Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part III: The First Pylon and the Peristyle Courtyard of Ramesses II

Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part III:

The First Pylon and the Peristyle Courtyard of Ramesses

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An evening view of the First Pylon at the Temple of Luxor

The buildings at the northern end of the Luxor temple on the East Bank at Luxor, Egypt, including its modern entrance, are the newest additions to the temple proper, mostly dating from the 19th Dynasty reign of Ramesses II. They consist most prominently of the First Pylon and the Great Court.

The two towers of the First Pylon, measuring 24 meters high and 65 meters wide, have a facade that is carved in sunken relief. Those reliefs depict Ramesses II's Battle of Kadesh, fought during the fifth year of his reign. Luckily, this event is recorded in a number of temples, because unfortunately, the facade of this pylon has been badly eroded and therefore this rendering of the account is difficult to discern. On the facade of the west, or right tower, the king meets with his princes and advisors to discuss tactics. He can be seen nearby driving his war chariot into the battle. On the east, or left tower, the battle is engaged and the dead and dying enemies lie scattered across the battlefield.

A drawing of the left pylon showing the depiction of the Battle of Kadesh

Other later kings, particularly those of the Nubian Dynasty, also recorded their military victories on these walls (Shabaka on the inner pylon walls). The pylon towers once supported four enormous cedar-wood flag masts from which pennants streamed.

columns and monumental statues in the Courtyard of Ramesses II

On the gateway jambs between the pylons, Ramesses II stands with various gods.

The First Pylon forms the front of the Great Court, situated immediately behind the pylon. The name of the court, referred to as a "feast court", was wsekhet khefet-her, meaning "The Temple of Ramesses Meriamon united with eternity". This peristyle court, with a double row of 74 papyrus bud columns with cylindrical shafts around its four sides supporting a narrow roof around its perimeter, measures 57 meters deep by 50.9 meters wide. The court is not square, but rather in the form of a parallelogram.

Floor plan of this part of the temple

Colossal granite statues of Ramesses II representing him striding with a diminutive Queen Nefertari were placed between the columns of the southern part of the Peristyle Courtyard. The colossus to the west was "Re'-of-the-Rulers", a name borne by other statues at Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum.

The northeastern, or left front quadrant of the court has never been excavated. Here, a deep layer of debris, along with the remains of an early Christian church are buried beneath the mosque and tomb of Abu el-Haggag. The minaret of this mosque was constructed in the 13th century, and the mosque itself is an important monument in its own right. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that this area will ever be cleared to its dynastic levels. When visiting, look up at the mosque to see the original entrance portal, some eight meters above the current ground level. That was the ground level of the temple as late as the 19th century.

A view of the Mosque ofAbu el-Haggag. The arrow indicates the old portal interance when it was built originally built. Watch out for that first step!

The walls around the court are adorned with depictions of Ramesses II censing, making offerings with chanting priests, and of Thoth recording gifts. On the southwest wall in the right corner, the scenes are most interesting. There, on the west, or right wall, is a collection of bulls with beautiful garlands who are being led to the temple for sacrifice. This procession is led, as recorded on the south or rear wall, by seventeen sons of the King. Fortunately, their names and titles are also recorded beside each figure, and we believe that the sons appear in the order of their birth, from oldest to youngest, beginning with Amenherkhepshef at the left. In front of them is a well drawn representation of the First Pylon of this temple that shows it with flags flying, obelisks and statues clearly and accurately depicted.

Nefatari rests her hand affectionately on Ramesses II's leg

A grand statue of Ramesses II and Queen Nefertari, one of several originally carved for Amenhotep III and usurped by Ramesses II, is situated in the southeast or left rear corner of the court. This is a very powerful rendition that depicts the king confidently striding forward. Here, he is the ideal, muscled and permanently youthful ruler. Finely carved, seated statues of the king also flank the door into the next section of the temple.

In the northwest, or right front corner of the court, the small triple shrine of the Theban Triad was originally erected by Hatshpsut in another location more central than its current one. Because of the problems between her and her step son, Tuthmosis III, he usurped the monument for his own after her death. Later, it was taken by Ramesses II as his own, and we believe that it was he who rebuilt it at its current location. From left to right, the three shrines are dedicated to Mut, Amun and Khonsu. The building was at one time the southernmost of the barque stations along the processional route between Karnak and Luxor Temples, playing an important role in the ceremony. Four graceful papyrus columns stand on its portico.

A view of the rear of the First Pylon, with the mosque on the right and behind the other pylon to the left (actually the right pylon as this is a rear view) is the barque shrine

The pylon and the courtyard beyond, both built by Ramesses II, is oddly out of alignment with the axis established by the other pre-existent buildings within the temple that were earlier built mostly by Amenhotep III. This non-alignment may have resulted from consideration for the small shrine built during the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Hatshepsut. Some scholars also think that the alignment may have been made so that the pylon would be on the same axis as the processional way leading to the Karnak Temple.

See also:






Reference Number

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Harvard University Press

ISBN 0-674-00376-4

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Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011