Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes, the great capital of (Upper) Egypt during the New Kingdom, and the glorious city of Amun, later to become the god Amun-Ra. The city was regarded in the Ancient Egyptian texts as wꜣs.t (approximate pronunciation: “Waset”), which meant “city of the sceptre”, and also as tꜣ ı͗pꜣt (conventionally pronounced as “ta ipet” and meaning “the shrine”) and then, in a later period, the Greeks called it Thebai and the Romans after them Thebae. Thebes was also known as “the city of the 100 gates”, sometimes being called “southern Heliopolis” (‘Iunu-shemaa’ in Ancient Egyptian), to distinguish it from the city of Iunu or Heliopolis, the main place of worship for the god Ra in the north. It was also often referred to as niw.t, which simply means “city”, and was one of only three cities in Egypt for which this noun was used (the other two were Memphis and Heliopolis); it was also called niw.t rst, “southern city”, as the southernmost of them.
The importance of the city started as early as the 11th Dynasty, when the town grew into a thriving city. Montuhotep II who united Egypt after the troubles of the first intermediate period brought stability to the lands as the city grew in stature. The Pharaohs of the New Kingdom in their expeditions to Kush, in today’s northern Sudan, and to the lands of Canaan, Phoenicia and Syria saw the city accumulate great wealth and rose to prominence, even on a world scale. Thebes played a major role in expelling the invading forces of the Hyksos from Upper Egypt, and from the time of the 18th Dynasty to the 20th Dynasty, the city had risen as the political, religious and military capital of Ancient Egypt.
The city attracted peoples such as the Babylonians, the Mitanni, the Hittites of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the Canaanites of Ugarit, the Phoenicians of Byblos and Tyre, the Minoans from the island of Crete. A Hittite prince from Anatolia even came to marry with the widow of Tutankhamun, Ankhesenamun. The political and military importance of the city, however, faded during the Late Period, with Thebes being replaced as political capital by several cities in Northern Egypt, such as Bubastis, Sais and finally Alexandria.
However, as the city of the god Amun-Ra, Thebes remained the religious capital of Egypt until the Greek period. The main god of the city was Amun, who was worshiped together with his wife, the Goddess Mut, and their son Khonsu, the God of the moon. With the rise of Thebes as the foremost city of Egypt, the local god Amon rose in importance as well and became linked to the sun god Ra, thus creating the new ‘king of gods’ Amon-Ra. His great temple, at Karnak just north of Thebes, was the most important temple of Egypt right until the end of antiquity.
Later, the city was attacked by Assyrian emperor Assurbanipal who installed the Libyan prince on the throne, Psamtik I. The city of Thebes was in ruins and fell in significance. However, Alexander the Great did arrive at the temple of Amun, where the statue of the god was transferred from Karnak during the Opet Festival, the great religious feast. Thebes remained a site of spirituality up to the Christian era, and attracted numerous Christian monks in the Roman Empire who established monasteries amidst several ancient monuments including the temple of Hatshepsut, now called el-Deir el-Bahri (“the northern monastery”).
The focal point of the Deir el-Bahari complex is the Djeser-Djeseru meaning “the Holy of Holies”, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. It is a colonnaded structure, which was designed and implemented by Senenmut, royal steward and architect of Hatshepsut, to serve for her posthumous worship and to honor the glory of Amun.
Djeser-Djeseru sits atop a series of colonnaded terraces, reached by long ramps that once were graced with gardens. It is built into a cliff face that rises sharply above it, and is largely considered to be one of the “incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt”. It is 97 feet (30 m) tall.
The unusual form of Hatshepsut’s temple is explained by the choice of location, in the valley basin of Deir el-Bahari, surrounded by steep cliffs. It was here, in about 2050 BC, that Mentuhotep II, the founder of the Middle Kingdom, laid out his sloping, terrace-shaped mortuary temple. The pillared galleries at either side of the central ramp of the Djeser Djeseru correspond to the pillar positions on two successive levels of the Temple of Mentuhotep.
Today the terraces of Deir el-Bahari only convey a faint impression of the original intentions of Senenmut. The statues of Osiris in front of the pillars of the upper colonnade, the sphinx avenues in front of the court, and the standing, sitting, and kneeling figures of Hatshepsut; these were destroyed in a posthumous condemnation of this pharaoh. The architecture of the temple has been considerably altered as a result of misguided reconstruction in the early twentieth century A.D.
The layering of Hatshepsut’s temple corresponds with the classical Theban form, employing pylon, courts, hypostyle hall, sun court, chapel, and sanctuary. The relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of the pharaoh. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast.
On either side of the entrance to the sanctuary are painted pillars with images of Hathor as the capitals. Just under the roof is an image of Wadjet, displayed as a bilateral solar symbol, flanked by two other long serpents.
The temple includes an image of Hatshepsut depicted as male pharaoh giving offerings to Horus, and to their left, an animal skin wound around a tall staff that is a symbol of the god Osiris.
The temple once was home to two statues of Osiris, a long avenue lined by sphinxes, as well as many sculptures of pharaoh Hatshepsut in different attitudes – standing, sitting, or kneeling.