Luxor Temple

Photo of the original multi-colored painting on reliefs still intact in the inner sanctuary at Luxor Temple. Luke Hollis, 2022.


In order to understand what a person sees as they tour the Luxor Temple it is necessary to understand some basic beliefs of the ancient Egyptian religion, which lasted for over 3,000 years.

For example, why are there statues of Ramesses II, one of the pharaohs of Egypt, in this temple? Temples are usually for gods, not a king or politician. The answer is that the pharaoh was considered somewhat like a god while alive and became fully a god after he died.

The religion of ancient Egypt was complex and varied over time. The Egyptians believed there were many gods, which were involved in nature and in human life.

There were major gods, like the creator god, Amun, and the sun god, Ra, which were believed to be quite powerful, and there were many minor gods as well.

The temples of ancient Egypt were of two types. One type of temple was built to serve the spirits of deceased pharaohs. The other type was built to serve one of their many gods.

One way the people served the gods in the temple was by bringing gifts (offerings), such as food or valuable objects. This was believed to help the gods continue to be able to take care of the universe. They would also go to a temple to pray to the god or to seek guidance.

The design of the typical temple consisted of a series of enclosed halls, open air courts, and entrance gates along a path followed during festivals.

Photograph of the inner sanctuary at Luxor Temple with reliefs. Luke Hollis, 2021.

As a person entered the temple, they would see many hieroglyphs carved into the walls. These are called reliefs. These reliefs displayed many different types of information, including calendars, myths, displays of rituals, and the words to hymns. Also pharaohs would record some of their important activities, such as battles against Egypt’s enemies. Some of the later temples had many kinds of information taken from the temple library.

The temples might also contain one or more large free-standing stone structures, called obelisks. These are tall pointed pillars that symbolized the sun.

The temples also might contain statues of one or more pharaohs. There were also figures of the gods, often in the form of a sphinx and these served as guardians of the temple. The temple might contain a statue of a god, often depicted in animal form or might have a statue of the person who donated the statue.

The temples were separate and different from the pyramids of Egypt. The pyramids were built during a period of Egypt’s history as tombs for pharaohs and other very important people. A pyramid might have an associated temple outside the pyramid.

The mummies of the pharaoh or important person would be mummified and buried in the pyramid. In the temple sometimes animals were brought in as offerings and sometimes these animals were mummified.

The Egyptians believed in life after death and they believed that everyone had to pass through the Hall of Judgment after the death of their body. In this hall, the person’s heart was weighed on a scale against Ma’ats feather of truth. If the person’s heart balanced with Ma’at’s feather, then they could continue their journey into the Afterlife. If not, their journey ended. Knowing that this judgment was coming for each person is believed to have significantly affected the daily actions of these Egyptians.

There were other gods also and their roles and associations changed over the approximately 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history.

The people believed the gods needed food, drink, clothing, and rituals of purification to sustain them as the protectors of mankind against the forces of chaos.

Photograph of the reliefs in the later part of the inner sanctuary added by Alexander the Great at Luxor Temple. Luke Hollis, 2022.

In Focus

Frequently Asked Questions about Ancient Egyptian Religion

Q. How were mummies made? (What is a mummy?)

A. The earliest Egyptian mummies were produced by the drying effects of the Egyptian desert after bodies were buried in the sand. Later on, when the bodies were buried in a tomb, more was needed to preserve the bodies.

To make a mummy, the Egyptians would remove internal organs from the body and let them dry. They would cover the body with salt for 70 days and then wrap the body in cloth and place it in a coffin and sarcophagus.

Q. Why don’t we see mummies in the temples?

A. The mummies of the pharaohs and other important people were placed in tombs, either in a pyramid or underground in a chamber dug for that purpose. The temples were above ground and used for worship of a god or to honor (or worship?) the pharaoh.

Q. Why did the Egyptians mummify people?

A. The ancient Egyptians mummified people to preserve the body. They believed that the presentation of the body was important so that this person could continue to exist in the afterlife. They also placed food and objects in the tomb near the mummy to provide for survival of the body and soul of the person. A sarcophagus was a rectangular box which held the mummy.

Q. What about the pyramids?

A. The first Egyptian tombs were rectangular brick structures with an underground chamber where kings and important people were buried and a separate, above ground chamber for mortuary rituals. These structures later developed into pyramids. Pyramids were only made for royalty, like the pharaoh. Later on the construction of pyramids was stopped and pharaohs were again buried in underground tombs.

The main function of the gods was to protect humankind against the forces of chaos.

Q. What is maat?

The concept of maat, the embodiment of truth and the universal balance of the universe, was central to Egyptian religion and thought.

The goddess Ma’at or Maat (also spelled Mayet) was “the personification of truth, justice, and the cosmic order.”

“This sense of order intertwined all aspects of correct daily behavior and thought with cosmic order and harmony. Individuals were personally responsible for the maintenance of the universal order. If one transgressed against the forces of order, chaos–a state antithetical to everything the Egyptians knew and valued–would ensue and in this frightening realm, the sun would not rise, the Nile would not flood, crops would not grow, and children would abandon their elderly parents.” from "Religion in the Lives of Ancient Egyptians " by Emily Teeter, available at

Photograph of relief of several of the major gods and goddesses in the Sun Court of Ramesses II at Luxor Temple at night. Luke Hollis, 2022.


A List of Some Major Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

To become more familiar with some of the deities that you'll see on the walls of Luxor Temple, here's a list of some of the most important Egyptian gods and goddesses. The names and relationships and their associations changed over time.

Amon (Amun) was a god of the air. He was usually shown as a man wearing a crown with two vertical bird feathers. His animal symbols were the ram and the goose. In a form merged with the sun god, Re, Amon became the most powerful god in Egypt during a period of Egyptian history.

Osiris was one of Egypt’s most important gods and was the god of the underworld. He also symbolized death, resurrection and the cycle of the floods on the Nile river.

Isis was the most important goddess. She was the wife of Osiris and she represented the traditional Egyptian virtues of a wife and mother. She was one of the gods who dealt with religious ceremonies for the dead.

Horus was a sky god who was portrayed as a falcon or as a man with a falcon’s head. He was associated with war and hunting. He was believed to be the son of Isis and Osiris.

Ra was one of several gods associated with the sun. Ra was usually represented as a human body and the head of a hawk.

Set was the god of chaos, violence, deserts, and storms. He is usually depicted as an animal or as a human with the head of an animal. This head is portrayed as having a long snout (nose) and long ears and the animal body is a thin dog-like body with a straight tail.

Ptah seems to have been associated with craftsmen and builders and was worshiped at Memphis in Egypt along with his wife, the lion-headed goddess Skhmet and the god Nefertem, who may have been their son.

Montu was a god of war, represented by a man with a falcon’s head and a rearing cobra on his forehead.

Bes was the god of pleasure and protector of women in childbirth and children, shown full face instead of in profile, so that he could drive off evil.

Khnum was the god of fertility, associated with water and procreation, represented as a ram with horizontal, twisting horns.

Hathor was a goddess who embodied motherhood and fertility. She was usually shown as a cow, as a woman with the head of a cow, or as a woman with cow’s ears.

Anubis was associated with funeral-type rituals and care of the dead. He was usually shown as a jackal or as a man with the head of a jackal.

Thoth was the god of writing and wisdom. He could be shown as a baboon, an ibis, or as a man with the head of an ibis.

Bastet was a cat goddess and was shown originally as a woman with the head of a lion or wild cat. Later on she was shown as a domestic cat. She was associated with Artemis, the Greek goddess, the divine hunter and goddess of the moon.

Ma’at was the goddess of truth, justice, balance, and most importantly, order. She was shown as a woman with an ostrich feather on her head and sometimes with wings.

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