Temples and Tombs

Our time in Egypt was short so we crammed a lot of temples and tombs into our two days in the Upper Nile area.

Temple of Horus (Edfu Temple)

This state of this temple had changed quite a bit since our 2003 visit.  The entry had changed.  Additionally there was significant renovation in the surrounding community that had built houses over the temple.

Many inscriptions (click here) tell the stories of conquests, festivals, and suppressed uprisings.  Many of the inscriptions were defaced during the Christian era.  This temple was also built during the Ptolemaic period (256-57BC)

The front pylons at the Temple of Edfu
A granite statue of Horus before the main colonnaded hall.  Everything was HUGE!
I was lucky enough to catch a photo of this Egyptian Calendar.  One of the oldest precursors to the modern calendars in the world (By some accounts as old as 2700BC).
During the Byzantine era, after Rome fell, Christians sought to discredit Egyptian gods by defacing them.  Nearly all depictions of gods in this temple were chiseled off.
An active archaeological site behind Edfu.  Layers upon layers of mud brick at ancient villages were being sifted through.

Temple of Sebok, Hathor, Khonsu (Kom Ombo Temple)

Kom Ombo’s main entrance

When we visited this in 2003 we were nearly alone while walking through the site.  However, we arrived during Nile Cruise happy hour.  There were over 20 cruise boats unloading people and shuffling people through the temple with tour guides.  Another major difference was an immense amount of excavation and discoveries at the site since our last visit.  They discovered wells, monuments, and so many crocodile mummies that they opened a whole crocodile museum on site.  Moreover excavation continues.  They are currently excavating a large Roman village next to the temple.  Like Philae, the temple was erected during the Ptolemaic period (180-47BC) so there were heavy influences of Greco-Romans styles.

Some interesting hieroglyphs at this temple showed surgical tools such as forceps, tools that helped in birthing, and tools for mummification.

Forceps, a scale for weighing medicine, and cutting tools can clearly be seen here.
A column at Kom Ombo

Temple of Khnum (Esna Temple)

This temple was sunken below street level.  While relatively small in comparison to Edfu and Kom Ombo, it boasted many brilliantly painted hieroglyphs and astrological scenes.

The main entrance of the Temple of Knum
Giant columns with varying tops hold up a painted and carved ceiling.

Luxor Temple

The front pylons at Luxor.  Notice the missing obelisk on the right side.  It was gifted to France in exchange for a clock.  Someone got a bad deal.

Luxor was most likely a temple used for crowning pharaohs.  As it was the capital city (Thebes), it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Over the years there have been numerous additions.  The size and granduer of Luxor was impressive.  Captivating my attention was the way ancient buildings were re-purposed.  In the back, circa 395AD, Christians plastered over the hieroglyphs and painted their own religious iconography.  Then during the Islamic period in 640, the Abu Haggag Mosque was built in first courtyard of the temple.  As the mosque is still active today, this means that the temple has been in use for over 3000 years for one purpose or another.

On the side of Luxor there was a large collections of stones and artifacts.  Many labeled from the different dynasties and periods throughout Egypt’s long history.  Each was tagged and labeled.  I was impressed with Egypt’s commitment to celebrating and saving its history, all of it, whether Phaoronic, Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic.  They were all pieces of a four-dimensional puzzle through time.  They sat waiting for a future generation with the skill to put them all together.

The avenue of the Sphinxes linking Luxor with Karnack
Christians not satisfied with hieroglyphs on the walls, plastered over them and painted their own reliefs.
A colorful hieroglyphic scene
Saving all the historical puzzle pieces


Awesome was the only word that comes close to capturing Karnack.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was nearly 247 acres (although not all of that could be explored as there was much active archaeological digs happening – still!).  It contained many temples and was believed that the deities needed to rest and recharge, and this was the place for it.  In reality (Click Here)

A view of the Hypostyle hall from the sacred lake.
Alyssa and Kylie walk through the Hypostyle hallWith 134 massive columns build in 1250BC, this hall remains the largest hypostyle hall ever built.  And it is still around.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Arguably, Pharoah Hatshepsut was one of the most powerful women rulers in history.  A testament to her power and influence was her Mortuary Temple.  (Click Here).  Like Abu Simbal, it was oriented and aligned such that the the winter solstice the sun shines into the main shrine illuminating only Amun Ra and Osiris proving that they were more important gods than the others.  Also, in front of the temple they excavated tree stumps in front of the temple that were depicted as important gifts in hieroglyphs.

The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

The tree depicted in hieroglyphs was excavated in front of the temple.
Offerings to Unibis

Mortuary Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu

The interior court at Hebo Temple
Nearly all columns and entry ways would have these symbols the Ankh and Wejeb meaning long life and prosperity

Valley of the Kings (Ramses III,  Merenptah, Twosret/Sethnakht)

We had to choose three tombs to go into.  Unfortunately we did not do our research beforehand and had to guess once we got there.  There were a lot of groups going into the tombs and the tombs closer to the entrance were significantly more crowded.  We went to Ramses III, then Twosret/Sethnakht (the farthest away), and then Merenptah which had a steep descent.   We were not disappointed.  The walls were colored brilliantly with hieroglyphs and spells from the book of the dead.  One tomb had two empty coffins, and the rest were barren except for what was on the walls.

A colorful scene in a tomb
A scene above the burial Chamber

Early Civilization Timeline


Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Esna are all South of Luxor.  Some people take trains or buses to and from.  Others ride riverboats South and stop at each site along the way.  We took a  two day felucca ride to Kom Ombo and hire a car to Edfu and Esna, and then to our residence in Luxor.  This took 8 hours and excluded time at Kom Ombo as we viewed it the night before.  We spent nearly 90 minutes in Edfu and Kom Ombo, and 45 minutes in Esna.

Luxor temple was within walking distance from our residence.  We spent nearly 90 minutes in the afternoon at Luxor.

We arrived at Karnack at 7am to beat the crowds.  We spent two hours there.  From there our driver took us to the West Bank.  (Stop by the Colossi of Memnon on the way to get morning light).

Fun fact: The Colossus on the left was found shattered on the ground.  Over 9600 separate pieces were labeled and put back together.  If Archaeologists could handle this, Humpty Dumpty would be child’s play.

We went the Valley of the Kings first.  There are nearly 20 tombs to choose from, your ticket will allow you entry to 3.  Some tombs like Tutankhamen and Seti cost extra.  Do research in advance (especially if you don’t have a guide) to determine which tombs you want to enter as you don’t want to waste time trying to figure out which one you want.  All tombs have a placard in front describing the significant elements of each tomb.  We budgeted 90 minutes, but were there for two hours because we couldn’t decide which tombs to enter.  The trolley ride costs 4EGP per person and it takes you only 200 meters.    Think about how you will document your trip.  You will either get forced to check your camera, pay a fee to take it in, or bribe the guards.  The intent behind this originally was that flashes harm the hieroglyphs; however it is now: phones ok and cameras are not.  Everyone and their mother had their cellular devices taking pictures and videos with flashes and the guards only got angry over cameras.  They were of course open to overlooking such transgressions for a lot of backsheesh.

We continued to the Temple of Hatshesut and spent an hour looking around.  Do some research about the significant elements of the mortuary temple and why it is significant so you know what your a looking at, or pay extra for a guide.  There are some nearby tombs as well for ancient nobles and governors.  Our plan was to visit the Valley of the Queens.  We got into an argument with the ticket agent about whether or not Kylie and Alyssa were students as he wanted to charge them adult rates so we left without going in.  Instead we went to Hebu Temple (just down the street) and were glad we did.  We spent nearly 60 minutes here walking around.

At nearly every turn people tried to up-sale on various experiences: Balloon rides, dinner on the Nile, special tours of exclusive sites.  We skipped the old Souk, nearly all of the recent excavations of temples in the West Bank, as well as several others.  We only had 1.5 days in Luxor and could not do it all.  If spending more time, investigate the value of the Luxor Pass.  (Although we saw many places that were supposed to be “inclusive of the pass” but required extra payment.)

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