Before even entering the temple itself, there is the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a pathway with sphinxes on either side that leads up to the Temple entrance. Today, around 70 sphinxes stand along a few hundred meters, giving us a good idea of the former glory of this path that used to have 1000 sphinxes stretching all the way to Karnak 2.5 kilometers away. Before the sphinxes, it was a canal connecting Karnak with Luxor Temple. An obelisk made for Ramses II stands outside the first pylon (first wall of the Temple). There used to be a second obelisk, but that one has been in France since the 1830’s when Napoleon’s wife asked, “If you go to Thebes, do send me a little obelisk.” Between the sphinxes and the obelisk stands a small chapel to the Roman Goddess Serapis. Hadrian erected this in the 2nd century when the Romans occupied the Temple grounds as an outpost. The Roman columns of this small chapel and the clearly Roman statue look kind of “cute” next to the grandeur of all the Egyptian art and architecture. Back over by the Obelisk there are also some pretty amazing statues of Ramses II. And then there are the carvings and reliefs outside of the first pylon too. We hadn’t even entered the temple yet and our heads had begun to throb.
Just inside you can see how a mosque has been built into the ruins of this temple. We visited this small mosque of Abu al-Haggag. It is entered from outside the temple complex and has a wonderful view down into the temple courtyard. The mosque was built in the 14th century, and illustrates well how these sites can be layered with so much history.
Passing through the different halls of the this temple complex, we were continually in awe of such well preserved colors here, massive columns there, intricately detailed reliefs in yet another place. We couldn’t believe the story of the cache of some of Egypt’s most well preserved statues being found under the floor of the sun court. (We were able to see these amazing pieces in the Luxor Museum several days later.) The kids enjoyed games of finding their favorite gods among the carvings. Each time we passed into a new room or hall, we were stepping a little further back in time. This was a temple that was built and added onto by several pharaohs and even Alexander the Great and then the Romans over the course of more than 2000 years.
At the back of the temple complex, in one of the oldest sections, we were able to see some amazing sections of “newer” Roman art depicting the emperor cult. These were scenes you could picture seeing in Rome, but something I had not expected here in Egypt. When they occupied this temple, the Romans made this section a place for them to worship their own gods. We could see how they had applied a layer of plaster right over the ancient art and hieroglyphics and then painted their own gods and worship scenes.
We enjoyed the layers of history -one on top of the other, and the discussion that inspired. Sam only saw the Roman work as a defacing of the Egyptians’. It didn’t make sense to him why there were archeologists involved in restoring that bit of Roman artwork. He thought they would do well to scrape it all off to reveal again the original Egyptian art. Great discussions about what makes one piece of art more valuable than another. Good to ponder the merits of preservation or restoration. But ouch, our heads hurt!
Luxor at Night