very impressed with the apparent purity of their acts of worship. Unfortunately, they were misguided, because they honored pagan gods, rather than the one, true God. However, their devotion was impressive.

You may download my Egypt 2001 screensavers at Webshots

Traveling to Luxor
Luxor and Karnak Temples
West Bank of ancient Thebes
Final day in Luxor
First 2 days in Cairo
The Pyramids, Sphinx, and King Tut
Touring Islamic and Coptic Cairo

On to Israel!!!!!


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