Thebes, the city of the god Amon, was the capital of Egypt during the period of the Middle and New Kingdoms. With the temples and palaces at Karnak and Luxor, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Thebes is a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height.
Karnak Temple, entrance
© Emmanuel Pivard
Thebes contains the finest relics of the history, art and religion of ancient Egypt, of which it was the capital in its period of greatest splendour. Hundred of sovereigns, from pharaohs to Roman emperors, glorified the city with architecture, obelisks and sculpture. The exaltation of life found expression in the Thebes of the Living, identifiable in the fabulous site of Luxor and Karnak, on the right bank of the Nile, the site of the temples dedicated to the divine triad of Montu, Amon and Mut, while the celebration of death took shape in the Thebes of the Dead.
From the Middle Kingdom to the end of the ancient era, the city was sacred to the god Amon, the supreme Sun God: temples of incomparable splendour and size were dedicated to him. The temple of Luxor, built by Amenophis III and Ramesses II, was connected to the great sanctuary of Karnak by a long triumphal boulevard lined by sphinxes that led to its entrance, preceded by a pair of obelisks made from pink granite.
The entrance to the temple is adorned with scenes from the Syrian and Hittite military campaign and leads to the great courtyard of Ramesses II and to the chapel that served as a storehouse for the boats, dedicated to the triad of Amon, the father, Mut, the mother, represented in the form of a vulture or a lion, and Khonsu, the lunar son of the couple. The second complex, with a magnificent and immense entrance and colonnade, a courtyard, and a hall crowned with tall columns, was built at the command of Amenophis III.
About 3 km from Luxor is the monumental complex of Karnak, composed of three temples, one of which is consecrated to Mut, one to the warrior god Montu, and one to Amon. The building dedicated to the father of the gods is the product of a series of ingenious project of expansion and renovation ordered by Pharaohs eager to leave behind marvellous testimonials to their reign: the immense courtyard at the centre of which stands the enormous aedicule of Taharqa; the portico of Bubastis; the temple of Sethi II; the colossi of the pharaohs Thutmosis III and Ramesses I and II; the great hypostyle hall with 134 colossal columns; the six monumental entrances; the granite pillars and obelisk; the rooms decorated with religious and military scenes and the hall of the botanical garden; the sacred lake flanked by storehouses; the temple dedicated to the hippopotamus goddess Opet, placed on the site in which she is said to have given birth to Osiris; and finally the Southern Propylaea, four portals adorned with bas-reliefs, columns, obelisks and colossi, which adorned the sacred way that led to the Temple of Mut.
On the opposite bank of the river there grew up over centuries the Thebes of the Dead. For almost 15 centuries, great funerary temples were built at the foot of the hills. They were entirely separate from their corresponding tombs, which were dug into the mountains, safe from violation and tomb robbers. To the north were built the Temple of Qurna al Gedida, dedicated to Amon-Re, and the temple consecrated to Hathor, the goddess of sweetness and joy who was venerated in the form of a cow. It was commissioned by Queen Hatshepsut for herself and her father Thutmosis I.
Even better known is the magnificent funerary Temple of Ramesses II, a building situated at the edge of cultivated fields which, because of its courtyards, sacraria filled with statues, decorations and colossi, was admired by many ancient writers. All that remains of the temple of Amenophis III are the colossi of Memnon, two impressive quartz monoliths that depict the pharaoh sitting on his throne, accompanied by the figures of his mother and his wife.
The tombs of the pharaohs and of their dignitaries, priests and princesses are instead hidden in the bowels of the mountains and form the great cemeteries of al-Asasif, al-Khokha, Qurnet Mura, Deir al-Medina, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Among the underground tombs of the Valley of Kings, the British explorers Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter found in 1922 a small tomb that soon became the most renowned in Egypt, that of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC