If you are traveling to Egypt, here's a list of ancient Egyptian sites you should not miss. Ancient Egypt's civilization spanned more than 3,000 years and despite it coming to an end around 2000 years ago, there are many well-preserved temples, pyramids, tombs and monuments to visit. Tourists have been coming to Egypt and admiring Hypostyle Halls, Birth Houses, reliefs, painted tombs, mummies, massive columns, the Sphynx, and the architectural marvel of pyramids, for thousands of years.
There are 3 main pyramids in Giza: the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops), The Pyramid of Kafhre and the smaller Pyramid of Menkaura. Each Pyramid is a tomb to a different King of Egypt. In front of the pyramids lies the Sphinx, or Abu al-Hol in Arabic, "Father of Terror". The cat-like sculpture is carved out of a single block of stone. Giza's pyramids and the Sphinx were constructed in the 4th dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, arguably the first great civilization on earth (about 5000 years ago). Even though there is still debate about how the pyramids at Giza were built, most agree it wasn't aliens. It's thought that about 20,000 laborers were used and 2 million blocks of stone, each weighing 2.5 tons, just to build the Khufu.
In ancient times, Karnak was known as Ipet-isut, 'The most select of places', it is the home of the King of all Gods, Amun-Ra. The temple complex of Karnak was built over a time period of 1500 years and was the most important place of worship in ancient Egypt. The site is huge, over 240 acres, and is a spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban gods. It is thought to be the largest surviving religious complex in the world. The Hypostile Hall in the Great Temple of Amun is considered to be one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces.
The Temple of Luxor, situated in the center of Luxor town, was built by the New Kingdom Pharaoh Amenophis III and finished off by Ramses II, it is 4000 years old. This spectacular temple was an important place for celebrating festivals and rituals. The festival of Opet was held here, one of Ancient Egypt's most important festivals. Statues of every God were carried or brought on barges, from Karnak to Luxor, the festivities lasted almost a month. The Temple of Luxor survived as a temple under the Greeks and Romans, was once a church, and a Muslim mosque still remains in one of the halls. Luxor Temple is beautifully lit at night so it's worth visiting the site at sunset.
During the 18th and 20th dynasties, the Egyptian pharaohs abandoned the idea of pyramids as burial places and decided to celebrate the afterlife in the "Valley of Kings" across the Nile river from the town of Luxor. Here, Kings were mummified and buried in deep tombs, along with their favorite pets and sacred artifacts. Tutankhamun's tomb discovered in the 1920's is perhaps the best known.
The Valley of the Queens lies at the southern end of the necropolis. This is where the queens and their children were interred. Only four tombs are open to the public including Queen Nefertari's tomb.
Next to the Pyramids of Giza, Abu Simbel is perhaps the most recognized monument of ancient Egypt. The temples were originally carved out of a mountain during the 13th century BC, when Ramses II reigned. The largest temple (over 65 ft high) depicts Ramses himself, sitting on a throne, wearing the crowns of both Lower and Upper Egypt. In the 1960's the entire temple complex had to be moved in order to save it from flooding, after the Aswan dam was built. Between 1964 and 1968, the archaeological site was cut into large blocks, each weighing around 20 tonnes. The blocks were moved one by one, and carefully reassembled, farther from the Nile river and on higher ground.
Pharaoh Djoser, with his architect Imhotep, built the very first Egyptian pyramid around 2630 BC. Djoser's pyramid was built in Saqqara, the necropolis of Ancient Egypt's capital, Memphis. Imhotep built a step pyramid that reached 204 feet (62 meters), making it the highest building of that time. It is also thought to be one of the first stone buildings of its time. For his great achievement, Imhotep was later deified and became the patron god of architects and doctors. The pharaoh's tomb lay deep under the pyramid, but its riches were already plundered thousands of years ago. Tourists and pilgrims have been visiting Djoser's pyramid for more than 3,000 years!
The Temple of Horus at Edfu is considered the best preserved temple from Ancient Egypt, it was built from 237 to 57 BC during the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Horus was a very popular deity, most often depicted with the head of a falcon. Horus took on many forms and gradually morphed from "god of the sky", to become the patron of the "living ruler". The temple complex is huge, and has an impressive pylon and birth house, with excellent reliefs and carvings depicting the various stories of Horus. Inscriptions called "Building Texts" were also preserved and narrate the history of the Temple's construction. Edfu is located about halfway between Aswan and Luxor, and is a very common stop on a Nile cruise.
More About: Temple of Horus
There are two adjacent temples in Kom Ombo, one dedicated to Horus the Elder, the falcon god of sky and war. The other temple was built for the crocodile deity - Sobek, god of creation and fertility. The temples are impressive in part, because of their perfect symmetry and perfect location on the banks of the Nile river, close to Aswan. The building of the temples was initiated by Ptolemy VI Philometor in the early second century BC. Both temples depict their respective gods along with their families and were built using local sandstone. The temples offer excellent examples of hieroglyphs, carved columns and reliefs. A museum with mummified crocodiles is on site.
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The Dendera complex houses one of the best preserved Ancient Egyptian temples, the Temple of Hathor. Hathor was the goddess of love, motherhood and joy, commonly depicted in the form of a cow with a sun disc. The Temple of Hathor dates back to the Ptolemaic dynasty, it was built between 30 BC and 14 AD, but it is thought that the foundations may have been laid down as far back as the 4th dynasty. It's a huge complex, covering more than 40,000 square meters. The Dendera Zodiac originates from this site, and there are some great paintings and reliefs, including depictions of Cleopatra on the walls along with her son Caesarion. The temple is just north of Luxor and often a first stop for folks cruising the Nile.
More About: Temples of Dendera
Philae temple is renowned for its popular goddess as well as its beautiful location on an island in Lake Nasser. (It was actually relocated during the building of the High Dam). The main temple is dedicated to Isis, goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility. The sanctuaries and shrines, including smaller temples, all celebrate the deities involved in the Isis and Osiris myth. The first temple was built in 370 BC by Nectanebo I. Philae was one of the last outposts of Egyptian religion, surviving two centuries after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. The sacred island attracted many Greek and Roman pilgrims, who came to pray for healing from the Egyptian goddess. Likewise, many Victorian tourists were attracted to Philae.
Esna is the location of one of last great temples built by the ancient Egyptians. The temple complex is situated south of Luxor in the village of Esna. It's 9 meters lower than the rest of the town and dates back to the Greek and Roman periods. The main temple was dedicated to Khnum, when it was first built. Khnum was an important God, he was thought to be the creator of children, which he made at a potters wheel from clay, and then placed in the mothers' womb. Only a small part of the temple complex has been excavated to date, the hypostyle hall, but this is very well preserved. The rest lies under the present town.