Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis is an archaeological site that represents Egyptian civilization at its height during the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BC).
Thebes was its capital and the religious center. Successive pharaohs created temples, monuments, public buildings and tombs – to worship the god Amun and to glorify themselves.
The inscribed area includes the two great temples of Karnak and Luxor on the east bank of the Nile, and the Necropolis on the west bank.
Map of Ancient ThebesLoad map
Visit April 2017
Thebes, what we now call Luxor, is one of the most ancient “tourist” destinations in the world. Already the ancient Greeks came here to marvel at the temples that were built by the Egyptian pharaohs. Later Christian and Muslim generations had much less respect for their forefathers, so it wasn’t until the 19th century that these sites were rediscovered by Europeans. The 21st century has brought Asian tourism to the spectrum: the Chinese are the only nation that dare to come here today en masse. It became especially popular since a visit of president Xi Jingping to president Sisi in 2016, which partly took place in the inner courtyard of Luxor Temple.
The site was already inscribed as a WHS in 1979, with epithets such as “splendid”, “monumental” and “unique and unequaled”. It is also part of our Top 200. Not much of substance has been written about it yet among our reviewers though (sorry guys). Important to know is that it comprises 3 locations: the temple of Karnak and the temple of Luxor on the East bank of the Nile, and the Necropolis on the West Bank. Especially the latter is a collection of many temples and tombs, scattered around in a rural area and at the foot of a barren mountain ridge.
On my first day, after having visited the excellent Luxor museum as an appetizer, I started with Karnak Temple. Heavy security measures are in place at this and Luxor Temple: cars are searched, trunks have to be opened. People have to pass security booths everywhere (similar to Paris, where I was a few weeks ago), and armed guards hover at strategic road blocks. There’s actually not much glory to be gained for a bomber at the moment – the parking lot was nearly empty. Karnak stands out for its size, the size of everything actually. Much has been taken away (such as the obelisk that now is at the Place de la Concorde in Paris) or has fallen down. Its prettiest feature is the hypostyle hall, a forest of 134 massive columns (much thicker than the average Roman or Greek ones).
Luxor Temple lies at the heart of modern Luxor, there’s even a McDonalds right next to it. A long row of sphinxes once connected Luxor Temple with the Temple of Karnak, 3 km’s away. Egyptian authorities are now rebuilding this monumental path. I think it’s important to be aware that Luxor is still changing every day – the path is nearly finished, statues are put upright, colourful ceilings have been restored. Luxor Temple has more sculptures and carvings than Karnak, and I found it more atmospheric.
During my second day in Luxor I went to the necropolis on the West Bank of the Nile. I had a driver and a guide with me, and we first had to cross the bridge which lies 20 minutes or so south of Luxor. Life on the “other” side of the Nile seemed more rural, especially sugarcane is harvested. We first stopped at the Colossi of Memnon – two enormous statues that once guarded yet another huge temple complex. German archaeologists are still excavating here, and the outline of the complex and other statues can already be seen.
Afterwards we went to the Temple of Habu – the favourite of my guide, and I can easily understand why as it is the most intact of all around Luxor. The Ramses that had this built was especially proud of his slaughter of enemies, as shown by carvings of bunches of hacked-off hands (with a scribe next to it counting the numbers). The ceilings here are well-preserved too, including their colours. The only issue is that birds have taken over many of the niches that are present in the cut sandstone.
Finally I did go and see some tombs. At the one of Ramose, a Noble, I was the only visitor. The Tombs of the Kings however are the masterpieces. And that’s where they all take the few tourists that are left in Egypt nowadays! There surely were over 100 buses and cars at the car park, mostly used by daytrippers from the Hurghada resorts. Certainly they weren’t staying in Luxor. An entrance ticket here gives you access to 3 of the tombs out of the 12 or so that are open. Some “special” tombs (like the one of Tutankhamon) can only be entered for an extra fee. On recommendation of my guide I went into tombs number 6, 8 and 2. One with the longest corridor deep into the mountain, the other two with fantastic bright paintings. The lighting is very good, so one can really enjoy it all. Photography is forbidden in the Valley so you have to go and see it for yourself.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Ancient Thebes is one of the most underrated WHS out there. I don't think it gets quite the reputation it deserves, among both tourists and more in-depth travellers, for I dont know, maybe housing not just one, but multiple world-class wonders? For being the peak of Ancient Egyptian history, culture, and art? For being one of the most influential cities in world history? In Egypt alone, Cairo and Giza get almost all the attention, while more in-depth travellers might prefer the more peaceful Aswan and far-away Abu Simbel, but Luxor is in the middle of it all, and I don't think enough people realize that. And it's not only the best of both worlds, it's the best in its own right. For me, the Ancient Egyptian civilization as a whole doesn't get the credit it deserves, either. It's more often remembered for its age, its opulence, or as a great setting for Western media, but really, what astounded me when I visited in May 2018 was how far ahead of its time it was. They made so many developments that we see as normal now, and they left so much more for us to learn by studying their history. And Ancient Thebes was the center of it all. Even though so much is gone and has been replaced by the (not so beautiful) modern city, there's still so much left to experience that other ancient civilizations that had come both before and after it could only hope to offer in terms of artistry, grandeur, character, and innovation.
The original itinerary called for the exploration of Luxor over 2 days. Boy, was I in for a surprise when our tour guide announced that we would be tackling up to 4 millennia of history and both banks of the Nile in a single day! We were in for many surprises that day, though. First stop: The Valley of the Kings on the West Bank. We were actually offered a hot air balloon ride, but with the limited time, we had to decline it. And while the valley is surrounded by the dramatic desert scenery of barren rocky cliffs and jagged stone formations, no does not come here for what is above ground, but what is below. 63 tombs up to 3500 years old litter the bedrock of the floor and walls of the valley, and while only a small fraction of those are open at a time, you are guaranteed to be awed by the tiny corridors carved into the rock. I visited 5 tombs: those of Tutankhamun, Ramses III, Ramses IV, Ramses VI, and Merenptah. Unfortunately, the latter 4 were all almost the same age and were quite similar, but these later tombs seemed to be some of the most vividly colored, intricately decorated, and immaculately preserved. Merenptah's tomb is the deepest tomb in the valley, while that of Ramses IV requires an extra fee (still more worth it than Tutankhamun's) due to it housing some of the most famous wall and ceiling paintings such a the text of the Book of Caverns and scenes of the Books of Day and Night. If you can imagine the iconic images of golden figures of people against a dark blue background, you're probably thinking of these artworks. Tutankhamun's tomb is much smaller and simpler than the others, but it is very well preserved, and because of its size, only a few people are allowed to enter at a time, which generally makes for a more intimate experience. The wonders that made it so popular, however, are almost all in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, so definitely take the time to go there, too. The other 3 tombs were covered by the general ticket, which allows one to visit 3 open tombs of their choice. By the way, it is true that pictures are supposedly not allowed inside the tombs, and even our tour guide advocated against taking them. But when in Egypt, you will almost always be offered a deal to take pictures without even having to ask. And I say, take that chance! It's almost impossible to not try to sneak a shot of the most colorful scenes you'll ever see from one of Earth's greatest civilizations.
The rest of the day was quite the whirlwind that you'd expect for attempting to visit the most important sites on both banks. The next stop was Hatshepsut's Funerary Temple in Deir el Bahari, an impressive temple stretching 3 distinct levels up the desert cliffs. On the top level, you can find a lot of interesting little reliefs with some color intact, and the temple is overall very unique and distinct in its layout. After a brief photo stop by the Colossi of Memnon, we left the West Bank, having to the Ramesseum, Madinat Habu, and several other great monuments. It was a great shame, as I was especially looking forward to seeing Madinat Habu, since it is one of the best preserved ancient temples in Egypt, but the truth was that we barely had time to explore the East Bank at this point. After a quick lunch across the bustling street from Luxor Temple, we explored the famous temple. Between the 2 temples of the East Bank, Luxor seemed to be much less crowded than Karnak when we visited, though perhaps it was because it was early afternoon, sunny, and over 40 degrees Celsius. With that in mind, the experience in Luxor felt much more intimate. It's also smaller and less overwhelming, but it also felt like the architecture was more beautiful and graceful. That's not to say it's not impressive, though. Just looking at the facade with its obelisk and massive pylon amazes of the grandeur of Ancient Egypt. Inside, it feels like a courtyard for gods. It's in ruins, but still so perfect in condition, save for the inner chamber in the back that was vandalized and used as a kitchen by later inhabitants. Oh, and there's also the great scene of the mosque built on top of some of the temple remains. Luxor and Karnak were once connected by an avenue of sphinxes, which seems to be in the process of restoration today. Checking out the other end of this avenue in Karnak, it was crazy. Yes, crazy is the word I'll use to describe the experience in Karnak. It's overwhelming. The crowds, the heat, the ruins, everything. The hypostyle hall here wasn't the graceful courtyard of gods it felt like in Luxor, but a maze or forest. The columns are so thick and tall it's hard to even take pictures of them. The whole place felt like a mess of walls and columns and the occasional obelisk rising almost randomly among them. A lot of the temple structures seemed to be a bit more ruined than in Luxor, too. Karnak is a much larger complex, and I think it could take the better part of the day to explore it in depth. But alas, it came at the end of one exhausting but mindblowing day, so we spent an hour or so there, called it quits, and bought some ice cream.
Ancient Thebes is truly one of the premier destinations that everyone should go to at least once in their lives. I consider it to be an open-air museum on par with the likes of Rome and Istanbul. And it achieves that without even having a very appealing living cityscape. Its ruins are on par with the greatest Ancient Roman, Greek, Maya, Inca, or Khmer cities out there, while also being centuries or millennia older and every bit as advanced. I think the Egyptian authorities could've even divided the site into several WHS and each would still stand as an outstanding site of unique OUV in its own right. And yet, them forming this single site to represent the height of Ancient Egyptian civilization as one of the most advanced and influential cultures in world history makes for a single cohesive WHS of (dare I say) the greatest city in the ancient world. For me, that makes it one of the greatest WHS in the world, and perhaps, the greatest cultural WHS I've visited so far.
It's not every day that you meet the real Indiana Jones, and I'm talking about one of the heads of the archeological team inside King Tut's tomb right when I was visiting the Valley of the Kings. With an extra ticket required and the checker not buying I am VIP Tara Emad I produced mine and descended into one of the quieter tombs. (Seti I currently costs a whopping 1,000 pounds but a Finish lady told me they are closed anyway plus a guide told me it is mainly interesting for hieroglyphics). I was the only one that isn't part of a crew preparing to be filmed inside the tombs, I forgot to ask what for. With hat and no whip but a pouch that should be leather and not say “xxx archaeological team” he was still as close as Harrison Ford portrayed one in Raiders as you can imagine. He was clearly bored waiting and told me about the tomb and Tut more than any guide could ever do (they tend to follow their scripts and don't seem at all excited about doing it over and over again). What was even more striking is that he has been at Dunhuang for 30 years doing research. Actually my story has little to do with Luxor overall so I shall stop with the personal stuff here.
The massive site would take 2 days to fully see everything. One needs to think what they really want to see if they only plan one day. The temple of Luxor in the city is actually not very good, especially if you went to Kom Ombo and Edfu already. It is also open late so you can see it after dark. Karnak, north of here city, is worth seeing though. At the West Bank there is as mentioned the Valley of the Kings which requires transport to the entrance, a needlessly walk to through the shopping area and then another train ride (4 pounds or you walk 30min in the heat) to reach the tombs. Your ticket allows only 3 regular tombs plus any extra tickets you bought. Online research gave me a good idea but apparently one was closed and a guide gave me another third which was okay. The small tombs aren't even open at all. I could easily spend an hour per tomb if not for the crowds. It is incredible how busy it can get here even during what seems like a non-holiday season. Because this took the rest of the day I did not visit any of the other West Bank sites. I also find this is slowly digging a hole into my pocket of each site wants £180 on average ($10 at the moment). With photos inside costing extra and me not wanting to pay that (probably worth it if I could spend enough time in them without getting frustrated by your groups) my best official picture is just what you see above. I secretly snapped a few inside but they turned out badly, and one of the guards actually encouraged me to walk inside the open sarcophagus of Merneptah and take pictures perhaps expecting a tip which wasn't given. I can think a lot of ppl get that chance but unfortunately the sarcophagus was very uninteresting. I would love to see photograph the walls properly. I also wanted to go to the Valley of the Queens but knowing Nefertari's tomb is closed I didn't go when it got too late. An incredible site not to be missed (who does??).
The temples and monuments of Ancient Thebes, including the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, are a must-see for anyone interested in Egyptian history. I visited this area found in the modern-day city of Luxor at the end of a three-day Nile cruise by dahabiya in 2012. After viewing many beautiful, smaller temples along the river, I was a bit overwhelmed at the size of both the Karnak and Luxor Temples in Luxor. The columns in Karnak Temple's Great Hypostyle Hall were massive and covered with hierogylphs, and the walls seemed to stretch in all directions. Statues of pharoahs were found throughout both temples, and one of a former pair of obelisks remained in front of the Luxor Temple; the other obelisk was given to France in the 19th century, and can now be seen in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Across the Nile River were a number of tombs, including the famous Tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, and the fascinating mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which were well worth visiting. I enjoyed my time in Luxor, and recommend at least two days to spend viewing the sites (and even that may be too short). I also recommend drinking plenty of water, since I saw at least one tourist faint from dehydration.
Logistics: The great temples in Luxor are on the east side of the Nile in Luxor, while the tombs are on the west side of the Nile; these can be seen as part of a tour or by arranging private transportation.
I visited the WHS in April 2010. It is the cradle of ancient egyptian civilization and includes the temples of Karnak and Luxor and the Valley of the Kings with Tutankhamen's tomb. I dreamt of visiting this WHS since I was child and would visit again in a heartbeat! Incredible!
The temples of Luxor and Karnak on the west bank and the Temple of Hatshepsut on the east bank of the Nile are simply amazing for the amount of work and effort that was expended creating them. Today, even with cranes and other machinery it would be difficult, but 5000 years ago it was all done by human power. And then followed all the work of painstakingly carving the designs and hyroglyphs. The effort surely dwarfs any construction project of the modern era.
A visit to the Valley of the Kings and Queens is remarkable. The tombs were mesmerizing spectacles. The chambers might have once be filled with artifacts like the one of Tutankhamon fame. The hieroglyphics were stunning . some filled entire chambers. Some told stories on the ceilings or pillars. It was unlike anything anywhere. This is not a place that one can describe in words. It was very complex and otherworldly. I was much more impressed with the tombs than the great architectural achievements. Many of the artifacts found in the tombs is on display at the incomparable Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Once the religious center of ancient Egypt, the Temple of Karnak was as impressive as they come. And while repeated exposure to ancient sites tends to leave one jaded to a place's importance, Luxor and its surrounds still made for a wonderful place to wander about and image the glory of the days of the Pharoahs
You can cruise up and down the Nile in many ways. As a matter of fact it is quite an industry these days and I heard that over 600 vessels have a permit to operate on the river. Have I known better in advance, I would rather have embarked on a felucca for a couple of days even though I must admit that the luxury of the Mövenpick Nile Cruiser was quite enjoyable after all...
Working our way up the river, passing and visiting the temples of Edfu and Kom Obo my cruiser finally reached Luxor where I had decided to stay for a couple of days. I started with a visit to the valley of the Queens, which is less visited than the Kings and a better place to study the hieroglyphs and carvings in the ancient tombs. The graves of the valley of the Kings are of slightly larger proportions and despite the hordes of tourists it is quite exciting to enter the tomb of Ramses II and the other, since long gone, royalties of Egypt. I recommend you to skip Tutankhamen’s grave. It is very small and really nothing to see. The exhibition in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on the other hand, is the place to go in this case.
The temple of Luxor and Karnak is an absolute must. If Luxor is impressing, Karnak is enormous and top of the pops when it comes to Egyptian temples and I read somewhere that over 80.000 people where working on the temple site in it’s heydays.
If you don’t want to do the full-fledged tour of Egypt, Luxor is the place to stay for a couple of days and indulge yourself in the ancient life of the pharaohs. I promise you it will be much rewarding.
It´s hard to believe that this is the first review for Thebes, since it´s not only one of the Egypt´s, but also one of the world´s greatest archaeological sites and definitely worth a journey. Most people will combine visiting Thebes with a cruise on the Nile, and this is highly recommended - easily beats any Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise! Thebes (as the Greeks called it - it was Weset in ancient Egyptian) is the capital of Upper Egypt and was the country´s centre throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms. It was much larger in Antiquity than it is today, but seeing everything in the area still takes up a lot of time (worth it). On the east bank of the Nile, the Luxor Temple is great, but can´t be beaten by the Temple of Karnak connected to it by an avenue of sphinges, truly a wonder of the world with its huge columns and the impressive hieroglyphs. They are both in the city of Luxor, which offers many conveniences for visitors, but you have to cross the Nile to the west bank to see even more stunning attractions: the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Memnon Colossi, and the Temple of Hatshepsut, all located in a beautiful desert landscape. The tombs of the pharaohs can be visited (at least some of them), and this is something nobody should miss - truly a fascinating experience.
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