If you're planning a trip to Egypt, make time for exploring the country's myriad ancient treasures. The civilization of Ancient Egypt lasted for more than 3,000 years, during which time its rulers made their mark upon their kingdoms with a series of increasingly impressive monumental building projects. The architects of Ancient Egypt were so advanced that today, many of these monuments still survive - some of them in remarkably good condition. For thousands of years, the pyramids, temples, and sphinxes of the long-gone pharaohs have acted as an irresistible draw for visitors from all over the world.
Pyramids of Giza
Located on the outskirts of Cairo, Giza comprises three different pyramid complexes. These are the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The Great Pyramid is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one still standing today. Each complex houses the tomb of a different Egyptian pharaoh, and in front of them lies the Sphinx, whose Arabic name translates as "Father of Terror". Incredibly, this cat-like sculpture is carved from a single block of stone. Giza's pyramids and the Sphinx were constructed approximately 4,500 years ago during the fourth dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom. It is thought that the Pyramid of Khufu alone required 20,000 laborers and two million blocks of stone.
Karnak Temple Complex
In ancient times, the Karnak Temple Complex was known as "the most select of places", and dedicated to the worship of the King of all Gods, Amun-Ra. Part of the ancient city of Thebes, the complex was built over approximately 1,500 years, from the time of Senusret I to the Ptolemaic period. It was the most important place of worship for ancient Thebans, and today the complex ruins sprawl across a vast area measuring well over 240 acres. It includes spectacular temples, chapels, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban gods. It is the second largest ancient religious complex on the planet, while the Hypostyle Hall in the Great Temple of Amun is considered to be one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces.
Temple of Luxor
The Temple of Luxor sits on the east bank of the Nile in the center of Luxor, a city known in ancient times as Thebes. Construction was started by the New Kingdom pharaoh Amenophis III in approximately 1392 BC, and completed by Ramesses II. The temple was used to celebrate festivals and rituals, including the annual Theban festival of Opet. During this festival, statues of Amun-Ra, his wife Mut and their child Khonsu were carried in procession from Karnak to Luxor in a celebration of marriage and fertility. The Temple of Luxor survived as a temple under the Greeks and Romans, was once a church, and today a Muslim mosque remains in one of its halls. Luxor Temple is beautifully lit at night so it's worth visiting the site at sunset.
Valley of the Kings
From the 16th to the 11th century BC, the Egyptian pharaohs abandoned the idea of pyramids as burial places and decided to celebrate the afterlife in the Valley of the Kings. The valley is located opposite Luxor on the west bank of the River Nile. Here, the pharaohs were mummified and buried in deep tombs along with their favorite pets and sacred artifacts. Of these, the tomb of Tutankhamun is perhaps the most famous, but to date, no fewer than 64 tombs and chambers have been discovered within the valley. The Valley of the Queens lies at the southern end of the necropolis, which is where the queens and their children were interred. Many more tombs are located here, including that of Ramesses II's wife Queen Nefertari.
Located in southern Egypt, the Abu Simbel temple complex is one of the ancient world's most recognizable monuments. The temples were originally carved into a solid rock cliff during the reign of Ramesses II. It is thought that they were built to celebrate the king's victory over the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh. The Great Temple is 98 feet (30 meters) high and has four colossal statues of Ramesses sitting on his throne wearing the crowns of both Lower and Upper Egypt. The Small Temple is dedicated to Ramesses' wife, Nefertari. After the Aswan Dam was built in the 1960s, the archaeological site was cut into large blocks, which were then moved one by one to higher ground and reassembled in order to prevent flood damage.
Pyramid of Djoser
The Pyramid of Djoser is located in the Saqqara necropolis of Ancient Egyptian capital Memphis. Constructed in the 27th century BC, it is the earliest known pyramid, and its stepped sides became a prototype for the sleeker, smooth-sided pyramids at places like Giza. It was designed to hold the remains of Pharaoh Djoser by his architect, Imhotep, who set several precedents with his innovative design. At 204 feet (63 meters), it was the highest building of its time, and it is also thought to be one of the earliest examples of stone architecture. For his great achievement, Imhotep was later deified as the patron god of architects and doctors. In its heyday, the pyramid would have been covered with polished white limestone.
Temple of Horus at Edfu
The Temple of Horus at Edfu is considered to be the best preserved of all Ancient Egyptian monuments. It was built between 237 and 57 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty and honors the falcon-headed god Horus. Horus fulfilled many different roles and was known as the god of the sky as well as the god of war and hunting. 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 Nile River cruises.
Temple of Kom Ombo
The Temple of Kom Ombo is unusual in that it is a double temple, with two symmetrical halves dedicated to two different triads of gods. One half is dedicated to Horus the Elder, Tasenetnofret and their child Panebtawy. The other half is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile deity of creation and fertility, and his family Hathor and Khonsu. The temples are impressive in part because of their perfect symmetry and also because of their beautiful riverbank location. Construction was initiated by Ptolemy VI Philometor in the early 2nd 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.
Temple of Dendera
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 was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty, although it is thought that the foundations may have been laid down during the Middle Kingdom. It's a huge complex, covering more than 430,500 square feet (40,000 square meters). The Dendera Zodiac originates from this site, and there are some great paintings and reliefs, including depictions of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion. The temple is just north of Luxor and is often the first stop for those cruising the River Nile.
Temple of Isis
The Temple of Isis was built on the island of Philae, where the cult of Isis dates back to the 7th century B.C. Today's temple dates back to 370 B.C., while the most important aspects were begun by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and added to until the rule of Roman emperor Diocletian. Smaller sanctuaries and shrines near the main temple celebrate the deities involved in the Isis and Osiris myth. Philae was one of the last outposts of Egyptian religion, surviving two centuries after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. The goddess of motherhood and fertility, Isis was a popular deity whose cult spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Today, the temple has been relocated to nearby Agilkia Island to prevent flooding.