Amenhotep III, the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh and great-grandson of the military genius Thutmose III, built the temple of Luxor close to the banks of the Nile just south of the city. Though by this time Egyptian military power was past its peak, economic conditions within the capital were sound. Trade was flourishing with wealth pouring in from the distant provinces of the empire, which comprised almost all West Asia including Palestine, Syria, Phoenicia, the western part of the Euphrates, Nubia, Kush and Libya. Extravagant caravans brought gold and silver, metalware, ivory and timber, spices for the royal taste and strange and exotic animals to roam in private gardens. The temples were bursting with tributes, walls and columns were encrusted with richness and colour, feasts and festivals were bountiful, the pace was brisk, the mood content.
|The Temple Of Luxor|
Advantage was taken of slave labour from Nubia and Asia, and Amenhotep imbued traditional architecture with new life both by enlarging and embellishing existing temples and also by building new ones. Apart from the Luxor temple he completed the temple to Mut, in the great Karnak triad (page 65), which had been begun by his ancestors, giving it grace and elegance. Size was no deterrent, as can be gauged from the statues at the entrance to his mortuary temple on the necropolis, now known as the Colossi of Memnon (page 100).
This was perhaps the most trouble-free time in Egyptian history. The country was united, the nightmare rule of the Hyksos was no more than a bad memory. The empire was expansive, slave labour cheap, wealth abundant and Amenhotep had every reason to be the most carefree of Pharaohs. He raised his bow to beasts and fowl on his native soil where his ancestors had raised theirs to the enemy on alien lands. His wife, Queen Tiy, was very beautiful and clearly loved by the Pharaoh, as she is depicted in name or person always at his side and far more frequently than was usual for royal wives of earlier rulers.
In the circumstances it is not surprising that Amenhotep, architecturally active and emotionally content, should have developed an interest in horticulture. Near his palace on the necropolis his enormous artificial lake, over 1,700 metres long and 500 wide, was surrounded by luxuriant foliage. Between the temple of Luxor and that of Karnak he laid out beautiful gardens, lining the avenue with rams carved in stone, each with a statue of himself between its forepaws. The effect must have been one of overwhelming grandeur as solemn processions and dazzling ceremonies passed along this splendid avenue.
| The Temple Of Luxor in Night|
At Karnak Amenhotep III continued the new theme in architecture: the pylon, a huge stone tower sloping inwards from the base. A pylon stood on each side of the entrance to the temple. Thebes was never to know better; bigger, maybe, but never better.
Because the temple of Luxor, like that of Karnak and in fact like most other temples throughout the land, was built not by a single architect or according to a uniform plan, but reflected the ideas and whims of many successive rulers, it is necessary before describing the first pylon, which was actually the last addition to the temple, to have some idea of how it developed, underwent alteration, appropriation, calculated destruction and, finally, excavation.
The temple was constructed on the site of a small temple to Amon built by the Pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty. Amenhotep III had his architects rebuild the modest original sanctuary which was as always the first part of the temple to be built, renovate the surrounding chambers and design a forecourt of fine, slender colonnades. It is this court, with its clustered papyrus-bud columns, that can be seen from the Nile and that gives the temple its special character.
It was planned along traditional lines. Like all Egyptian temples it had a sanctuary or Holy of Holies with surrounding chambers, a large colonnaded hall the hypostyle hall (Plan 2 D) and an open court (C). A second court was also planned but only the huge columns of the nave were erected before the death of the Pharaoh. His son Amenhotep IV, who later became known as Akhenaten and transferred the royal residence to Tel el Amarna, was far too hostile towards Amon to complete the work. At his time the temple was only 190 metres long and 55 metres wide at its greatest span. Three small granite shrines, which had been erected by Hatshepsut and usurped by Thutmose III, stood opposite the entrance.
And then came the first of a long series of changes. During the religious revolution under Amenhotep IV the temple was stripped of the images and names of the ancient deities, especially those relating to Amon, who even disappeared from the divine sign that included the name of the Pharaoh, the oval cartouche.
Akhenaten’s successor, Tutankhamun, transferred the royal residence back to Thebes. The wall reliefs of the Luxor temple were inscribed with his name only to be changed again to that of his successor Haremhab. It was probably Tutankhamun who had the walls erected on each side of the columns of the unfinished court (B) and had the inner surfaces inscribed with reliefs.
In the 19th Dynasty Seti I made a concerted effort to continue the restoration of the worship of Amon but added nothing to the temple’s architecture. The major alterations were left to that great Pharaonic builder and most celebrated of Egyptian kings, Ramses II. His large colonnaded court (A) was placed before the temple of his ancestors and he usurped the shrines of Thutmose III, altering the reliefs to bear his own name. He also erected a massive pylon, two obelisks and six colossal statues of himself at the northern end of the temple, thus forming an impressive entrance to the whole complex. The temple was now 260 metres long.
Few further alterations took place until the entire area east of the hypostyle hall was dismantled in Roman times. The central doorway to the south was blocked by masonry and turned into an apse. The wall representations were plastered over and repainted with figures of Roman Emperors.
One of the chambers adjoining the sanctuary, which was restored by Alexander the Great, was inhabited by the engineer who supervised the transportation of the pink granite obelisk from the entrance of the temple to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. It was the French who first started serious excavations of the Luxor temple and who cleared most of the mediaeval buildings about it. The exception is the Mosque of Abu el Hagag, which has withstood both time and argument and still stands in the court.
To preserve Luxor in its historic setting and endeavour to create the atmosphere and environment of ancient times, plans continue to clear the modem buildings from the two and a half kilometre ancient highway between Luxor and Karnak Temples. Ram-headed sphinxes erected by the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectanebo (380-363 BC) line the avenue, over seven hundred metres of which have already been cleared. Some of the sphinxes near Luxor Temple have been excavated in good condition; those near Karnak are badly weathered and eroded