- See also the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Luxor is a city in Upper (southern) Egypt. It has often been called the "world's greatest open air museum", with the ruins of the temple complex at Karnak, Luxor Temple, and the monuments, temples and tombs on the West Bank of the Nile, including the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Luxor is an excellent base for touring Upper Egypt, and is a popular holiday destination, both in its own right and as a starting or finishing point for Nile cruises. It is the site of the ancient city of Thebes, and has a population of approximately 150,000.
On November 17, 1997, Islamist militants massacred 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians on the West Bank outside the Temple of Hatshepsut; police killed the assailants. The attack is believed to have been financed by Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Four thousand years of tourism
Waset, as it was then known, was for the ancient Egyptians of the 2nd and the 1st millennia BCE, "the city" par excellence. To its visitors, the town was almost the center of the then world. The palatial district, Deba — a name subsequently altered by Greek visitors into Thebai, whence Thebes — enjoyed unprecedented high place of luxury, imperial authority, knowledge and wisdom, religious and political supremacy, artistic work and grandiose plans. Several of them never came to be true, like the golden obelisk of Hatshepsut, but who says that the Mankind ceased to dream?
Rising to political power only in the middle of the second millennium before Christ, Thebes became the synonym of extravagant wealth, probably collected by the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom in their expeditions to the south in the vast land of Kush in the area of today's northern Sudan, and to the north in Palestine, Phoenicia, and Syria. Tuthmosis III was the first Pharaoh to reach the then faraway Euphrates in Mesopotamia. In those days, no other city in the world could match Waset in military power or beauty. Much of the palatial or residential areas of the city have not been excavated, but there is every reason to believe that a sublime beauty was to be found there: ancient Egyptian pictures of houses, gardens, fields, palaces and feasts offer a furtive glimpse of this paradise-on-the-Nile. There was love for the nature, piety and serene thought; everything took place under the auspices of the first Trinity in the World History: Amun, Mut and Montu, a holy family whose last and younger member was usually confused or identified with Khonsu, the Moon. Quite paradoxically, Amun was a political god and did not offer much for a debate in metaphysics. And yet, on the other side of the river, the supreme masters of Kemet — the "Black", as Egypt was then called — consecrated a large portion of their treasures for their expensive trips in the afterlife
A broad array of visitors came here: the Babylonians, the Mitanni, the Hittites of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the Canaanites of Ugarit, the Phoenicians of Byblos and Tyre, the Minoans from the island of Crete, the Greeks of Mycenae. One Hittite prince even came to marry with the widow of Tutankhamun, the notorious Ankhesenamun, who wrote a letter to the Hittite king and urged him to send her someone, being not sure about the intentions of Ay, the high priest of Amun, since he intended to ascend to the throne of Thebes through such a marriage.
Then, after the victory of Ramses III over the Sea Peoples, a very slow decay characterized Thebes in times of division of Egypt; even then, despite its limited political power, Thebes had an edge over all the rest: an immense past and a legendary name of radiation that only Babylon could claim to match. Wenamun, the priest of Amun, moved from Thebes to Byblos, around 1075 BCE, and found strange that Zakar Baal, King of Byblos did not comply with his request for valuable cedar wood, necessary for the construction of the holy boat of Amun, and did not fear, when hearing the name of the past glories. No rich tombs were to be hewn in the western mountains any more, but rather the whole city was to be considered as an entire mausoleum and therefore venerated as such.
Then came the invaders; Assurbanipal was the first and only to attack and destroy Thebes. Doing so, he acted friendly to Egypt, kicking out the Kushite Taharqa, who was put on the throne of Egypt by the priesthood of Thebes. The Assyrian emperor installed Psammetichus, the Libyan prince, who was his ally, at the throne of Egypt. Ruined, Thebes did not forfeit any part of its importance and was rather integrated in an entire commercial net of land, fluvial, desert and maritime routes that was established by the Persian conquerors, who wished to link the parts of their vast empire in a definite way.
Then, Thebes remained always the ultimate destination, although the intention was not political alliance but historical veneration, admiration and commemoration. Even in these times of decay, the Greek historian Herodotus was able to speak of the One Hundred Gates of Thebes. Were they entrances to a vast palace or temple, doors of a fortress (that we know it never existed), or perhaps schools of initiation in the mysteries of kemet, of Egypt?
Alexander the Great came to venerate too and had an extension built at the famous temple of Amun, where the statue of the god was transferred from Karnak during the holy days of the Opet Festival , the great religious feast. Thebes in advanced decay never ceased to vibrate the aspirations of rebels against the Ptolemaic and the Roman rulers; and the rulers of Meroe in Sudan, who built so many pyramids at those days, supported these rebels in a reminiscence of the Taharqa days!
At the twilight of Antiquity, Roman Emperor Germanicus had an exclusive and extensive itinerary in the ruins of Thebes, where he was initiated in the great mysteries of the glorious past by one of the very few last priests, who were still versant in hieroglyphics. From that moment on, the grandeur of Thebes was to be intercepted spiritually rather than seen by just open eyes. The spirit of Thebes sent a special convocation to Christian monks, who found it interesting to set their monasteries among several ancient monuments. That is why the temple of Hatshepsut is now called Deir el-Bahri ("the northern monastery"). And the Eastern Roman armies that were stationed here had their barracks next to the temple of the Opet feast. When the first Arabs came, they called the area "the camps", al Uqsur. This was the last contribution to the history of the area's names. It was meant to remain intact, until the magnetized Europeans came to rediscover the magnificence of the yet untold story of Waset.
Sights of modern-day Luxor
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13