Luxor - West Bank
Necropolis of Thebes
On the West Bank of the River Nile, opposite the city of Luxor, is an area where many tombs, temples, and mortuary temples can be found; an area known as the Necropolis of Thebes (or Theban Necropolis). This is the main attraction for visitors to Luxor as it is where sites such as the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Colossi of Memnon can be seen.
The Valley of the Kings
Dominated by the pyramid shaped peak known as Al-Qurn, which was sacred to the goddesses Hathor and Meretseger (“She Who Loves Silence”), the Valley of the Kings is situated in an extremely isolated position, which made it easier to guard. The ancient Egyptians knew this area as the “Land of the Dead” (the East Bank being known as the “Land of the Living”). The Valley of the Kings is actually a misnomer because it is, in fact, 2 valleys: the East Valley, which contains the majority of the tombs, and the West Valley.
The Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir El Bahri
Originally known as Djeser-Djeseru ("Holy of Holies"), the Temple of Hatshepsut is one of the most beautiful buildings that survive from the Pharaonic period. Located at a site known as Deir El Bahri, Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple is not only built in front of the Theban Mountains, it is also built into them.
The temple was designed with three layered terraces that once contained gardens filled with exotic plants from the Land of Punt. These terraces are join ed by two long ramps that give the whole structure an overall height of 97 feet (30 metres). Reliefs, within the temple, show the story of the divine right for Hatshepsut to be Pharaoh and the description of her journey to, and from, the Land of Punt. Two petrified wood stumps, in front of the temple, are all that remain of this expedition.
Colossi of Memnon (The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III)
Including the stone podiums on which they are erected, and even they are about 13 feet (4 metres) high, the Colossi of Memnon stand guard, 50 feet apart (15 metres), over the site of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple with an unbelievable height of 60 feet (18 metres). However, they are not only tall; they each have an estimated weight of around 720 tons.
Nowadays both statues show signs of serious damage; wear and tear plus the occasional earthquake taking their toll. Above their waistlines they are almost grotesque and it is almost impossible to detect if they were once identical. Both colossi are seated, with Amenhotep III’s hands resting upon his knees, and they face eastwards towards the River Nile. They both have carvings of smaller figures next to his legs and in front of the thrones; these are Tye, his wife, and Mutemwiya, his mother. On each of the side panels there is a depiction of Hapi; The side panels depict the Nile god Hapi: god of the inundation of the River Nile.
The Mortuary Temple of Ramses III (Medinet Habu)
Medinet Habu is the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, which is about 490 feet (150 metres) long and bears a strong resemblance to the Ramesseum, the Mortuary Temple of Ramses II. This is not unusual as Ramses III was renowned for copying Ramses II in many different ways: he even named many of his children after his forebears children.
The whole temple complex is roughly 700 feet (210 metres) long and 1,000 feet (300 metres) wide. The wall reliefs take up about 75,350 square feet (7,000 square metres) and include reliefs depicting his famous battle with the sea peoples. The complex, which comprises of the temple, palace, and town, is entirely surrounded with a massive, mudbrick, defensive wall. From the main entrance it resembles a huge fortress, rather than a temple, and this is because of the entry being designed to resemble a Highgate, or Migdol.
The Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens is located just across the mountain, El Qurn, from the Valley of the Kings. It is isolated also, which made it easier to guard. It was not just a place for the wives of the pharaohs to be buried as many princes and princesses were interred there as well. The first known tomb here comes from the time of Ramses I.
It is believed that there are more than 70 tombs here. Many of these are very simple and plain, but some are very elegant and are extravagantly decorated, the prime example of this being the Tomb of Nefertari, the principle wife of Ramses II. The reliefs in this tomb are incredible and the colour has remained until the modern day.
The Tombs of the Nobles
Five main regions make up the area known as the Tombs of the Nobles, with the possibility of thousands of tombs being amongst them. Until now, Egyptologists have only explored about 800 of them. The term “noble” is a misnomer as the people in these tombs were priests, viziers, officials, kings and other royalty. The 5 main regions are Deir El Medina, Dra Abu El Neggar, Sheikh Abd El Qurna, Asasif, and Qurnet Murai. The latter is a hill that has 17 numbered Ramesside tombs.
Deir El Medina
Deir El Medina is the village where the workers, who created all of the tombs in the vicinity, lived. It is a unique village as most, if not all, of the residents were able to read and write, due to their profession requiring this capability. It is also unique as no other settlement site in Egypt has revealed the day-to-day routine of daily life, and this is thanks to the villagers’ ability to read and write and the vast amount of written information, either on papyrus or ostrica (small shards of pottery or limestone) that the population left behind. The oldest part of the village is dated to the reign of Thutmose I, and it was at its peak during the Ramesside Period.
The village contained around sixty-eight houses and had a total area of 6,698 square feet (5,600 square metres). There was a narrow road, which ran the full length of the village, and, to protect the residents from the sun and heat, it may have had a covering. The houses were of different sizes but were all built the same way: stone foundations; mudbrick walls; mud-coated walls, completely painted white on the outside and painted white up to a level of just over 3 feet (1 metre) on the inside; and wooden doors. They had four or five rooms, which tended to consist of the entrance, a main room, two small rooms, and a kitchen with cellar and staircase to the roof area. Within the main room was a raised area, made from mudbrick, which could have been a shrine or birth bed. Niches for statues and/or small alters were in all the houses.
The Mortuary Temple of Ramses II (Ramesseum)
The Ramesseum, or to give it its correct title “the house of millions of years of Usermaatra Setepenra that unites with Thebes the city in the domain of Amun”, is the Mortuary Temple of Ramses II. The term “Ramesseum” was originally used by Jean-François Champollion in 1829 when he visited the site and translated the hieroglyphs that comprised of Ramses II's names and titles on the walls.
As the New Kingdom progressed, temple architecture started to take on a standard design, which was strongly adhered to by the Ramesside Period. An entry pylon followed by a courtyard, then a second pylon followed by a hypostyle hall, which in turn led to the inner sanctuary. All the time the temple floor rose very slightly and the roof sloped downwards slightly, making the sanctuary the main focus of the construction. The Ramesseum follows this concept, with a northwest to southeast orientation; two successive 196 feet (60 metre) wide stone pylons each lead into a courtyard: the former into a courtyard with the palace on the left, with a colossus of the king behind, and the latter into a 48 columned hypostyle courtyard. Beyond this courtyard lay the inner sanctuary. The pylons and outer walls were covered with scenes commemorating Ramses II’s many war victories, including a scene representing the Battle of Kadesh.
Sadly time, erosion, and neglect have taken their toll on the Ramesseum and it is now a very ruined site. A syenite statue of the pharaoh, sitting on his throne, which was once 62 feet tall (19 metres) and weighing about 1000 tons, has now only got its base and torso remaining. Another statue, from the second court, has its head and torso missing. Giovanni Belzoni was hired by the British Consul General, Henry Salt, to collect the granite head of the “Younger Memnon” from the Temple. It was only 7 tons in weight, but not too easy to transport in 1818. It now resides in the British Museum in London.
The Mortuary Temple of Seti I
Situated close to the village of El Tarif, the Mortuary Temple of Seti I (Sety I or Sethos I) was unfinished when he died, Ramses II, his son, taking over the task of completing it. The work that the son did is easy to see as he totally usurped the final stages of his father’s temple.
The temple is badly damaged, by time and floods, and now only the sanctuary, halls, and antechambers remain. What is seen today, taking up an area of 518 feet (158 metres) by 154 feet (47 metres), is only a fraction of the temple that Seti I dedicated to Amun-Re, naming it ‘Glorious Seti in the West of Thebes’.
The parts that were built by Seti I have beautiful and magnificent reliefs and carvings, whereas his son’s additions tend to me more crude. The workmanship in the earlier parts of the temple are as god as the craftsmanship shown at his temple in Abydos. A prime example of this is in the two chambers on either side of the hypostyle hall, or what remains of it! Exquisitely carved reliefs of incense offerings and the performance of ceremonies to the gods are totally sublime. One of the chambers used to contain a shrine that was dedicated to Ramses I, Seti I’s father, who did not build a mortuary temple due to his short reign of about two years.
The grounds of the temple feature an open air museum that contains many of the artefacts discovered in the immediate vicinity. The entrance is through a gate that has been inserted into the northern wall.
Other sites on the West Bank include:
• El Malqata: The Palace of Amenhotep III
• The Mortuary Temple of Merenptah
• The Mortuary Temple of Ramses IV
• The Mortuary Temple of Thutmose IV
• The Mortuary Temple of Thutmose III
• Kasr El Aguz: The Temple of Thoth