Through sheer good luck and great timing, I was fortunate enough to be in Luxor for the spectacular opening of the Avenue of Sphinxes. Like many others, I watched the ceremony and celebrations on television, in my case at the Luxor apartment of Egyptian friends Waleed and Amira, enjoying the fabulous fish feast they prepared. We could hear the fireworks exploding overhead at the end of the lavish and magical event.
Determined to make the most of actually being in Luxor for such a momentous occasion, I was among the first foreign visitors to walk along the Avenue of Sphinxes within 48 hours of its opening (teams of people were there dismantling the stage and lighting systems that hosted the president and various dignitaries and beamed the event around the world).
The short video clip below shows me talking about this remarkable place and how it felt to be among the first to visit. Excavations of the Sphinx Avenue (also known as the ‘Ram’s Road’) started seriously in 1949. There are black & white photographs displayed on huge poster boards along the processional route showing various stages of excavation work through recent decades.
In the years since I first visited Luxor in 1984, it has changed out of all recognition. The decision to clear the entire 2.7km processional route between Karnak and Luxor temples was taken in 2002. Since then, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has funded an enormous project to remove significant parts of the city to excavate out the original Sphinx Avenue. This has included re-housing large numbers of people as their homes were demolished and also moving shops, mosques and even a police station.
The Avenue runs between the two temples, approximately 2-3 meters below ground level. It is possible to walk the entire processional route with tickets to visit both Karnak and Luxor Temples. The Avenue of Sphinxes was originally conceived and building started under Amenhotep III (the Magnificent) in the middle of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, circa 1375 BCE and completed under Nactanebo II of the 30th Dynasty, around 375 BCE. The ram-headed sphinxes at the Karnak end depict the Theban God Amun-Ra, while the human-headed sphinxes depict Nactanebo, the last indigenous pharaoh of Egypt. The lion body of the sphinx is a symbol of power and protection.
In ancient times, the Sphinx Avenue was used for the annual Open Festival. This was a major religious festival in the Theban calendar when the barque shrines (a kind of boat carried on the shoulders of priests) of the Theban Triad of Gods, Amun, Mut and Khonsu were carried between the two East Bank Temples amid scenes of rejoicing and revelry.
Excavations have revealed a number of wineries along the route, where wine was pressed and filtered. I imagine there was much singing, dancing and possible debauchery ! The wineries date from the Roman era so it seems the processional way was still in use for festivals and rejoicing.
While many of the actual sphinxes are missing having been lost or destroyed over the millennia, it is still possible to look along the length of the route and imagine what it must have been like in ancient times. It is wonderful to be able to stand midway along the route and see the entrance pylon of Luxor Temple in one direction and a partially reconstructed pylon and one of the obelisks of Karnak in the other.
I feel incredibly lucky to have walked along the Avenue of Sphinxes. Now home again as Omicron, the new Covid variant rages across the world, I feel even more so. Definitely inspiration for more books as excavation and restoration work continues…
Fiona Deal, Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, fiction books all available on Amazon. To join Merry on her adventures please click on each picture for the link.