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Of all history’s great civilizations, few capture the imagination like Egypt. Nourished by the Nile, this land of pharaohs, hidden tombs, animal-headed gods, and astonishing monuments has fascinated just about everyone, from its ancient contemporaries to the modern-day globetrotter.
But after that initial wave of pyramid-induced awe, which temples must be seen on Egypt tours? It’s a matter of opinion. It can also be overwhelming! A little familiarity with Egypt’s history can help prevent things from looking a bit samey after the first two or three temples.
It’s impossible for us to list all of Egypt’s worthwhile temples here, but we have put together the “cliff notes” on those temples included on Goway’s Classic Egypt itinerary, along with one popular add-on, the temples at Abu Simbel.
The Luxor and Karnak temples are all that remain of Thebes, Egypt’s capital from the 20th century BC, right up until the New Kingdom. Guarded by enormous statues of Ramesses II and Tutankhamon, Luxor Temple was the setting for Opet festival rituals, which supposedly reconciled the pharaoh’s humanity with his divinity. A boulevard of sphinxes connected it to the much grander Karnak Temple, many of which remain intact, particularly at the ‘Luxor’ end.
A city of temples, the enormous Karnak temple complex remains the world’s second largest religious structure. Construction lasted from around 2055BC to 100AD, and many rulers left their mark on Karnak over that time. Like Luxor, the complex venerates the trio of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. As the head of the family triad, Amun gets the largest segment, and wandering the forest of columns in the great hypostyle hall gives you a sense of Karnak’s grandeur, and what it meant to Thebes at the time.
Temple of Hatshepsut
From her gender to a thwarted attempt to erase her from history, the female pharaoh Hatshepsut remains a source of ongoing fascination. Nowhere is her legacy and influence more evident than at her mortuary temple in the Theban Necropolis. Painstaking reconstruction efforts have restored at least two levels of this once ruined wonder, found near the Valley of the Kings. The reliefs inside tell of Hatshepsut’s life, including a relief sculpture reciting the tale of her divine birth.
The Colossi of Memnon (Amenhotep III)
The Colossi of Memnon guard the entrance to what remains of the Temple of Amenhotep III. The pharaoh’s face has unfortunately fallen to decay on both statues, a tragically apt metaphor for the temple’s fate. Once an even larger temple than Karnak, its most crippling design flaw was also its most unique feature. The temple was deliberately built on the Nile flood plain, ensuring the rising waters would submerge all but its inner sanctum before receding each year to symbolize rebirth. Today, the temple is more a symbol of poor planning than rebirth, but it remains one of the necropolis’ must-sees, thanks to its faceless guardians.
Temple of Horus at Edfu
This complex marks the place where the falcon headed god, Horus, fought Set, murderer of Osiris and the supposed bringer of chaos, deceit, and disaster. That’s quite a claim to fame for the small city of Edfu, located on the Nile roughly halfway between Aswan and Luxor. Rich with detail, this is one of the country’s best preserved ancient temples, and an essential Nile cruise stop on Egypt tours.
Temple of Kom Ombo
Despite some damage, the dual temple dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and Horus the Elder remains one of the most beautiful in all Egypt. Part of that beauty comes from its perfect symmetry, in addition to the incredible reliefs and carvings that cover Kom Ombo’s walls. Even some of the original colour has survived, so it isn’t hard to imagine how awesome it must have looked in its heyday.
Temple of Philae
Honouring Isis, the wife of Osiris, mother of Horus, and sister of the treacherous Set, Philae was so beloved it became part of UNESCO’s rescue project during the construction of the Aswan Dam. Reconstructed brick by brick on Agilika Island, it’s now Aswan’s most spectacular ancient sight. Despite constant assault from the Nile’s waters, many parts of the temple remain remarkably intact. Arguably the best of Egypt’s many sound and light shows takes visitors on an immersive journey through the temple as the story unfolds.
The temples of Abu Simbel are perhaps Egypt’s most recognizable facades. A massive relocation effort saved them from a watery fate at the bottom of Lake Nasser, and today, both temples appear as they did in their original location. Even the broken colossi have been left in state. Reconstruction of the temple interiors was equally meticulous, ensuring there’s more to take in here than just a great photo op.
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