History of Luxor, from Thebes to the arrival of the Arabs

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Luxor, the ancient Thebes, is one of the most representative places ever for Egyptian history and civilization thanks to the extraordinary and countless temples that are located here

Thebes, from the origins to the third intermediate period

According to recent archaeological discoveries, the first “official” settlement of Thebes dates back to 3200 BC; at that time it was a small inhabited center compared to Menfi, the capital. Its fate began to change starting from 2150 BC, a period in which for the first time the Theban nobility began to emerge, taking advantage of a political situation that was becoming more confused with the passage of time. In 2050 BC Pharaoh Mentuhotep I definitively put an end to the chaos, giving life to the Middle Kingdom and placing Thebes as its capital for the first time. With the XII dynasty, the capital was moved to Ity Tawy but, after the arrival of the Hyksos and their conquest of Memphis, the city became the headquarters of the Egyptian resistance to foreign excessive power, so much so that, in the 18th century BC, the pharaoh Ahmose I will leave from here to free Egypt; at the end of this military campaign, the capital returned to being Thebes. During this period it became one of the most beautiful and richest centers in the world, starting some of the buildings that still make it famous today; In fact, the Karnak temple complex dates back to this period, as well as the first trade routes with the countries south of Egypt. To absolutely mention the work of Amenhotep III, called “the Magnificent”, who gave life to the palace complex of Malkata, the funerary temple of the same name and finally the famous Temple of Luxor, still considered a real marvel today.


The son of Amenhotep III was the famous Akhenaten, who developed the cult of Atun, considered a sort of “proto-monotheism”, and who moved the capital from Thebes to Amarna, a new town founded by himself between Memphis and Thebes , the two hearts of the Egyptian kingdom. His son, the illustrious Tutankhamun, moved the capital back to the first settlement, but he also undertook to renovate and enlarge the temples of the second, certifying and expanding the role of one as an administrative center and the other as a religious center. The definitive division between North and South will then take place with Ramses II, probably the greatest Egyptian ruler ever who, if on the one hand he will make the area around Thebes an authentic jewel, making it live its most flourishing period ever, on the other he founded its capital, Pi-Ramses, on the Nile Delta. Under Ramses III the city apparently continued to prosper but inside it was brewing, like all Egypt, an endless crisis. Although apparently extremely rich, the Kingdom of Egypt hid very serious economic problems which, when they exploded, led to an irremediable decline, marked by the assassination of Ramses III in 1155 BC. . With the death of the last ruler of this dynasty, Ramses XI, Thebes gave birth to the parallel dynasty of the First Prophets of Amun, which will rule Upper Egypt during the XXI and XXII dynasty.

The decline of Thebes

During the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt experienced one of the most difficult and complicated moments, with a political fragmentation that had reached unprecedented levels and a Libyan dynasty (the XXII) that had even expelled the Theban priests from their city, prompting them to retreat into Nubia. Here they will give life to a new dynasty which, thanks to the pharaoh Shabaka, managed to reconquer much of the Lower Nile, but then clashed with the Assyrians, who invaded the kingdom in 667 BC. following Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal’s father, occupying the territories up to Memphis and demanding tributes. In 663 BC Tanutami, the last ruler of the 25th dynasty briefly managed to retake the ancient administrative capital, but when Ashurbanipal definitively returned the end of Thebes, which was sacked and which since then has never fully recovered.


In 525 BC Egypt was dominated by the Persians and later by Alexander the Great who personally visited the city. Nevertheless, Greek power was always badly digested and tolerated, so much so that Thebes was one of the main centers of revolt against the Ptolemies, who never took harsh measures due to the still central role played by the clergy. The decline, however, was inexorable, to the point that sources from the 1st century AD. they describe it as a simple village.


The subsequent history of Luxor (from the Arabic “al-Uqṣur”) is mainly linked to a very particular place of worship, which has been continuously active for 3400 years: the Abu al-Hajjaj mosque. In fact, it was built in the 14th century BC. by pharaoh Amenhotep III called “the Magnificent”, becoming a church in 395 and a mosque in 640. Abu al-Hajjaj, specifically, was a Sufi master born in Baghdad in 1150 and related to the prophet Muhammad who decided to settle here, renovating the old mosque and bringing its teachings; his work was so much appreciated that it is still celebrated and remembered today with feasts and songs.


Since 1979 the city and its archaeological remains have been declared a World Heritage Site and since then the local economy has mainly revolved around tourism.

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