To support the Egypt Centre, please click the button below

Monday, 26 April 2021

The Village of Deir el-Medina

The blog post for the final week of the Thebes course has been written by Sandra Ottens, who has been working as a secretary at the municipality of Amsterdam for thirty years. Sandra studied Egyptology at Leiden University (BA and MA) from 2006 to 2012. She started blogging about her Egyptological adventures when her class attended a two-month study semester in Cairo, visiting a large number of excavation sites. Sandra joined the excavations in Amheida (Dakhla Oasis) as an assistant epigrapher to Professor Olaf Kaper for one season in 2012. She wrote her MA thesis on the Seven Hathors, a group of seven goddesses who predicted the fate of new-born children.

The Egypt Centre course on Thebes, the city of 100 gates, and the elaborate parade of the royal mummies through the streets of Cairo to their new home in the National Museum of Egyptian Culture have reminded me of a paper I wrote about royal tomb construction management in the New Kingdom while I was a Master’s student at Leiden University. During the New Kingdom the pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings, and other members of the royal family were buried in the Valley of the Queens. For the production of these tombs, the Egyptian state recruited crews of skilled workers and artisans who were housed in the village of Deir el-Medina (fig. 1). The villagers kept a very elaborate administration of the various stages of the building process. Only fragments of this administration have survived, but together they give interesting insights into the project organisation.

Fig. 1: The village of Deir el-Medina

The workers were paid on behalf of the state with regular deliveries of food, drink, and supplies that were sent from various temple institutions. The village administration bureau kept a log of all the deliveries received on each day and organised the distribution of the rations among the employees. It is likely that the artisans who worked on the royal tombs also helped to create the tombs of the high officials that are scattered around the hills of the West Bank, and that they received additional payments for that work (fig. 2). It is not clear how much time they would have had for these extracurricular activities, but I assume they may have been helped by other workers who were not part of the official royal tomb crew.

Fig. 2: P. Ashmolean Museum 1958.112: Mid Twentieth Dynasty the draughtsman Hormin wrote to his father, necropolis scribe Hori: “... send a message to protest to the captains that they should promote this servant of yours so that he may assist me with the drawing – I’m alone, for my brother is ill. The men of the right side have carved in relief one chamber more than the left side ... When I mentioned this [to] the high priest, the captains said to me ‘We will bring him up. It isn’t the priest’s responsibility’, so they said.

From the administration we know that the crew that was employed for the work on the royal tomb usually consisted of forty–sixty men divided into two teams, which were referred to as the left and the right side. The documentation suggests that a crew of workers was installed at the beginning of each pharaoh’s reign (fig. 3). The men were required to swear an oath of office in the presence of the vizier, because their work was obviously highly confidential in nature. It is likely that the crew would start working on a pharaoh’s tomb in the early years of his reign, but their work may also have been divided across several locations, whenever tombs for other royals were needed.

Fig. 3: Ostracon Berlin 12654: In year 2 of the reign of Ramesses VI, the two scribes of the tomb and the two foremen organised a crew of workers. After that, the scribe of the vizier Paser came to the Deir el-Medina head office with the message that the number of workers had to be reduced to sixty and that the rest would be added to the supplies crew. The villagers were allowed to draw up the list of workers among themselves.

The administration tells us that there were regular inspection visits, probably to check the progress of the work. We know that detailed plans of the tomb were drawn, that the dimensions of the tomb were measured, and that these measurements were used to calculate the time it would take to carve a tomb out of the rocks and to decorate it. There were also attendance sheets, keeping track of the workers’ attendance and absence. The high officials who were in charge of the building project would have been able to use these documents to check the quantity and quality of the work, so that they could send regular progress reports to the royal court (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Drawing by Howard Carter after papyrus Turin Cat. 1885, from: JEA IV (1917), pl. XXIX. Plan of the tomb of Ramesses IV. This papyrus is decorated with coloured details: a granite sarcophagus, golden doors, and a hatched rock surface around the tomb. The texts in the rooms mention measurements and the various decoration jobs that needed to be done or had been done there: making sketches, engraving with chisels, and filling in with paints. When Howard Carter and Alan Gardiner published this papyrus in 1917, they described the elaborate drawing of the sarcophagus in the tomb chamber, but they did not understand what the rectangles around the sarcophagus were meant to represent. In their article in JEA, they speculated that this might have been a temporary wooden construction for lifting the heavy granite sarcophagus lid after the funeral. It wasn’t until the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 that Howard Carter discovered a set of four gilded shrines and a canopy of fabric, which clarified the drawing published five years earlier.

After the work on the royal tomb had been finished, the tomb would be ready and waiting for the inevitable funeral of the pharaoh. The royal mummy parade through Cairo has given us an interesting modern insight into the kind of ceremony that might have been performed for an ancient Egyptian royal funeral (fig. 5). The actual burial in the Valley of the Kings would probably have been done with only a select group of people, for reasons of security. The Deir el-Medina administration tells us that the workers were sometimes employed to move items of tomb equipment, always under the strict supervision of a number of high officials.

Fig. 5: Royal Mummy Parade, Cairo, April 3rd, 2021

I have turned the paper I wrote into an article about the various stages of the royal tomb building process. 

The Dutch version, which was published in Ta Mery (stichting Huis van Horus) in 2013, can be found on my blog: 

The English version can be found here:

Monday, 19 April 2021

The Memorial Temples at Thebes

The blog post for this week has been written by Lore Anne McNicol, an American who received her Ph.D. in Medical Sciences from the Boston University School of Medicine. For twenty-five years she conducted research and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Maryland, and the California Institute of Technology. For the next twenty years she worked at several of the National Institutes of Health, becoming Deputy Director of the National Eye Institute. She authored three books and numerous articles on vaccine development and reparative medicine. In retirement she has studied Egyptology at the University of Manchester, receiving the Certificate and Diploma. She is presently 6,000 words short of writing her Master’s thesis entitled Ubiquitous Animal, Rare Artefact: The Howard Carter Pack Donkey.  

Dr. Griffin started with a brief segment on breaking news to alert us to the “Golden Village” west of the Memorial Temple of Amenhotep Son of Hapu that has been newly-discovered by Zahi Hawass’ team. Ken’s opinion that, while the excavation is new, it is likely a continuation of a site excavated in the 1930s. This view was supported by overlays of photos of the two digs, although this will only be determined by further excavations. It appears to be a substantial site, with interesting serpentine walls and nice pottery.

Next, he gave a very clear statement of definitions: The Mortuary Temple or Memorial Temple was dedicated to the King’s cult, while a Mansion of a Million Years could in addition be a state-sponsored temple such as Karnak or that of Seti I at Abydos; in the literature the various names are often used indiscriminately. They were complexes, often including administrative and storage building as well as housing. They were largely of stone, situated on the edge of the cultivation, and had individual names such as ‘The One Which Receives Amun and Which Raises His Beauty’, which was the name for the temple of Amenhotep III (fig. 1). 

Fig. 1: The Colossi of Memnon of Amenhotep III

There were 23–24 of these temples on the Theban West Bank (fig. 2), and Dr. Griffin had time to present only the highlights of seven of these in chronological order: Montuhotep II, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Seti I, Ramesses II (the Ramesseum), and Ramesses III (Medinet Habu). As always, he had wonderful photographs to share and was a font of fascinating factoids. Swansea has a relief from the temple of Thutmose III (W1371). Ken discovered an unidentified relief, which shows a depiction of Hatshepsut’s daughter Neferure (W1376). Amenhotep III’s temple complex was possibly larger than Karnak. Some interesting facts included that Ramesses II named his horses; one was ‘Victory in Thebes’, and that Ramesses III’ temple was entered through a migdol (a squat Middle Eastern fortified tower), rather than a pylon.

Fig. 2: Memorial Temples on the West Bank of Thebes (My Luxor)

The lecture ended with the ever-popular god/goddess quiz. This blogger admits to never getting a respectable score, but continues to chip away by memorizing a previously unknown god or goddess each time. This week it was Iusaas, a Heliopolitan goddess who is the female counterpart of the male solar-creator principles embodied by Atum (fig. 3). She was sometimes depicted as a woman with a scarab beetle on her head. This blog will now thoughtfully provide helpful answers to questions that no one thought to ask of Dr. Griffin.

Fig. 3: Ramesses III before Atum, Iusaas, and Nebethetepet (Medinet Habu)

You mentioned that the Memorial Temple of Amenhotep III was partially destroyed by an earthquake. Are these well known in ancient Egypt?

They were certainly not a one off. Egypt sits in a seismically-active area. The Fayum lies in a classic ‘stretch-pull basin’ formed as tectonic plates move apart, and the 1992 earthquake centered in Dahshur killed over 500 people. There are hot springs at all the major western desert oases and the Second Cataract. Additionally, the Egyptians had a word for earthquakes, nwr-tꜣ. Many scholars interpret this word as a fuzzy concept, symbolic rather than descriptive of a real event. But it is hard to imagine anyone experiencing an earthquake deeming it conceptual, as though it were performance art. While it is true, archaeologically, that earthquake damage might be difficult to distinguish from that caused by building ‘sag’ or human agency, there are specific accounts in the historic record. (1) The Fourth Dynasty mastaba of Nefermaat at Meidum and the Pyramid temple of Sahure at Abusir. (2) The Twelfth Dynasty rock tombs at el-Bersheh and the Fraser tombs at Tehneh. (3) In 1210 BC, a powerful quake damaged the temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel (fig. 4) and much of the west bank of Thebes, including the funerary temples of Amenhotep III, Ramesses II, Montuhotep II, and Thutmose III.

Fig. 4: The facade of Abu Simbel with damaged statue

How did a non-royal individual come to have a mortuary temple?

Connections and personal genius. Amenhotep son of Hapu was a very influential noble under Amenhotep III. He entered the civil service rather late in life, but rose quickly through ability. He was an architect who supervised many building projects, both civilian and military, including the king’s mortuary temple, the Colossi of Memnon, and the portico of the temple of Karnak. Next, he was appointed steward to the Princess Sitamun. On his death the king raised a stela allowing him to have a mortuary temple near the king’s own. It said in part, “On this day the King was in the ka-chapel of the hereditary prince, count, king’s-scribe, Amenhotep. There were brought in: the governor of the city and vizier, Amenhotep; the overseer of the treasury, Meriptah; and the king’s scribes of the army. The king said to them LPH: Hear the command which is given, to furnish the ka-chapel of the heredity prince, the royal scribe, Amenhotep, called Huy, Son of Hapu, whose excellence is extolled in order to perpetuate his ka-chapel with slaves, male and female, forever; son to son; heir to heir; in order that none trespass upon it forever.” After his death Amenhotep son of Hapu was worshiped as a god and venerated as a healer, just as Imhotep before him (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Plaster cast of a relief from Karnak depicting Ptolemy III offering to Imhotep and Ptah (EC1959)

When Montuhotep II built his Memorial Temple there were no other buildings in the bay area of Deir el-Bahari. Why did he place his off-center?

Archaeologists have scratched their heads over this one for a century or two, given the ancient Egyptians’ known admiration for symmetry. Perhaps the best answer is that provided by Edouard Naville, “If we consider to ourselves the floor of the valley as it probably was when the site was chosen, we must realize that a considerable shoulder of rock and debris stood forward where Hatshepsut’s temple was afterwards built.” (Naville 1910, p. 13). Building to the west would permit considerably better access for the work. This is illustrated in Fig. 6; imagine that rock spur between the temples continued down a considerable way, but was later cleared by Hatshepsut’s builders.

Fig. 6: Perspective Drawing of Two Temples at Deir el-Bahari (Naville 1910, pl. I)

Why did Ay and Horemheb share a mortuary temple when they were not related to one another?

The usual answer; usurpation. Ay began the construction and finished the inner temple and the inner courtyard. His successor Horemheb took it over, erased Ay’s name, and constructed the rest (fig. 7). This included three pyloned courts, with a small palace in the third, a large peristyle court in front of the temple, and a series of magazines to the left of the temple.

Fig. 7: Plan of the Temple of Ay and Horemheb (Tour Egypt)

Were the structures on Thoth Hill Memorial Temples?

Montuhotep III (Sankhkare), a king of the Eleventh Dynasty, built the small mudbrick temple atop Thoth Hill. Adjacent to this was a smaller rectangular structure that most likely was his Sed-festival temple. He is an obscure but interesting figure, known for his expedition to Punt, which returned with a huge store of incense, perfumes, and frankincense resin. He built twelve wells along the trail from Coptos to the Red Sea, in order to establish a regular route. His true Memorial temple was started to the south of Deir el-Bahari, close to that of his father. Its layout involved a causeway leading up to a temple platform. These were never finished, but he was buried in a tomb chamber cut into the rock face behind the temple. Beneath the Middle Kingdom buildings on Thoth Hill lies an Archaic Period (c. 3,200 BC) stone temple (fig. 8), dated by its pottery remains. It comprises a walled enclosure, with what appears to be a pylon entrance and a temple with a single-roomed sanctuary. Nothing is known of its purpose.

Fig. 8: Thoth Hill Archaic Period Temple Plan

Next week we can look forward to Lecture 5 in this series, the elite’s counterpart to the royal memorial temples, “Houses of Eternity”: The Tombs of the Nobles (Deir el-Medina, Sheikh abd-el Qurna, Asasif, South Asasif)!


Karakhanyan, Arkadi, Ara Avagyan, Mikayel Gevorgyan, Hourig Sourouzian, and Carmen Lopez Roa 2014. Evidence of a strong earthquake in the period between 1200 and 900 BC identified in the temple of Amenhotep III and in other temples of the ancient Thebes. In Capriotti Vittozzi, Giuseppina (ed.), Egyptian curses 1: Proceedings of the Egyptological Day held at the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), Rome, 3rd December 2012, in the International Conference “Reading catastrophes: methodological approaches and historical interpretation. Earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemics between Egypt and Palestine, 3rd–1st millennium BC. Rome, 3rd–4th December 2012, CNR - Sapienza University of Rome”, 43–62. Rome: CNR Edizioni.

Naville, Édouard 1910. The XIth Dynasty temple at Deir el-Bahari. Part II. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund 30. London: Egypt Exploration Fund.

Robichon, Clément and Alexandre Varille 1936. Le temple du scribe royal Amenhotep, fils de Hapou, I. Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 11. Cairo: l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale.

Ullmann, Martina 2002. Die Häuser der Millionen von Jahren: eine Untersuchung zu Königskult und Tempeltypologie in Ägypten. Ägypten und Altes Testament 51. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

———. 2016. The temples of millions of years at Western Thebes. In Wilkinson, Richard H. and Kent R. Weeks (eds), The Oxford handbook of the Valley of the Kings, 417–432. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vörös, Győző 1998. Temple on the pyramid of Thebes: Hungarian excavations on Thoth Hill at the temple of Pharaoh Montuhotep Sankhkara 1995–1998. Budapest: Százszorszép Kiadó és Nyomda. 

Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000. The complete temples of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes

The blog post for this week is written by Jan Stremme, who returned from her last Egypt tour in early March 2019. She had spent three weeks trying to focus on the tombs there, visiting over thirty tombs on her Luxor pass. She was delighted to see the course on Thebes, hoping to sort out all her notes from the trip. She has concluded that there is a reason some Egyptologists can spend a lifetime studying the tombs of Egypt; each individual tomb deserves hours of study, and there are so many!

Week three of the Egypt Centre’s Thebes course was focused on the royal necropoleis (fig. 1). We attempted to look at the tombs chronologically, roughly from the Eleventh through the Twentieth Dynasty. It is fun to tease out who started a tomb, who finished it—if it was finished—or reused. Then we get to discover whose body was found there, in whose sarcophagus or coffin, and whether it was originally buried there, stored temporarily, or added later. This tangled “shell game” will keep Egyptologists bickering for many years to come. According to my notes, we virtually “visited” thirty-seven tombs in two hours with Ken!

Fig. 1: Aerial view of the Theban nrcropoleis

By the Eleventh Dynasty, Thebes had become the seat of power. The first three tombs of this era were the saff (row) type tombs of three kings named Intef in the cemetery now known as Tarif (fig. 2). These tombs had a large courtyard with a pillared façade entry. There is little or no decoration left in these tombs, though a charming stela of Wahankh Intef II shows the king with his hunting dogs, each named. The stela was mentioned in the Abbott Papyrus dated to the reign of Ramesses IX.

Fig. 2: Saff tomb of Intef II (photo by Richard Sellicks)

During the Twelfth Dynasty the seat of power switched to the northern site of Itjtawy. The Seventeenth Dynasty saw a return of Theban royal burials. These tombs featured a pyramid-type structure in their courtyards. They are located in the necropolis of Dra abu el-Naga (fig. 3). There was a flurry of activity at Thebes during the Eighteenth Dynasty. In the Valley of the Queens, there are fifty-seven tombs in the area, along with twenty subsidiary tombs (mostly vertical shafts with one or two burial chambers). These tombs had some remaining funerary goods: fragments of wrappings, canopic jars, and some shabtis.

Fig. 3: Dra abu el-Naga necropolis

Tombs from the Nineteenth Dynasty in the Valley of the Queens contained richly painted walls. This included scenes from the Book of the Dead. The beautiful tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II, is the prime example of tomb paintings, with rich scenes throughout (fig. 4). The hieroglyphs were painted in multiple colors, and the figures stood out on white plastered walls. Even the ceilings were decorated in this era. While this is one of the best-preserved tombs in the Theban area, it is disheartening to see photographs from the 1904 excavation and compare them with the remaining decorations today. The modern era has not been kind to this beautiful treasure!

Fig. 4: Nefertari consecrating offerings before Osiris

The tomb of Seti I (KV 17) in the Valley of the Kings had the same stark and elegant figures painted on a blue-grey background. The tomb of the children of Ramesses II (KV 5) has over 120 chambers and will not be fully excavated for years! Sethnakht ushered in the Twentieth Dynasty, starting a tomb (KV 11) that broke into a chamber in Amenmesse’s tomb (KV 10). As a result, he just added chambers to his predecessor’s (Tauseret) tomb (KV 10). The tomb of Ramesses V was later usurped by Ramesses VI (KV 9).

Our whirlwind tour left me almost as breathless as I felt in Egypt, trying to get the most out of my 5-day Luxor pass!


McDonald, John K. 1996. House of eternity: the tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage 1. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute; J. Paul Getty Museum.

Reeves, Nicholas and Richard H. Wilkinson 1996. The complete Valley of the Kings: tombs and treasures of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson.

Soliman, Rasha 2009. Old and Middle Kingdom Theban tombs. Egyptian site series. London: Golden House.

Strudwick, Nigel and Helen Strudwick 1999. Thebes in Egypt: a guide to the tombs and temples of ancient Luxor. London: The British Museum Press.

Thomas, Elisabeth 1966. The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes. Trenton, NJ: Moorman.

Monday, 5 April 2021

The East Bank Temples of Karnak and Luxor

The blog post for this week is written by Sharon Bell, who lives in Northern Ireland and works as a pharmacy co-ordinator. As the job title indicates, it is an extraordinary time at work. Luckily, Sharon gets to work from home, which means she takes in as many virtual lectures and talks as possible. She enjoys nothing more than her hobby and passion - Ancient Egypt. Growing up, Sharon wanted to be an Egyptologist and to spend her time in Egypt, but was dissuaded by family and encouraged to ‘get a proper job’. She went to Queens University Belfast to study Economics and Accountancy, before qualifying as a teacher. Sharon was introduced to ancient Egypt by her great uncle who had a subscription to National Geographic magazine. As a small child, Sharon was mesmerised with the front cover of an issue from 1977 with the death mask of Tutankhamun. She was smitten, and the rest is history! 

It’s Sunday 28 March 2021, 5.55pm, and I log onto zoom for week two in our five week series of lectures by Ken Griffin. As someone from Northern Ireland, I particularly look forward to hearing from Ken about all things ancient Egyptian. I often feel that we are the only two people from our wee country who are interested in the subject! The series is entitled Thebes: the City of One Hundred Gates, with this week’s topic being “The East Bank Temples: Karnak and Luxor” (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Aerial view of Luxor Temple (

Firstly, let’s start with a quick geography lesson. Thebes lay on either side of the River Nile, approximately 480 miles south of Memphis and covered an area of about thirty-six square miles. Memphis was the ancient capital and is located about fifteen miles south of modern-day Cairo. The main part of Thebes is located along the Nile’s east bank. The ancient Egyptians referred to it as Waset and the site is now modern-day Luxor.

Monuments have survived at Thebes from as early as the Eleventh Dynasty. However, it reached its pinnacle during the New Kingdom when the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs made Thebes their capital, competing with each other in building and rebuilding great monumental temples on the east bank and even larger and more opulently decorated mortuary temples and tombs on the west. In terms of dating, Luxor Temple was built mainly during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramesses II, circa 1400 to 1200 BC. Although the temple runs parallel to the river on the east bank, uniquely its entrance does not face it, but is skewed towards the avenue of sphinxes and Karnak Temple (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Plan of the East Bank temples


Although most of ancient Thebes has disappeared, its stone temples have survived. The most beautiful of these is Luxor Temple. It was mainly the work of two eminent pharaohs; Eighteenth Dynasty ruler Amenhotep III and Ramesses II, a Nineteenth Dynasty leader who followed some 140 years later (fig. 3). The temple was dedicated to the Theban Triad consisting of Amun, his consort Mut, and their son Khonsu. Amenhotep III began the building work to celebrate the annual Opet Festival.

Fig. 3: Facade of Luxor Temple following restoration

The Opet Festival’s formal name is the ‘Beautiful Feast of Opet’ (heb nefer en Ipet). The word opet or ipet is thought to have referred to the inner sanctuary of the temple. It is believed that the festival lasted for eleven days during the reign of Thutmose III. By the start of the reign of Ramesses III, it is thought to have grown to twenty-four days, and by the time of his death it was extended to twenty-seven days. The Opet Festival was celebrated each year during the second month of the season of Akhet. This was the time during the year when the River Nile flooded (the inundation), replenishing the land and restoring fertility. The festival promoted the fertility of Amun and the pharaoh, which could be achieved by giving energy back to the deities. The belief was that they grew tired over the year and the ceremony would give them renewed energy, a rebirth if you like. Part of the festival involved the procession of the barque (ceremonial boat) with the statue of Amun from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple—a journey of almost two miles down the Avenue of Sphinxes that connected the two temples. The barque known in Egyptian as the Userhat-Amun (“mighty of prow is Amun”) was built of cedar from Lebanon covered with gold (fig 4). Its prow and stern were decorated with a ram’s head, sacred to the god.

Fig. 4: Priests carrying the barque of Amun

Hatshepsut constructed six barque stations along the avenue, where stops could be made to rest and refresh, before moving to the next (fig. 5). During her reign, only the statue of Amun was transported. However, under later rulers the triad were all placed in barques and borne from one temple to the other. When the barques arrived at Luxor Temple, Amun spent time with Mut and a ceremony would have taken place in the Birth Room, where the pharaoh and Amun went through a ritual marriage. The ceremony involved the pharaoh being crowned, giving him fertility, and appearing before the people of Egypt to demonstrate he had the right to rule; a right that was in fact coming from the gods. The pharaoh was the ‘middle man’; he connected the gods with the people.

Fig. 4: The fourth barque station of Hatshepsut

The statues were returned to Karnak Temple when the festival came to an end. Reliefs from the south wall of Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel show both the statue and the priests returning downstream to Karnak by boat. Most of what we know about the festival comes from artwork found at the precinct of Amun at Karnak, the Temple of Luxor, the memorial temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, and the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut at Karnak.
Carvings on the south side of the Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel (fig. 6) at Karnak provide us with the oldest evidence for the Opet Festival (the Chapel stored the ceremonial barque of Amun when not in use in ancient festivals).

Fig. 6: Hatshepsut (erased) and Thutmose III greeting the barque of Amun

All the carvings show the procession, but we do not really know the exact purpose of the rituals performed at Luxor Temple. There does not appear to be text describing what is happening, and to date archaeology has not produced any part of a barque. A popular theory is that the festival confirms the pharaoh’s possession of his ka, the life force that is passed from one to the next to confirm the pharaoh’s authority
(fig. 7). So what of the temple itself? It was from here that Thutmose III planned his military campaigns, Akhenaten first thought about his one and only true god, and Rameses II laid out his plans for his ambitious building program throughout Egypt.

Fig. 7: Amenhotep III presenting offerings

Before the building works by Ramesses II, the southern end of the court was originally the entrance to the temple. It was an enclosed colonnade,
fifty-seven metres long with seven pairs of pillars down its length. Each are sixteen metres high and are of open papyrus design (fig. 8). The concept behind the colonnade was to provide a grand new processional entrance to Luxor Temple, but sadly Amenhotep III died before its completion. His grandson Tutankhamun realised some of the plans but it was left to the successors of Tutankhamun, Ay and Horemheb, to finally complete the work. Amenhotep III’s son Akhenaten demonstrated great negativity towards the temple. He deliberately defaced his father’s name as part of his campaign to remove the god Amun. When Tutankhamun ‘restored the old order’, he resumed work on the colonnade with Seti I, Ramesses II and Seti II all leaving their mark on the columns.

Fig. 8: Colonnade of Amenhotep III

Ramesses II enlarged the complex by adding large court, a pylon, obelisks, and statues in front of the colonnade of Amenhotep. Beyond the colonnade is a large “solar court”, leading into a hypostyle hall, which has thirty-two columns. At the rear of the hall are four small rooms and an antechamber leading to the birth room, the chapel of Alexander the Great with a granite shrine dedicated to him, and the sanctuary. The temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship right up to the present day. For thousands of years, the temple was partially buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. Eventually the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today (fig. 9).

Fig. 9: Mosque of Abu al-Hajjaj

Thanks Ken for immersing me in Karnak and Luxor Temples. I am really looking forward to lecture three!



Bell, Lanny 1997. The New Kingdom “divine” temple: the example of Luxor. In Shafer, Byron E. (ed.), Temples of ancient Egypt, 127–184. Ithaca NY; London: Cornell University Press; I.B. Tauris

Darnell, John Coleman 2010. Opet festival. Edited by Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010 (December). Available at:

Strudwick, Nigel and Helen Strudwick 1999. Thebes in Egypt: a guide to the tombs and temples of ancient Luxor. London: The British Museum Press.

The Epigraphic Survey 1994. Reliefs and inscriptions at Luxor Temple, volume 1: the festival procession of Opet in the colonnade hall: with translations of texts, commentary, and glossary. Oriental Institute Publications 112. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

The Epigraphic Survey 1998. Reliefs and inscriptions at Luxor Temple, volume 2: The facade, portals, upper register scenes, columns, marginalia, and statuary in the Colonnade Hall: with translations of texts, commentary, and glossary. Oriental Institute Publications 116. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.