Monday, January 3, 2011

The Magnificent Luxor Temple

I thought I had seen the ultimate in the 5000-year history of Egypt at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but that was before I toured The Luxor Temple. I have seldom in my life been so entranced and fascinated by a museum, really an outdoor archaeological site still being excavated and reconstructed, still evolving and rebirthing, stone by stone, hieroglyphic by hieroglyphic, column by column, statue by statue, bas relief by bas relief, piece by piece. It is magnificent, this temple built to honor Amon-Ra, king of the gods of ancient Eqypt. It is among the most amazing sites I have ever seen. I went twice, once during the day, and again in the evening, when the temple is lit up and looks golden and magical (photos above). Day or night, it is a majestic monument.

Pharoah Amon-Ofis II started the temple in the 14th century BC. King Tut added to it, and Ramses II finished it. A long processional avenue flanked by sphinxes with rams' heads since replaced with human heads connects the Luxor Temple and that of Karnak, about 3 miles away. This avenue of the gods is also under reconstruction, like much of the Temple itself. So is the temple at Karnak, another amazing site. It's extraordinary.

Luxor is the ancient city of Thebes, celebrated in Homer's Iliad (8th century BC) and by scholars thereafter up to the present. Thebes evolved into Luxor overtime, way before the Christian era, as ancient dynasties and kingdoms competed for power and riches. Today the temple is all that remains of the legendary Thebes.

The entrance features an elegant obelisk, which at one time had a twin but it is now in the city of Paris (on the Place de Concorde), and colossal statues of Ramses. Of the four statues of Queen Nefertari and her daughter that were created, in pink marble, only one remains, and it's in bad shape. No matter. The ideas and spirit remain. Multi-columned courtyards, rows upon rows of closed and open papyrus-crowned columns, like forests, statues of Osiris, and of kings, queens and warriors, and a constant stream of carved images and hieroglyphics on every wall, ceiling and column, tell the stories of those times, of the pharoahs, the priests and the gods, of creation and the journey to the afterlife (so rich in symbolism and so significant to the pharoahs), of wars and triumphs.

The colors have faded, but every once in a while you catch a glimpse of blue, red and gold, and can imagine what the Amon-Ra Temple must have looked like in full resplendent color. As it is, the splendor of the Temple awes and delights. I think of all the incredible monuments built to the gods by the pharaohs, the Luxor Temple is my favorite!

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