Luxor is full of amazing historical sites from the ancient world, from elaborately painted tombs to the ruins of colossal temples. There is a good reason the area is known as the worlds largest open-air museum. However, before Covid-19 hit a few of the sites could get busy at certain times, especially the ones that were popular with big tour groups. This guide will look at four of the least visited sites which are also magnificent places to experience.
Hopefully by the end of the year some of you reading this will be able to go and explore the treasures of ancient Thebes.
The Ramessum was built by Pharaoh Ramesses II as his mortuary temple. Ramesses II was known as Ramesses the Great due to his achievements, and is considered the greatest Pharaoh of the New Kingdom. He ruled Egypt from 1279-1212BC. He is famous for his extensive building programs and for conquering large areas of land in the Levant and Nubia.
The Ramessum would have been magnificent when it was built, with two 17 metre tall statues in front of the huge main hall. Since being abandoned the temple has been neglected and plundered at various times. One of the heads of the two statues currently lies forlornly in the sand, while its twin has been preserved in the British Museum since the 19th century.
The temple is still an impressive site despite the decay, and gives you an idea of what it must have been like at its height. The site is full of hieroglyphs and stunning carvings depicting the great victories of Ramesses The Great. There are also carvings venerating Amun-Ra, the king of the Ancient Egyptian Gods. When I visited in December the temple was empty, allowing me to feel like an explorer stumbling across the ruins of a lost ancient civilisation.
This huge temple complex is one of the largest and most impressive in Egypt, which befits a site that was also used as the administrative centre and stronghold for western Thebes. There is a small temple at the site that dates back to 2000BC, but the main temple and enclosure of Medinet Habu was built in 1170 BC by Ramesses III – as you can imagine he had a lot to live up to with a grandfather known as the great. This temple complex was one should effort. The main temple is 150 metres long, while the walls of the enclosure are over 300 metres long and 210 metres wide. It was built to commentate another of the Pharaohs achievements: the defeat of the enigmatic Sea Peoples. This mysterious civilization had caused havoc throughout the Mediterranean world until they were defeated by the Pharaohs armies.
Apart from it’s scale what will strike you about this temple is how well preserved and restored it is. The beautiful highelyths and reliefs still have a lot of their original colour, which really brings them to life. Wondering around the temple here really is special and highlights the artistic achievements of the Ancient Egyptians.
The site was also quiet when I went, so I was able to admire the intricate beauty of the site without crowds or touts hassling me.
This temple is a must-visit if you want to get a true sense of the former glory of ancient Thebes.
Valley of the Queens
The valley of the Kings gets most of the attention but the valley of the Queens is worth a visit too. Most of the tombs here are not as spectacular, but there are still beautiful and it feels like going back in time. Better yet you can often have the tombs to yourself. When I visited last December there wasn’t a single other person in any of the three tombs I went it; including no tomb guardians waiting to hassle visitors.
There are a total of 104 tombs in the valley and surrounding area. All the tombs were built from the 20th – 18th dynasties during the New Kingdom, with some of the tombs being reused at later dates. Only three tombs are open to visitors plus the tomb of Queen Nefartari, which costs an extra 1000EGP to enter.
Dier el Medina
If you want to really get off the beaten path then Dier el Medina is worth visiting. It’s the remains of an ancient village which housed the workers who built the tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. It was originally called Set Maat, and was the site of the first recorded labour strike in history.
The village has many beautiful reliefs, carvings and tombs. You can see the artisans who honed their skills building the great tombs took great pride in their work.
Dier el Medina isn’t far from the Valley of the Queens, Medinet Habu and the Ramasseum, so you can easily walk or cycle between all the sites. I recommend spending at least a few days on Luxor West Bank so you can visit all the amazing sites here without having to cross the Nile twice a day from the main city. Also, it’s a lot more relaxing on the west bank of the Nile, though there was still some hassle.