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Ancient Thebes

Site: Ancient Thebes With Its Necropolis


Location: Egypt
Year Designated: 1979
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (i)(iii)(vi)
Reason: Towering temples and treasure-filled tombs shine a light on one of history's greatest
civilizations.
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Ancient Thebes was home to some of the greatest monuments of the ancient worldbuilt to honor
the living, the dead, and the divine. The city, known as Waset to ancient Egyptians and as Luxor
today, was the capital of Egypt during parts of the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1750 B.C.) and the
New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1070 B.C.).
Thebes was the city of Amun, whose devotees elevated him among the ranks of ancient deities.
Once a relatively local Theban god, he was merged with the god Re and perched atop the entire
Egyptian pantheon.
Amuns city sat astride the Nile in Upper Egypt. On the rivers east side was the city proper and
many important temples, including the legendary Karnak complex. Karnak was one of the biggest
religious complexes in the world, nearly one mile by half a mile (1.5 kilometers by 800 meters), and
even after more than 3,000 years it remains one of the most awe-inspiring.
This was the principal religious site of the New Kingdom, and its monuments are correspondingly
enormousHatshepsuts obelisk towers 90 feet (27.5 meters). The massive assemblage of
structures, columns, and statuary paid tribute to four different gods.
Karnak was linked to another legendary site, the Luxor Temple, by a grand, 1.9-mile-long (3kilometer-long) avenue lined with sphinxes.
Luxor Temple, with its soaring columns and statues of Ramses II, is nearly as familiar as the Sphinx
or Pyramids at Giza. The primary structure was built during the reigns of Amenhotep III and
Ramses II, circa 1500 to 1200 B.C., but other rulers from Tutankhamun to Alexander the Great
added their own touches over the years.
The temple was dedicated to Amun in his form as a fertility god and was used during the annual
Opet Festival of royal renewal. Today it is still a place of worshipthe Abu el-Haggag mosque
added in the 11th century is still operational today.

On the Niles west bank, the dead held sway. It was here that the Egyptians created an extensive
necropolis to commemorate the lives of the royal and highbornand to prepare them for the
afterlife.
The Valley of the Kings (actually two distinct valleys) was used to bury royalty during much of the
New Kingdom era, from about 1550 to 1070 B.C. Rulers were interred in elaborate underground
structures, with chambers and passages decorated with paintings and filled with everything a
pharaoh could desire in this world or the next.
The valley is best known for the tomb of Tutankhamun, with its legendary treasures, discovered by
Howard Carter in 1922. Many other royals were buried here but few known tombs remained as
unmolested as Tuts. The Valley of the Kings was heavily looted in the 21st dynasty (1070 to 945
B.C.) and many mummies were removed for safekeeping during this era.
Secreted in the cliffs of a Y-shaped ravine, the Valley of the Queens houses some 90 known tombs
of queens, princes, and other notables from the New Kingdom (1550 to 1070). As at other sites,
tomb robbing was common and relatively few undisturbed tombs were found here. Yet the
necropolises themselves, along with the great temples on the far shore, make Thebes one of the
truly great treasures of the ancient worldand the modern one as well.
How to Get There
Luxor is serviced by an international airport, by train, by regular bus service, and even by Nile
cruise ships.
When to Visit
Summer in this area is simply scorching. Winter has a far more favorable climate for exploring the
sites. At any time of year its likely best to explore in the morning and evening hours.
How to Visit
Take your time. Scholars have spent careers exploring Luxoryou wont have time to see it all and
might miss the forest for the trees if you try. Leave time for relaxation in the style only Luxor can
providelike a sunset felucca cruise on the Nile.