the name attached today both to the present-day metropolis of the region that was ancient Thebes and to the temple, situated beside the Nile's eastern bank, which adjoins the town (25°41′N, 32°24′E). It derives from the Arabic al-uksur, “the fortifications,” which in turn was adapted from the Latin castrum, which referred to the Roman fort built around the temple in the later third century CE. The temple's earlier name, in Egyptian, was ipt rsyt, the “southern sanctuary,” referring to the restricted “holy of holies” at the temple's southern end, wherein its principal god dwelt. This being was a fertility god, and his statue was modeled on that of the similarly endowed Min of Coptos. He was called “Amun, preeminent in his sanctuary” which was later shortened to “Amenemope.”

Despite the presence of elements from Middle Kingdom buildings reused in its construction, the Luxor temple can be traced back no earlier than the eighteenth dynasty. Perhaps the earliest reference to it in ancient records comes from the twenty-second year of the reign of Ahmose (c.1548 BCE), on a pair of stelae left at Maâsara quarry, in the hills east of Memphis; this text records the extraction of limestone for a number of temples, including “the mansion of Amun in the Sou[thern] Sanctuary.” When that building was constructed, and what it looked like, are both unknown, for structural evidence appears at Luxor only during the joint reign of Hatshepsut (c. 1502–1482) and Thutmose III: these elements are built into the triple shrine erected by Ramesses II (c. 1304–1237) inside his first court, which reuses elements from an original chapel dedicated by these mid-eighteenth dynasty rulers. This small building had apparently been the last of six “rest stops” built along the road that brought Amun and his circle of gods from Karnak to Luxor every year during the Opet festival. Although the axis of Ramesses II's courtyard is skewed vis-à-vis the rest of the temple, so that it aligns with the road to Karnak outside, the shrine is situated in a way that maintains an axial relationship with the sanctuary inside the temple—a peculiarity that might suggest that the Ramessid triple shrine was deliberately rebuilt on the same spot as its eighteenth dynasty predecessor. No other remains of a Thutmosid temple at Luxor can be identified, nor is it clear whether it was this building or an earlier one that witnessed the god Amun's alleged “prediction” of Hatshepsut's kingship in the second year of an unspecified ruler; although many fragments dating to Thutmose III have been found recycled in later buildings on the site, it cannot yet be proved that they originally came from there. Thus, any remnants of a mid-eighteenth dynasty temple at Luxor are still to be sought beneath the present temple.

Most of the temple of Luxor in its present state was built by Amenhotpe III (c. 1410–1372) in three phases. First was the temple proper, at the south end of the site. Behind a columned portico lies the entrance to what was originally another columned hall, flanked by a number of chapels that accommodated the processional shrines of Amun (west) as well as Khonsu and Mut (east) when they visited Luxor during the Opet festival. The columns inside the hall were removed in later antiquity when this room was transformed into the sanctuary of the Roman fort: an apse, painted with figures of Diocletian (284–305 CE) and his three coregents, was inserted into the back wall at this time (blocking the earlier doorway), with the emperors' entourage painted onto the plaster that covered the pharaonic reliefs throughout the rest of this room (see John Baines and Jaromἰr Malek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt [Oxford, 1980], p. 87, for nineteenth-century paintings of these Roman decorations, which are now nearly all destroyed). The small chapels at the sides of the original hall have been identified as belonging to the divine king's processional shrine (east) and his ka-statue (west), when they were lodged inside the temple during the Opet festival. Beyond the modern doorway that now cuts through the bottom of the Roman apse is the temple's offering hall: its walls are carved with offering scenes that feature Amenhotpe III, sometimes accompanied by a priestess called the “god's wife”; and a doorway at the room's southeast corner led originally to a passage through which provisions and river water were introduced. The room that opens to the south of the offering hall was the “bark sanctuary” that accommodated the boat-shaped processional shrine of Amun of Luxor, along with that belonging to Amun of Karnak on its annual visit. The door that now connects this room with the “holy of holies” to the south is a modern descendant of a doorway inserted during Greco-Roman times: in Amenhotpe III's original plan, these areas did not connect except symbolically, through a gigantic false door (of which virtually nothing remains) on the bark sanctuary's south wall. The room itself is now filled by an open-ended shrine that was inserted at the instance of Alexander the Great, probably in recognition of the Luxor temple's role in Amun's begetting the pharaoh (Alexander equated Amun with Zeus and regarded him as his own heavenly father).

This “divine birth” was ritually reenacted in a pair of rooms east of the bark sanctuary and the offering hall. In the so-called birth room the scenes that show Amenhotpe III being engendered by Amun and then recognized as king by other divine beings are prototypes for those found inside the mammisi or birth-houses that were regularly attached to temples in Greco-Roman times. Themes of recognition and coronation also dominate in the room to the south, beside the bark sanctuary; and along the east walls of both these rooms are niches to hold statues of some of the divinities associated with the cult at Luxor. Such a transition to the temple's role as a divine residence is not haphazard, for it is in the southeast corner of the birth suite that we find the only access to the “southern sanctuary” proper. In this restricted area dwelt Amun of Luxor, his statue kept inside a commodious chapel, with statues of other divinities lodged in niches off the outer rooms of this suite. The architecture of the suite's central hall, with its twelve columns (perhaps corresponding to the hours of the day and the night), along with the reliefs carved in this room and Amun's inner sanctum, are suggestive of the cyclical regeneration of nature, which includes the god himself when he is symbolically brought back to life through the Opening of the Mouth ceremony performed by his son, the king. These themes in the late eighteenth dynasty decoration of the Luxor temple may well anticipate the more complex “rebirths” that would be enacted later, when the god of Luxor regularly took part in the Feast of the Decade.


Luxor. The colomade of Tmankhamun at the temple of Luxor.

The second phase of Amenhotpe III's work at Luxor involved the construction of a “sun court” in front of his temple. His third and final phase, the processional colonnade, was unfinished at his death, but its decoration was completed after the Amarna period by Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb (with the latter usurping his two predecessors' work here, as well as most of their restorations inside the temple): its lowest register is inscribed with a notably detailed depiction of the Opet festival procession from Karnak to Luxor, and back again. Although the colonnade was conceived as a glorified entranceway, Ramesses II went on to build a courtyard in front of it, with statues placed between the columns of its porticoes, and obelisks (along with other colossal statues set in front of its pylon. With these additions, the plan of the Luxor temple was formally complete. Subsequent alterations at various points inside and around the temple did not substantially alter its appearance during pharaonic times. More significantly, the road to Karnak was refurbished and lined with new sphinxes by Nektanebo I (380–363 BCE); and a number of new buildings adorned the courtyard in front of the temple in late antiquity, of which a chapel dedicated to Serapis by Trajan (98–117 CE) is the best preserved.

With Diocletian's building of the Roman fort around the temple, much of the complex must have been placed off limits to the native clergy, although evidence from within the temple proper shows alterations that permitted access to the offering hall and sanctuary areas. The christianizing of Luxor is marked by the occasional introduction of religious symbols into the pagan reliefs and by the construction of churches—most of them in the areas around the temple, but in one case on the east side of its first court. Following the Islamic conquest of Egypt, this structure was superseded by the mosque of Abu'l-Haggag, the Muslim patron saint of Luxor, who continues to be venerated at this site today.

See also KARNAK.


  • Abd el-Razik, Mahmud. Die Darstellungen und Texte des Sanktuars Alexanders des Grossen im Tempel von Luxor. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, 16. Mainz, 1984. Publication of the reliefs on Alexander the Great's bark sanctuary.
  • Abd el-Razik, Mahmud. Das Sanktuar Amenophis' III. in Luxor-Tempel. Waseda University Studies in Egyptian Culture, 3. Tokyo, 1986. Publication of the reliefs inside the bark sanctuary of Amenhotpe III.
  • Barguet, Paul. “Luxor.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 3: 1103–1107. Wiesbaden, 1980. A survey article, in French, that includes references to much older literature.
  • Bell, Lanny. “Luxor Temple and the Cult of the Royal Ka.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44 (1985), 251–294. Convincingly explains the role of Luxor Temple in the ritual engendering of the pharaoh that took place each year during the Opet festival.
  • Bell, Lanny. “The New Kingdom ‘Divine Temple’: The Temple of Luxor.” In Temples of Ancient Egypt, edited by Byron E. Shafer, pp. 127–184, 281–302. London and New York, 1998. This study considers how the different parts of the temple functioned in connection with its basic ritual purposes.
  • Brunner, Hellmut. Die südlichen Räume des Tempels von Luxor. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, 18. Mainz, 1977. Publication of the reliefs inside the “southern sanctuary” inside Luxor Temple.
  • Epigraphic Survey. Reliefs and Inscriptions at Luxor Temple. 2 vols. Oriental Institute Publications 112, 116. Chicago, 1994, 1998. Definitive publication, with translations and commentary, of the reliefs of Luxor Temple's great processional colonnade, including fragments that can be reintegrated into the standing walls.
  • Gayet, Albert J. Le temple de Louxor. Mémoires publiés par les membres de la Mission Archéologique Française au Caire. Paris, 1894. Very poor, but still indispensable, collection of drawings of reliefs from the temple proper.
  • Habachi, Labib. “The Triple Shrine of the Theban Triad in Luxor Temple.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Kairo 20 (1965), 93–97. Account of the materials, dating originally to Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, that were recycled into Ramesses II's shrine in the first court at Luxor.
  • Kuentz, Charles. La face sud du massif est du pylône de Ramsès II à Louxor. Cairo, 1971. Publication of Ramesses II's reliefs on the back wall of his pylon.
  • Lacau, Pierre, and Henri Chevrier. Une chapelle d'Hatshepsout à Karnak. 2 vols. Cairo, 1977–1979. Publication, with translations and commentary, of the reliefs and inscriptions that document the Opet procession from Karnak to Luxor during Hatshepsut's reign.
  • Monneret de Villard, Ugo. “The Temple of the Imperial Cult at Luxor.” Archaeologia, or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity 45 (1953), 85–105. This thorough account of the Roman's transformation of this room also decisively rebuts earlier opinions that identified it as a Christian church.
  • Murnane, William J. “False Doors and Cult Practices inside Luxor Temple.” In Mélanges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar, vol. 2, edited by Paule Posener-Kriéger, pp. 137–148. Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, Bibliothèque d'Étude, 97.2. Cairo, 1985. This study traces how the bark sanctuary was connected to the “holy of holies” and other parts of the temple, from Greco-Roman times back to the eighteenth dynasty.
  • el-Sahghir, Mohammed, Jean-Claude Golvin, Michel Reddé, el-Sayed Hegazy, and Guy Wagner. Le camp romain de Louqsor. Mémoires de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, 83. Cairo, 1996. Fundamental publication of the remains of the Roman fort built around Luxor Temple in the latter third century CE.

William J. Murnane