If you read my post on the West Bank of Luxor, you understand the sheer amount of quality sites that occupy the area. Due to this fact, we have split up our travel guide for Luxor into several posts. This post details the East Bank of Luxor.
While the west bank of Luxor is one of the reasons you came to Egypt, the east bank is most likely your first destination in Luxor. The city itself is mostly concentrated on this side of the Nile and as such, the vast majority of accommodation has popped up here as well.
Exploring the attractions to be found on the east bank can be done in one long day but it is best to break it up over two days if possible. While here, you should be sure to visit Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and the Mummification Museum. We will detail all of these places below.
Wedged between the east bank of the Nile and the city itself, Luxor Temple very much serves as the heart and soul of the city it is named after. The area has a similar vibe to the pyramids jutting out on the outskirts of Giza where there is such an abrupt shift from modern to ancient. The green space around the temple is also a popular place for locals to relax and picnic as their children run circles around them.
Luxor Temple is mostly a New Kingdom creation but pretty much everyone since that time has laid their hands on the complex. While most of the work can be attributed to Amenhotep III, Tutankhamen, and Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Romans, and Arabs also contributed to the temple over time. As with Karnak, the temple becomes older the further you enter it.
Upon entering the temple complex you will first spot the first gigantic pylon constructed by Ramses II along with the two remaining colossal statues of the pharaoh accompanied by one obelisk. The other obelisk now stands tall in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Opposite the first pylon stands what remains of the avenue of sphinxes which used to connect the temples of Luxor and Karnak. The rest of the avenue is currently being excavated and should be opening up within a few years. The ancient pathway was once used to transport the statues of various Gods between the temples during festivals.
As you pass through the first pylon, you will see the 14th century mosque, the temple’s most recent addition. There is no entrance to the mosque from inside the temple, but there is one on the outside. Immediately in front of you is the best depiction of Ramses II within the temple, being another giant statue of the pharaoh.
After the open court, the temple narrows into the colonnade of Amenhotep III which served as the original entrance to the Temple of Amun. The walls surrounding the hall were completed during the reign of King Tut.
The colonnade then opens up unto the Sun Court of Amenhotep III. The court is quite atmospheric as the entire perimeter is lined with giant papyrus columns. It is a good place to sit down and take a break before you overload yourself with ancient Egyptian art.
Beyond the court lies the densely pillared Hypostlye Hall. You can make out some of the original color here and is fun to meander around despite being such a small area.
Upon leaving the Hypostyle Hall, be sure to look up and check out the most vivid reminder that the Romans were here as you gaze at the extremely well preserved painted scenes of Roman officials. They look very much out of place, giving the room a very unique feel when compared to other places in Egypt.
The room upon whose outer walls the Romans decorated is known as the cult sanctuary of Amun. To either side of the sanctuary are chapels dedicated to various Egyptian Gods which are the most colorful sections remaining in Luxor Temple.
Immediately behind the sanctuary is Alexander the Great’s addition to the temple, the Barque Shrine of Amun. The conqueror can be seen throughout the shrine depicted as pharaoh. One of the more amusing depictions of Alexander is on the western wall where he stands tall with his fully erect penis spreading his seed.
To the east of the Amun complex lies the two final rooms of the temple. The first room you enter will be Amenhotep III’s birth room with one scene of the western wall depicting the very moment of his conception, complete with the description ‘his dew filled her body’ in hieroglyphs.
The last room at the back of the temple was the most sacred part of the temple but today is of little visual interest. The Sanctuary of Amenhotep III would have been the home to the sacred statue of Amun but not much of the room remains intact today.
Once the temple of temples in Egypt, this was the most important temple complex during New Kingdom Egypt. Pharaohs from the Middle Kingdom on wards contributed to this complex which eventually became on the the largest places or worship to ever be built in the world.
The temple complex itself has not fared time very well when compared to temple structures at Dendera and Abydos. The sheer size of the place and its importance however, cannot be underestimated. There are still plenty of interesting spots to be found within the temple walls and even some of the color can be spotted as you roam around. In the end, those with minimal architectural or historical interest might find the place underwhelming but for any one else, this is a must visit temple while in Egypt.
Like many temples in Egypt, Karnak gets older as you enter deeper into the temple complex, the most recent additions being the first thing you see. The first area of interest you will run into is the avenue of ram headed sphinxes which lie just before the first pylon which was constructed during the 30th dynasty. It is unfinished as you can still see the construction ramps on the back side of one of the walls.
The first Pylon opens up into the Great Court which in itself is of little interest and crowded with tourists. Of all the side chapels that branch out from here, the Temple of Ramses III is of most interest. The temple is one of the most well preserved in the complex, retaining a fare amount of color, statuary, and columns. The temple contains the standard ancient Egyptian layout of pylons, open courts, hypostyle hall, and chapels dedicated to the gods Mut, Amun, and Khonsu.
When you exit the Great Court, be sure to check out the giant statues of Ramses II that occupy the entrance through the second pylon which was begun during the 18th dynasty.
The most fantastic and breathtaking room in all of Karnak, the Great Hypostyle Hall, is one of the most ambitious religious structures ever constructed. The 5,000 square meters of space is occupied by a forest of giant papyrus columns, each standing more than 24 meters high and with a circumference of around 10 meters. It was begun by Seti I and completed by Ramses II.
Back in the day, this entire room would have been bursting with color and covered with a decorated roof. Before flood control, the entire hall would be filled with over a meter of water during the summer months, giving the room a feel of one of the many swamps that used to occupy the banks of the mighty river. It must have been quite the sight to see.
The best way to appreciate the hall is to have a sit and take the time to soak it all in. Despite the hoards of tourists, it is easy to get lost and find a quiet space among the vast sea of columns.
After you eventually pull yourself away from the Hypsotyle Hall, in-between the third and fourth pylons is one of the original four obelisks that stood here. The obelisk stands 22 meters high and was constructed for Tutmosis I.
If your in the bigger is better camp, then you will not want to miss the 30 meter obelisk of Hatshepsut just past the fourth pylon. It is the tallest of its kind to be discovered in Egypt. Just past the obelisk and to the left, is a small alley that leads to some very deep cut hieroglyphs. These were some of largest and deepest we saw while in Egypt.
The area between the fifth and sixth pylons constructed by Tuthmosis I and III now lays badly ruined. Beyond the sixth pylon are the remains of the sanctuary of Amun. It used to be a very dark room and was where it was believed the God resided when he was on earth. The original sanctuary, completed by Tuthmosis III, was destroyed by invading Persians. The structure you see today was rebuilt by Phillip Arrhideaus who was successor to Alexander the Great.
Behind the sanctuary is the oldest remaining section of the temple, a court constructed during the Middle Kingdom but not much of it stands today. Behind the court is Karnak’s last big surprise, the Great Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III. Colors still remain on many parts of the ceilings and columns that still stand today. Notice how the columns differ here than most you have seen in Egypt. Rather than the standard papyrus or reed columns, the Festival Hall’s columns are supposed to represent tent poles holding up a canopy.
If still interested, it is possible to explore the south axis of the temple which contains the temple’s sacred lake, a fallen obelisk of Hatshepsut, and the remaining pylons to pass through in the temple.
Even if you have seen the mummies exhibit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, this little display of all things mummies is quite a treat. Located not far from the boat launch where ferries head to the West Bank, it’s a good way to escape the heat after a long day exploring the tombs on the other side of the river.
The museum is contained in one large room but contains very impressive artifacts pertaining to the mummification process. On display are tools used during mummification as well as articles that were considered very important for the transition to the world of the dead. Displays also explain what ingredients were used to mummify the body.
The back of the museum has the extremely well preserved remains of Maserharti, a high priest of Amun. Most of his hair is intact, including his beard. Various mummified animals are also on display. The wall closest to the door has some finely painted wooden coffins and there is an impressive statue of Anubis who guards the entrance to the museum.
We have heard good things about the Luxor museum but after several weeks of temples and deeply exploring the Egyptian museum in Cairo, we felt no desire to explore more artifacts. Most of the items from the Luxor museum were discovered in the area of Thebes (modern day Luxor).
If your time in Egypt only consists of Cairo and Luxor, this museum is definitely worth a look. If you have been pouring over Egyptian temples and artifacts for weeks along your journey down south, you might not get too much more out of it.
How Much Does It Cost?
The following prices are from 2018
Luxor Temple………………………………….100 EGP ($5.60)
Karnak Temple……………………………….120 EGP ($6.72)
Mumification Museum…………………..80 EGP ($4.48)
Luxor Museum……………………………….120 EGP ($6.72)
East Bank: Less Flashy But No Less Important
While nowhere near as incredible looking as the tombs found along the west bank, the east bank of Luxor is home to some of ancient Egypt’s most sacred sites. You may be templed out by the time you make it down this far in Egypt but to appreciate the grand scale of temples here and to understand their importance, they are well worth a visit. With so much to do and see in Luxor, you could easily spend your entire vacation in Egypt here.