Built by New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) and situated parallel to the banks of the Nile, right smack dab in the heart of modern day Luxor (the city would have been known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians), Luxor Temple by night is a hauntingly magical and wonderfully atmospheric experience not to be missed by anyone passing through Luxor during their time in Egypt.
Also known as the Southern Sanctuary, the temple’s main purpose was for use during the annual Opet festival, when the statues of Amun, Mut and Khonsu were brought from Karnak, along the Avenue of Sphinxes, to be reunited here during the second month of the inundation season (which they called akhet).
Over the years the temple, like Karnak, was added on to, and expanded by, other pharaohs after it’s original construction by Amenhotep III, notably: Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC), Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and Rameses II (1279-13 BC) (who OF COURSE had to yet again document his battle of Kadesh bigger than life on the first pylon… seriously this dude is like the football player that won’t shut up about that ONE game winning touchdown that he made 30 years ago). Toward the rear of the temple there is even a granite shrine built by Alexander the Great (332-305 BC) which features images of Alexander dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh and making offerings to the gods.
One of the other interesting things about this site, is that there was some remodeling done by the ancient Romans in the 3rd century AD, who plastered over many of the walls and painted them with scenes of Roman officials (which you can still see bits of), and carved out new architectural details like the rounded archway seen above. This poses an interesting question to archeologists… do you destroy ancient Roman paintings to restore even older ancient Egyptian temple walls to their original condition?
What You Need To Know
Once A Religious Site Always A Religious Site
While obviously first built as a temple to the gods of the Ancient Egyptians, Luxor Temple has seen almost continuous use a place of worship since it’s inception right up to present day. After being converted into a Coptic church during the Christian area, the temple was then lost for those of years, gradually buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. Until eventually, using bit and pieces of the existing structure that were still sticking up out of the ground, a mosque named Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built on top of the site in the 14th century.
…if you look up at the mosque while inside the temple complex, you get an idea for just how deeply the temple was buried in refuse over the years
When the temple was then excavated years later by archeologists in 1885, the mosque (which is still in use today) was carefully preserved, and now forms an integral part of the site. In fact, if you look up at the mosque while inside the temple complex, you get an idea for just how deeply the temple was buried in refuse over the years by locating doorways that were carved into the plylon walls to serve the mosque, showing where the ground level was at the time the mosque was built.
And You Get And Obelisk, And You Get And Obelisk, Obelisks For Everyone
One of the things I found most fascinating when reading about Egyptian history, is the sheer number of obelisks (and other artifacts) that were either simply stolen or given away to other countries.
For instance, here at Luxor Temple there would have originally been two matching pink granite obelisks fronting the temple instead of only one as there is today. However the mate to this one now stands at the bottom of the Champ Elysées in the center of a traffic circle at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France.
..today there are only 8 obelisks left in Egypt
It arrived in Paris on May 10th 1833 and was raised there on October 25th by King Louis-Philippe I who had been given it as a gift by Muhammad Ali Pasha, ruler of a then Ottoman occupied Egypt.
But this isn’t the only obelisk that was either smuggled, stolen or gifted out of Egypt (these things way around 250 tons and are a pain to transport and move BTW) today there are only 8 obelisks left in Egypt, the above mentioned one in France, 1 in Israel, 13!!!! in Italy, 1 in Poland, 1 in Turkey, 4 in the Untied Kingdom and 1 in the United States.
So if you’re excited about obelisks, maybe a trip to Italy would be better than a trip to Egypt?
Eyes On Karnak
Luxor Temple is unique in Egypt in that its orientation is all wrong. While most temples in Egypt are aligned to the river, Luxor is instead aligned to face the Karnak Temple Complex, to which it was join by a ceremonial procession way lined by around 1350 human-headed sphinx statues. The avenue would have been used as the ceremonial pathway taken during the annual Opet Festival, when the statues representing the gods Amun, Mut & Khonsu would have been carried from their chapel shrines in Karnak, overland in small ceremonial boats to be reunited at Luxor Temple.
Tips For Taking Night Photos At Luxor Temple
If you’re interested in also visiting Luxor Temple by night, but are worried about taking photos, here are a couple of pointers I have for you.
- Get to the site 1hr before sunset. This will give you the chance to snap a few photos before the sun disappears completely, that way you have some back-up ones in case your photos after dark don’t turn out as well as you’d like.
- Take any portraits you want to snag at the site first. Normally I wait till the end of our visits to snap portraits, but for this, I’d suggest taking any portraits you may want to snag at the site in the 30mins before the sun sets.
- Snap like crazy when the sun has *just* barley gone down. My favorite shots from this site were snagged right after the sun went down but there was still a small glow and some color left in the sky.
- If you can control your settings manually on your camera select a small F-Stop and a high ISO. This should allow the maximum amount of light into your camera so you don’t have to use a flash and won’t have blurry images due to long shutter speeds. If you’re a photo nerd, almost all of these were shot with a 35mm lens on my sony a6000 at F2, 1/60th and at an ISO around 640 with no flash. A small handful of them I had to crank the ISO up higher between to 1200-3000.
- Look for the light and avoid using your flash. The biggest thing you can do really is to hunt for nicely lit areas (which is a lot of Luxor at night fortunately), verses spending a lot of time trying to make a badly lit thing look good. And in general I would avoid using flash unless you are really comfortable with flash photography and know what you’re doing, as badly used flash will wash out your photos and sometimes actually make the background even darker.
- Expose for the light areas. Because there will be so much darkness in your image, your camera might get confused and really try to overexpose your image. So if your camera isn’t doing what you want, make sure you expose your image for the brightest part of your photo. That will ensure your camera won’t get confused by all the dark surroundings and wash out your image.
- If you bring a tripod, you might want to hide it till you get inside. No you’re not trying to get around any rules or cheat here I promise, you’re just trying to avoid an argument with the temple guards and ticket office officials about wether or not you are a “professional”, (for which they have an extra fee they will slap you with), or simply a tourist (who can take photos for free). Essentially to them tripod=professional photographer, and they don’t really budge on that point. I personally did not use a tripod for any of the images in this post and relied solely on higher ISOs and shooting at small f-stops, so it can totally be done without a tripod.
In general the site is so well lit that I had a relatively easy time snapping photos even well after sunset. The most difficult thing to deal with at this time is simply the sheer number of other tourists that will be around visiting at “prime time”.