I have long held a fascination with Egypt. So, it was with a heightened sense of anticipation that we arrived in Luxor. Luxor is best explored by dividing your trip into East Bank and a West Bank excursions. We did the East Bank first - visiting the inspiring Temples of Karnak as well as the beautiful Luxor Temple.
The transfer from the airport to the Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa was by complimentary hotel shuttle bus and took around 20 minutes once the van got rolling. We had pre-arranged the afternoon’s tour via the hotel concierge so we had a couple of hours to get checked in and enjoy a leisurely lunch on the banks of the Nile.
The Hilton Luxor is situated perfectly on the banks of the Nile with unobstructed views of this majestic river. The December temperatures are probably a tad colder than ideal for sunbathing and swimming, but it was perfect for enjoying lunch with friends at the outdoor restaurant area. The hotel-preferred tour guide’s office is on site, which makes it pretty convenient to confirm the various arrangements. After lunch, we visited their office and confirmed the arrangements for the following morning’s balloon ride, before heading off with our guide to tour the east bank.
First stop were the Karnak temples. Construction of this vast temple complex began during the reign of Senusret I in around 2055 BC and continued all the way through to around 100 AD. It is the largest religious building ever constructed, covering about 200 acres (1.5 km by 0.8 km). The area of the sacred enclosure of Amun alone is sixty-one acres and could hold ten average-sized European cathedrals. The great temple at the heart of Karnak is so big that St Peter’s, Milan, and Notre Dame Cathedrals would fit within its walls.
The Hypostyle Hall, at 16,500 square meters and featuring 134 columns, is still the largest room of any religious building in the world. In addition to the main sanctuary there are several smaller temples and a vast sacred lake – 423 feet by 252 feet (129 by 77 meters). The sacred barges of the Theban Triad once floated on the lake during the annual Opet festival. The lake was surrounded by storerooms and living quarters for the priests, along with an aviary for aquatic birds. It is an amazing complex to stroll around and you can even see graffiti from French legionnaires during the 19th century
In the waning light, we reached our second port of call on the east bank, the Luxor Temple. This temple was built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). Toward the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC) where the Romans plastered over the original Egyptian fresco.
These 2 temple complexes can be comfortably visited in around 3 hours touring the East Bank. So, having our fill of temples for the day, we returned to the hotel for dinner before heading to bed early ahead of the 3am wakeup call for the balloon rides the following morning.
The story continues: Read here about our balloon trip the following dawn over the Valley of the Kings
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