Pictures of Luxor, Karnak and Abu Simbel Temples, Egypt   Egypt TEMPLES FOR GODS AND KINGS
Pictures of ancient monuments of Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel in Egypt
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At the command of New Kingdom pharaohs, Egypt's temples grew ever larger and more glorious.  Present day Luxor is built on the Nile at the site of ancient Thebes, a city that reached its glory during the New Kingdom era.  It was in Thebes that the imposing temples of Karnak and Luxor were built over three thousand years ago to honor the gods of ancient Egypt.
Picture of Luxor Temple, Egypt
The Sun Court of Amenhotep III at Luxor Temple.
Picture of Karnak, Egypt
The sprawling temples at Karnak are the result of generations of builders who expanded and embellished the site for their gods and pharaohs.  Karnak remains the largest surviving religious complex in the world.  Although a major part of the vast site is occupied by the Great Temple of Amun, temples were also built here for other Egyptian gods including Amun's consort Mut and the lunar deity Khonsu - the other members of a triad of gods worshipped at ancient Thebes.
The great temples of Karnak and Luxor

Thebes was the power and religious center of Egypt through much of its glorious New Kingdom era, and was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world.  The mighty temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak were connected by a 3 kilometer processional way lined with sphinxes.  These great monuments represent the combined efforts of generations of Egyptian builders and the ambitious dreams of their pharaohs.

The principal builders of these sprawling temples included the New Kingdom pharaohs Tuthmosis III (ruled 1504-1450 BCE) and Amenhotep III (1386-1349 BCE) of dynasty 18, and Ramesses II (1279-1212 BCE) of dynasty 19.  Successive pharaohs endeavored to outdo their predecessors by enlarging and embellishing these cult centers.   By doing this they hoped to please the gods and enhance their own status.  Over the years, the Karnak and Luxor temples grew ever more magnificent.

The rise of the god Amun
Many deities were worshipped in ancient Egypt.  Confusingly, these often changed or evolved over the long time span of the Egyptian civilization, or were represented in different manifestations.  In New Kingdom Egypt, the god Amun became prominent as the greatest of the gods.  Regarded as a creator deity, he became assimilated with the sun god Re to become Amun-Re, and was worshipped in Thebes at the mighty temples of Karnak and Luxor.
Picture of Amun, Karnak temple
Statue of the god Amun at Karnak

Picture of Karnak temple, Egypt
The spectacular Hypostyle Hall in the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak.  It is crowded with 134 towering stone columns, some reaching 21 meters high. 

Houses of the gods

Egyptian cult temples like those at Karnak and Luxor were dedicated to gods who were served there by the pharaoh and his priests.  In return, the gods gave life and order to the land of Egypt.  The pharaoh of ancient Egypt was more than a head of state, he was looked upon as a divine link between the gods and his people.

Karnak and Luxor temples were built to a design that became common in New Kingdom Egypt.  An entrance pylon of massive, twin towers was fronted by obelisks and statues.  This led to an open peristyle court beyond which was a columned hypostyle hall.  Finally came dimly lit chambers that included the holy inner sanctum.  This was dedicated to the temple god and accessible only to the pharaoh and priests.

Ramesses statues
Statues of Ramesses II in his Great Court at Luxor Temple.  Ramesses II, known as Ramesses the Great, is often regarded as Egypt's greatest and most powerful pharaoh.  He transformed the temples of Thebes and immortalised himself in stone across ancient Egypt.
Karnak picture Luxor temple picture
Walls and columns in the temples were decorated with carved and painted reliefs.  Many show the kings interacting with gods, or their military exploits.
Picture of Luxor Temple, ancient Egypt The Sun Court of Amenhotep III at Luxor Temple.  The columns resemble papyrus bundles symbolic of the primeval marsh from which the ancient Egyptians believed creation unfolded.
The Great Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel

The New Kingdom pharaoh Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) embarked on many monumental building projects.  To the south of the capital Thebes, in Nubia, he commanded the construction of his Great Temple at Abu Simbel.  The temple was carved out of a hillside next to the Nile and dedicated to the three great New Kingdom gods Ptah, Amun, and Re-Horakhty.  When completed around 1244 BCE, it was also a tribute to the power and military might of Egypt and the divine pharaoh himself.

Picture of Ramesses Temple, Abu Simbel
An ego cast in stone.  The four huge statues of Ramesses II that guard the entrance of his Great Temple at Abu Simbel are over 20 meters high.
Abu Simbel temple The Abu Simbel Temple is aligned so that the sun's rays penetrate an inner sanctuary twice each year.  They then illuminate the figures of Ptah, Amun, the deified Ramesses II and Re.
Picture of Nefertari Temple, Abu Simbel
Ramesses II built a smaller temple near his own to honor his wife Queen Nefertari and the goddess Hathor.  The facade of the Temple is dominated by more statues of Ramesses II and his queen.
When the High Dam was built at Aswan, 280 kilometers down-river, the Abu Simbel temples were threatened by the rising water of Lake Nasser.  In a remarkable operation organized by UNESCO in the 1960s, the massive temples were cut and rebuilt in an artificial hill on higher ground nearby.
Ramesses II at Abu Simbel temple
Ramesses II embarked on many military campaigns to strengthen the might of Egypt.  Art on the walls of Abu Simbel and other temples was propaganda for his exploits.  This illustration depicts his (dubious) victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadhesh.

ANCIENT EGYPT, edited by David P. Silverman.

Dates are approximate because Egyptian chronology is sometimes uncertain.  Dates given on this page are those used in Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton.
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