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Time Travel to the New Kingdom

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The entrance to the Valley of the Sphinxes
"Woah..." was all we could say to describe the awesome stone structure that stood shining before us in the night sky. Jasmine and I had just arrived in Luxor, in southern Egypt, and were standing in front of one of Egypt's most beautiful memorials, the great Luxor Temple. The ruins of the enormous walled in temple, with its towering columns and colossal statues of ancient rulers, created an eerie but beautiful scene lit up next to the shimmering black Nile.

The Luxor Music Video

Let music be your guide through the ruins of Luxor and a neighboring market

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"I wonder what this temple was built for..." I thought out loud.

"'The Luxor Temple was built by the New Kingdom Pharaoh Amenophis III, on the site of an older sanctuary dedicated to the Theban triad'," explained Jasmine trying to read from the guide book by the light of the full moon.

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The moon rises through the pillars of Luxor
"Oh...that explains everything!" Jasmine and I laughed. What was the New Kingdom anyway? Who was the Theban triad? And while you're at it, what does it mean to be Theban?!!!

Egypt's history is so deep and detailed, it is easy to get lost trying to figure out the differences between all the dynasties, all the gods, and all the advancements. We decided to get some rest after our long day's journey, and wake up to tackle some of our questions about the legacy of this amazing country the next day.

"Those long train rides really make me tired," said Jasmine as we were lying down to bed in our hotel. "But it sure beats the days or weeks it would have taken us to get here from Cairo thousands of years ago!"

"Yeah, imagine, we'd be riding on a small felucca (a narrow sailing ship) for days, trying to head upstream on the Nile, to come visit these temples...the greatest temples in the empire," I said.

We both grew silent, falling asleep thinking about life in Egypt thousands of years ago...the time of Pharaohs and great advancements in art and culture, the time when the sun god Ra controlled the coming of each day and the flood of the mighty Nile River decided whether villages would remain or be washed away.

If only we could just travel back in time, and visit the temples as they were thousands of years ago. Maybe then we wouldn't be so confused...maybe then all these ruins and kingdoms would make sense to us...

As the full moon passed through the night sky, Ra rose again in the east...

When we awoke, the small boys were still fishing by the banks of the Nile, the women were still harvesting the wheat from the fields, and the fellahin (a peasant or agricultural laborer) were still ploughing the fields. But something was different...

"Excuse me sir...where are we?" we asked a man carrying a large bundle of grass.

"Thebes of course!" he laughed and carried on his way.

"He's probably just getting a kick out of tricking the tourists!" I said toJasmine. "It says here in our book that Thebes was the ancient 4,000 year old capital of Egypt that modern day Luxor was built upon." We decided to head back to the Luxor Temple to check it out by daylight.

When we arrived there was a huge wall blocking our view. "I don't remember this wall here yesterday.".

"Neither do I," we looked at each other confused.

We walked around to the front where we saw six huge statues of the great Ramses II, four seated and two standing on either side of the entrance. Ramses II was Egypt's longest reigning Pharaoh, who ruled from 1279-1213 BC. Because he was the longest reigning Pharaoh he had the longest time to build enormous statues of himself, which you can find all over Egypt.

"Something strange is going on Jasmine, I swear there weren't 6 statues here last night."

"Yeah, there were only two seated statues on either side of the entrance and one standing over to the right...," she said pointing.

"And look at the Avenue of the Sphinxes...yesterday that pathway with sphinxes on either side only went a hundred yards or so and now it looks like it never ends!"

"Yesterday most of the sphinxes didn't even have heads or noses, and today their human faces are in tact!"

"I don't know what's going on here...but let's follow the sphinxes and see where they lead us!"

We followed our lion-bodied, human-headed guides down a long road which headed northeast parallel to the Nile. "So when did Thebes become the capital of Egypt anyway? I thought Memphis was the capital. All the Pharaohs whose pyramids I visited last week in Giza and Saqqara lived in Memphis," Jasmine mused as we walked.

"I'm not sure, let's see if the book says anything," I suggested. The strong midday sun was beating down on us, so we both welcomed the thought of taking a short break to read about the area.

As it turns out, around 2200 BC, the power of the Egyptian dynasties was becoming more diffused. So much so that by the 9th dynasty a second capital was established, Heracleopolis (in addition to Memphis). The constant feudal struggles between the princes of these small dynasties led to the collapse of the Old Kingdom. By the beginning of the 11th dynasty the feuds heightened to the point of civil war, but this also finally put an end to all the squabbling. Under Mentuhotep II, from Upper (Southern) Egypt, the country was finally reunited and the capital was shifted down to Thebes. This was the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

"Woah...what if we really are in Thebes? Thebes doesn't exist did we wake up thousands of years in the past?!" asked Jasmine!

"I have no idea," I said thinking about the wish I had made the night before. "Let's take advantage of it though...let's continue and find out where these sphinxes are leading us!"

After walking for well over a mile, we finally saw something in the distance. It looked like a temple, but it was much bigger than the temple of Luxor.

"That must be the Temple of Karnak!" I realized. "The avenue of the Sphinxes was leading directly to it!"

We continued closer, and realized that the temple actually consisted of three separate enclosures. The avenue of the sphinxes lead to the southern most enclosure, a temple dedicated to Mut, the war-goddess. From there a different avenue of sphinxes led to the middle and largest enclosure. Unlike the path we had been following from Luxor, the new avenue was lined with sphinxes that had heads of rams instead of humans. "The ram is Amun's sacred animal. This path must lead to the temple of Amun, who is also Mut's husband." Behind the Amun temple, was another small temple dedicated to another local god, Montu. We decided to follow the ram-headed sphinxes towards the largest of the three temples.

On our way we passed a large square pool and saw an old man headed towards it.

"I am going to enter the sacred pool to purify myself before performing a ritual to the great god Amun. Amun is the king of all gods and the father of our great Pharaoh," he said and continued towards the pool.

"So when did this Amun god become so important?" asked Jasmine. "I thought that Ra, the sun-god, was the most important of the gods."

"It says here that Amun was once a minor local deity here in Thebes, but as Thebes starting having power over the entire empire, so too did Amun. Over time he began being associated with Ra, and as Amun-Ra he was regarded as the King of gods and Father of the Pharaoh,'" I explained.

"So what does it say about this temple here?"

"It says that it was originally built for Amun during the Middle Kingdom, but it was during the New Kingdom that it was really expanded and decorated. It was the most important temple in Egypt during the height of Thebes's opulence and power."

"Wait a second. I understand the break which marked the end of the Old Kingdom and the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, and how the capital shifted from Memphis down to Thebes. But what's the difference between the Middle and the New Kingdom. They both maintained Thebes as their capital right?"

"Hmmm...yeah, Thebes stayed the capital, but I'm not sure what the break was between the two...let's see what our trusty book can tell us..."

As it turns out, the Middle Kingdom prospered with Thebes as its capital for 250 years. Then squabbling between local governors and nobles of provinces began again (around 1700 BC). During this time royal power was weakened and the great Egyptian empire was divided. We all know that old expression 'Divide and Conquer'...well guess what happened to Egypt...

The conquerors came from the northeast. They were made up of several different western Asiatic peoples, but the Egyptians merely called them the Hyksos, or the Princes of the Foreign Lands. The Hyksos allowed the Egyptian dynasties to continue to rule locally from Thebes as they took over Lower Egypt and the Delta. The Hyksos ruled for over a century, until finally in 1550 Ahmose lead the Egyptians to expel them from their country. However, during this time of foreign rule, Egypt learned that it was not impenetrable, and it provided Egypt with incentive for expansion. In addition the Hyksos introduced such technologies as the horse drawn carriage and other weapons that the Egyptians utilized as they embarked on their great age of empire building. Within a few years of reclaiming the throne, Ahmose once again united Upper and Lower Egypt and ushered in the period of the New Kingdom.

"So...the New Kingdom Pharaohs all lived in Thebes?"

"Yup, from the height of its glory from 1570 to 1090 BC, they all did (except one), and they all considered the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak to be the most important temple in all of let's go check it out!"

The sacred path between the ram headed sphinxes lead directly to the entrance in the enormous pylon (wall) that surrounded the enclosure. Immediately to our left after entering the giant center court, we could see three small chapels.

Put your artistic talents to the test, and learn some more about the Thebian Temple. Check out this website for a coloring contest based on themes form Thebes!

"These must be for the Theban triad!" The three small chapels were dedicated to Amun, his wife Mut, and their son the moon-god Khons. They contained the sacred barques (boats) that would be used to take the deities down the Nile to the Luxor Temple during the Opet festival which is held during the flood season.

From there, Jasmine and I wandered through the enormous complex, from one great temple to the next, admiring the intricate hieroglyphics carved on the stone walls.

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A chariot races through ancient Egypt
There were more colossal statues of Ramses II and scenes of Ramses III in battle. There was the Great Hypostyle Hall started by Amenophis III which is a dizzying collection of enormous stone pillars covering an area of over 6,000 square meters. There were temples built by Tuthmosis I and a wall of records constructed by Tuthmosis III.

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for larger view
King Ramses was a big guy
"There's so much here, it's so amazing. It seems everyone wanted to leave their mark here though, it's hard keeping track of who built what and when!"

"You're telling me! It seems like ruler after ruler has been adding to, enlarging, reconstructing, and decorating this place for hundreds and hundreds of years! It's so beautiful, so intricate..."


Jasmine's alarm came as an unwelcome surprise. We woke up and headed out in the noisy, polluted streets of Luxor towards the Temple of Karnak. When we got there, we were immediately bombarded with men offering to be our tour guides.

"Speak English? What country? I can show you secret sections of the temple that other tourists don't see, follow me."

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They don't look so good these days
Jasmine and I pushed our way through the guides, through the huge American and European tour groups posing for pictures next to the headless sphinxes that lined the pathway towards the entrance. We walked past three small empty chapels and a crumbling statue of Ramses II. We got to a big hall full of deteriorating old pillars and tried making out the hieroglyphics on the chipped away wall.

"It's too bad there's so many people and so much hassle," said Jasmine. "Allthis time, all the visits of people throughout the years, all the pollution and rain, has really taken its toll on these temples. I bet this place was once really beautiful and peaceful..."

"Yeah I bet it once was," I said as my mind wandered a few thousand years in the past...


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - Quest for Ancient Egypt in the Midst of a Modern Day World
Jasmine - One of The Seven Wonders of the World
Kevin - Longing for My Purple Rose of Cairo
Making a Difference - The Parthenon
Making a Difference - Just Do It

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