Luxor is a huge tourist mecca. The city is quite small and is actually separated in two parts. The old Luxor is where people live and all the backpacker’s hotels are located. The other part of town is kind of lifeless with a bunch of luxury hotels, trendy restaurants and pubs and overpriced souvenirs shops.
In the 5 days I spent here, I managed to visit most of the main sites.
First, there is the West Shore of Luxor with the necropolis.I went there twice each time paying a cab for the whole day (5-6 hours actually). There are other ways to visit including horses, camels and donkeys but I did not feel like spending 5 hours on a donkey under the heavy heat. Maybe I am just getting old ;).
The Memnon Collossi are used as an unofficial entrance sign of the necropolis. They were actually marking the entrance of Amenophis III’s temple that has disappeared since. It is just a five minutes stop and is free.
The Valley of the kings and its 63 discovered tombs is an amazing site that was completely different than what I was expecting. I visited 3 tombs there and it was quite a sight. My favorite is Tuthmosis III’s tomb with its quilted style so different than the usual style of haut-reliefs and bas-reliefs.
My favorite and the favorite of many people I talked to, Ramses III’s temple at Madinet Habu is just astonishing. Some of the bas-reliefs still have their colors and this makes so much difference.
The Hatchepsut temple at Deir Al-Bahari is a great temple with an impressive architecture. It also has some great murals showing Hatchepsut leading a campaign against Ethiopia. But I was not that attracted after all. Maybe it was due to the high damage the temple endured.
The Valley of the Nobles is usually ignored by the tourists. It is a good and a bad thing because you will end up being the only tourist in the tombs but in exchange, you will have to fend off the constant hassling of the overzealous/overaggressive guards that don’t get many chances to get baksheesh. If you go to the necropolis for a second day, I would definitely advise to include this place in your schedule. I visited 5 of the main tombs and they are all great. They usually have more down to earth subjects represented on their walls and are actually very well preserved. I really liked it. Sadly, I do not have any pictures to show because they all present murals with great colors that would be deteriorated by flashes.
The Ramesseum is yet another of Ramses II’s temple showing its great achievement during the battle of Qadesh. Frankly, maybe it was that I was tired at the end of my second day on the West shore of Luxor but it is quite damaged and I did not find it that interesting and would definitely advise people to just pass on it. Especially if you visit other of Ramses II’s temples like Abu Simbel great temple.
I decided not visit the Valley of the Queens because Nefertari’s tomb is now closed. Other tombs are there and worthwhile though.
Then, there is the Karnak temple three kilometers north of Luxor. The Karnak temple and Luxor temple used to be linked by a path demarcated by two rows of sphinxes. It seems like the government is trying to recreate this path by excavating and destroying wathever was built in its place. The Karnak temple is a great temple celebrating the main god of ancient Egypt: Amun. Every pharaoh wanting to be linked to Amun, the temple is actually a big mess that evolved for many centuries following the additions and reorganizations of said pharaohs. It was definitely worth a visit but you will have to walk a lot and venture out of the main path to see the most interesting (IMHO) things.
I decided not visit Luxor’s temple even if it could have been the easier to visit. It is just that there is nothing that impressive inside and I had a good view from outside.
Luxor has also two very interesting museums: The Luxor’s museum and the mummification’s museum. They are all open late so are great to visit in the evening when the rest of the sites are closed. I visited the Luxor’s museum on Tuesday. It is very well organized and has some great pieces including a reconstituted mural from the Amarna period. Great stuff. I visited the museum at the same time than a class of Egyptian guide students that showed to be more than friendly and eager to exercise their language skills on me. I ended up with a bunch of young adults around me speaking to me in French and English. One young woman was speaking perfect French and I am sure she will be a great guide. It was a good time that was interrupted by one of the museum guard that chased them away thinking they were bothering me.
Abydos and Dendara
Further away from Luxor and requiring some travel in a convoy under military protection are two impressive temples that I visited yesterday. You need to pay for a taxi or minivan that then joins the convoy. The convoy leaves around 8AM from Luxor and is going through 175 kilometers at crazy speed while the army is blocking all traffic at every intersection! As if this was not hairy enough, the cars in the convoy are playing a little game to see which one will arrive in first position at the sites and are continuously passing each other in cumbersome situations. Quite a sight in itself! And it might not be a good idea if you are car sick or tend to be frighten easily.
The temple of Seti I at Abydos is just mind-boggling. It is definitely one of my favorites. It is very well preserved. Like Edfu, it still has its original roof. But even better, most of its bas-reliefs are of a prodigious quality and have kept most of their original colors. There, 7 major gods were venered so it gives a good opportunity to put a face on known names like Isis, Osiris, Amun, Horus and Sekhmet. There is also the famous Abydos list in a side room that lists 76 pharaohs preceding Seti I.
My last visit of the week but not the last was the temple of Hathor at Dendara. This temple is more recent. It was started by the Ptolemies (including the famous Cleopatra (VII actually)) and finished by the Romans. It hence has Greco-roman influences. The things I prefered were the ceiling of the first room representing astronomical knowledge of the period and the Zodiacal room where the 12 zodiacal signs are represented on the ceiling. The crypt is also quite impressive with fine bas-reliefs.
These two sites being more difficult to access, they are plagued with the same issue than in the Valley of the Nobles and you constantly have to fend away guards eager for baksheesh.
I actually visited these two sites with Jason and Jana, Australian and German newlyweds. And Jason being a student Egyptolog advised me to tell them I was a doctor. That kind of worked even if I think they did not really believed me with my guide book in hand ;). I don’t know… maybe I should just give up and distribute baksheesh at the beginning so that they leave me alone! But then I would just participate in reinforcing this bad habit.
It has been a great week here. If you come, I would advise to spend at least one day (maybe 2) in the necropolis visiting Valley of the Kings, Madinet Habu, Valley of the Nobles and Hatchepsut temple and another day visiting Abydos and Dendara. A third day could be used to visit Karnak and maybe Luxor.
I was actually a bit burned out of so much visiting and took it easy today. And as of not loosing a good habit, I chilled out again Club Med style ;). Their hotel is actually larger than in Aswan with a larger and even nicer swimming pool. But this has a higher cost of entry as well as many more people around the pool. I had a great time anyway and feel ready for my 8 hour train back to Cairo in second class.
[Edited on 4/29/2006 to add link to pictures]
[Edited on 5/17/2006 to add link to more pictures]