2005 Mathematics May Seminar

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The Luxor Temple


On the east bank of the Nile at Luxor lies the magnificent Luxor temple which was dedicated to the great god Amun-Re, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu (the moon god) – together representing the Theban triad. The temple was built on the side of a probable smaller Middle Kingdom (2040-1759 BC) structure for the god Amun, while the earliest parts of the temple seen today date from the 14th century BC and the time of Amenhotep III.

His son, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), overthrew the existing order of Amun and replaced it with cult of the sun god Aten. Consequently, Luxor temple suffered under his reign. Restoration work was undertaken later during the time of Tutankhamun and Horemheb.

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) of the 19th dynasty oversaw the addition of a new entrance pylon and a court at the northeast end of the complex. Two obelisks were erected in the front of the temple by Ramesses II in the 13th century BC. The western obelisk was given to France in the 1830’s and now stands in Paris at the Palace de la Concorde. Ramesses II also erected in front of his pylon six granite statues of himself – two sitting and four standing. A 3-kilometer-long avenue of sphinxes connected Luxor temple with the southern end of Karnak temple complex to the north.

During much of the 19th century, much of the temple was still buried and houses stood well above current ground level encountered by modern-day visitors. An idea of the 19th century ground level can be gained from the Mosque of Abu el Hagag which, despite early French efforts to remove it remains inside the great pylon.

Passing through the pylon entrance, the visitor enters the court of Ramesses II with numerous statues of the pharaoh and surrounding papyrus-type columns with lotus-bud capitals.

Beyond the court lies the impressive Colonnade erected by Amenhotep III. The inside of the walls on either side of the Colonnade were carved during the time of Tutankhamun and depict the important Opet festival during which the god Amun visited his southern harem. The reliefs show the sacred barges being brought to Karnak to Luxor. Unfortunately, the reliefs have suffered greatly over time, while a high water table has led salt encrustation. The desire of some tourists to touch the reliefs has and continued to damage the scenes for future visitors.

Next is the court of Amenhotep III surrounded by a double row of columns. It was in this court that numerous statues were found buried in the late 1980s.

Beyond the court is the Hypostyle Hall containing 32 columns in four rows. At the rear is an area that was converted into a Roman shrine with Amenhotep III’s reliefs plastered over and painted with Christian themes. Around the beginning of the third century AD, Luxor Temple became the focus of a surrounding Roman military camp for perhaps 1500 men.

At the southern end of the temple complex is the sanctuary which is surrounded by various chambers including so-called Birth Room in which the birth of Amenhotep III id depicted in reliefs.

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