At the height of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom (1549—1069 BC) its capital, Thebes, was a city of over a million people. The pharaohs that ruled over this kingdom were made wealthy by military successes that expanded their influence south into Nubia, west along the Mediterranean, and east into modern day Syria. This wealth and the huge workforce at their disposal made it possible for the New Kingdom pharaohs to commission great building projects, attempting to immortalize their influence through the buildings they left behind. Today in Luxor we still admire the efforts of these pharaohs to preserve their legacies in the great temple and funerary complexes that still stand on either side of the Nile at the site of ancient Thebes.
The most famous monuments in Egypt are undoubtedly in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. The Giza Pyramids, with their unparalleled size and massive height, have captured people’s imaginations for millennia. These huge structures and the other pyramids scattered in the desert south of Cairo stand as incredible testament to the unprecedented development of civilization in the Nile Valley during the 3rd millennia BC; however, the pyramids represent only the beginning of the legacy of Ancient Egypt. The civilization endured long after the decline of power around ancient Memphis and continued to develop. At Thebes, Ancient Egypt reached an even greater peak, memorialized with a very different style of monument.
Luxor is often referred to today as the ‘world’s largest open-air museum’. This name comes from the fact that the modern city is located at the same site as ancient Thebes. It has literally been built upon and around the treasures of the Old Kingdom, which are still being unearthed to this day. Surrounded by modern construction, Luxor Temple and the massive Karnak Temple Complex are two of Egypt’s most impressive sites. Their impact is only enhanced by the contrast of their ancient stone architecture with the modern construction that surrounds them. Additionally, the area around Luxor and the opposite bank of the river are dotted with a wealth of other temples and tombs. It can take several days to explore all of the significant archeological sites within only an hours drive of Luxor with each one displaying something unique that will add to your understanding of this ancient civilization that flowered here.
It is easiest to divide the sites around Luxor into two categories—those on the East Bank of the Nile and those on the West Bank. This division would have suited the ancient Egyptians as well since to them the East Bank was the land of the living, where the sun rose and people thrived, and the West Bank was the land of the dead, where the sunset and people journeyed into the afterlife. Luxor and the remains of ancient Thebes are located on the East Bank along with the temple complexes that were used to observe the ancient religion in life. The sites on the West Bank are tombs and funerary temples, where Ancient Egyptians and their rulers were laid to rest begin their journey into the afterlife.
A special experience during your time in Luxor is to take dawn hot air balloon ride over the area. There is no better perspective to see why Luxor is known as an open-air museum and the views from altitude of the Nile and the surrounding landscape are stunning. You will float over all of the sites on the East and West Banks of the Nile and viewing them from above you can truly appreciate their size and plans. The dawn light only adds to this stunning experience, turning the temples beautiful colors as the light rises and intensifies in the east.