Any trip to Egypt must include a Nile Cruise. It is the most comfortable and enjoyable way to visit some of the historical sites along the Nile River. Also given the precarious political nature that is now Egypt, it is probably safer to avoid too much road travel. There are numerous cruise boats operating from Luxor to Aswan for 4-night stays and the other way round for 3-night stays. We chose Sanctuary Retreat’s Sun Boat IV’s Luxor to Aswan cruise which, at the time of writing, is one of the best cruising the Nile. There are a total of 36 cabins and 4 suites on Sun Boat IV and it has its own private docks which means it is not moored up against other vessels. Also it is one of the few boats that visit the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. The boat provides guides and group tours but we opted to have our private car and guide so that we can potentially see more and are more flexible depending on how long my photo sessions take. We can also go to the sites at different times than the group tours or at the very least be the first to arrive for better photos. The only pitfall of doing the private tour is you become a bit antisocial on the boat because you barely see your fellow passengers other than at meal times.
We took an early morning flight from Cairo to Luxor where we boarded our cruise. Luxor stands now where once stood the ancient pharaoh’s capital Waset, or Thebes as the Greeks called it. The East Bank of Luxor was always where the living settled while the West Bank was where the tombs and mortuary temples stood. Until today, the East Bank of Luxor is still the central part of town and where most of the hotels and other facilities are situated. Two ancient cult temples here on the East Bank have survived the test of time and continue to sit in the midst of the bustling city: Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple. We began our sightseeing of the East Bank of Luxor at Karnak Temple.
This model gives an idea of how immense the Karnak Temple complex is…
Temple of Karnak is the second most visited site in Egypt after the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is located in the area where Thebes (the capital of the reunified Ancient Egypt) now Luxor stood. Karnak was first built during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom also known as The Period of Reunification between circa 2050 BC and 1710 BC. Construction continued through the Ptolemaic times which is the last dynasty of Egypt until the Roman conquest of 30 BC. Because of the lengthy span of time with contributions from about 30 different pharaohs, Karnak is complex and diverse, unlike any other historical site in Egypt. Karnak was at its pinnacle as the principal religious center of the god Amun-Re during the New Kingdom from 1550 BC until 1070 BC. The site consists of four parts with only the largest part called the Precinct of Amun-Re open to visitors.
The procession way flanked on both sides by ram-headed sphinxes ran from Luxor Temple all the way to Karnak Temple.
The basic Egyptian temple is based on the concept of sep tepi or “the first time”, the beginnings of the creation of the world. The pylons or gateways represent the horizon and as one moves further into the temple, the floor rises until it reaches the inner sanctuary of the god. The columns inside were often designed with lotus and palm motifs. It is usually a straight line from the entrance of the first pylon all the way to the inner sanctuary. In ancient Egypt, only the pharaoh and high priests were allowed inside these temples. You can imagine the awe and curiosity of the commoners upon seeing these immense structures. Even I was impressed and I am used to skyscrapers. No wonder the pharaohs were deified and worshipped as gods by the people.
Inside the first pylon of Karnak Temple
As the name suggests, the Precinct of Amun-Re is dedicated to the major ancient Egyptian deity, Amun-Re, who was the patron saint of Thebes. The temple was also known during the Middle Kingdom period as Ipt-Swt which means “The Most Select of Places”. Amun, his consort Mut, and their son Khonsu formed the Theban Triad and were the primary gods of worship during that time. Amun became joined with the sun god Ra and became known as Amun-Ra or Amun-Re. Amun-Re was responsible for all life on earth and in the afterlife and was the king of all Upper Egyptian gods. He came to be identified with Zeus in Greece. Amun-Re was depicted with two plumes on his head, and holding the ankh symbol in one hand and the sceptre in the other hand. The Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re is a large hall (5,000m²) said to be large enough to hold the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. It was built by Seti I (1290-1279 BC) during the Ramesside period. There are 134 massive columns with 122 of these columns at 10 meters tall and the other 12 at 21 meters tall. The beams on top of these columns are estimated to weigh at least 70 tons! Archaeologists believe that these large stone blocks were towed up large ramps made of sand, mud, wood, and cobblestones.
Statue of Pinedjam guarding the second pylon built by Ramses II
I think the Great Hypostyle Hall is the most beautiful part of Karnak Temple
Amun-Re with the two plumes on his head
Amun-Re with the two plumes on his head and holding the ankh in one hand and the sceptre in the other.
The ankh, the cross with a loop on top, represented eternal life as well as wisdom and fertility. Ancient Egyptians believed that geese were messengers between heaven and earth and was one of the symbols of Amun.
The third pylon built by Amenophis III
Thutmose I Obelisk in the Central Court with the central inscription by Thutmose I and the other two on the sides added by Ramses IV and VI.
The Sacred Lake here is the largest of its kind with staircases descending to the water and was used by the priests for ritual washing and ritual navigation of the barge.
Next to the Sacred Lake is a large scarab dedicated by Amenhotep III. The scarab was considered sacred and a symbol of the sun god Ra.
Fallen Queen Hatshepsut Obelisk
Thutmose I Obelisk on the left erected by Thutmose I who reigned from 1504 to 1492 BC
The inner sanctuary at the precinct of Amun-Re
To the north of the main temple in the Precinct of Amun-Re lies the Temple of Ptah erected by Thutmose III. This temple was dedicated to Ptah, his wife Sekhmet, and his son Nefertum. Ptah was an ancient Egyptian god believed to exist before all things and by his will, thought the world into existence. Sekhmet was the goddess of war and legend has that her blood lust was not quelled even after battle leading her to destroy almost all of humanity. Amun-Re turned the Nile red in order to trick Sekhmet to drink the red water thinking it was blood. But blood it was not, instead, it was beer mixed with pomegranate juice making Sekhmet so drunk she could not kill anymore. There are two statues in the inner sanctum of the shrine, one a headless statue of Ptah and another a black granite statue of Sekhmet placed in the chapel dedicated to Hathor.
Temple of Ptah
On the left you can see the pharaoh wearing the Upper Egypt crown and on the right the pharaoh is wearing the Lower Egypt crown.
Ptolemy XI worships Ptah, Hathor , and Imhotep, the ancient architect of Djoser’s Step Pyramid, who was deified as the god of Medicine in Ptolemaic times.
Karnak Temple is so large that we only managed to see the highlights. I think perhaps someday I will return and explore more.
We follow the Avenue of Sphinxes which leads to another majestic temple on the East Bank of Luxor: Luxor Temple. Stay tuned!
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