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Rediscovering Egypt's Golden Dynasty

How King Tutankhamun’s family forever changed the land of the Nile

September/October 2022

Egypt Thebes Amenhotep III StatuesThe banks of the Nile River in modern-day Luxor are strewn with so many ruins of Egypt’s illustrious past that the area is sometimes called the world’s largest open-air museum. Luxor was once ancient Thebes, the erstwhile capital of Egypt, and for more than 1,000 years, the pharaohs erected temples, monuments, and sculptures there as testaments to their power, wealth, and piety. The New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 B.C.), which many scholars believe was the cultural and artistic zenith of Egyptian civilization, was an especially prolific period. Among the archaeological sites on the Nile’s east bank are two of the largest and most important temples in all of Egypt, the Karnak Temple, called the “most selected of places” by ancient Egyptians, and the Luxor Temple, known to them as the “southern sanctuary.” These two massive religious complexes, both of which celebrated the holy Theban trinity of Amun-Ra, the greatest of gods, his consort Mut, and their son Khonsu, still boast reminders of their former glory—ornate columns, giant statues, soaring obelisks, and expertly carved reliefs. The complexes were connected by an almost two-mile-long grand processional way known as the Avenue of Sphinxes, lined with more than 600 ram-headed statues and sphinxes carved in stone.


Egypt MapThe most prominent archaeological remnants on the west bank, an area known to scholars as the “city of the dead,” are a group of mortuary temples built by some of the New Kingdom’s most notable rulers, including Hatshepsut (r. ca. 1479–1458 B.C.), Ramesses II (r. ca. 1279–1213 B.C.), and Ramesses III (r. ca. 1184–1153 B.C.). Mortuary or funerary temples were not where pharaohs were entombed, but where they were commemorated and worshipped for eternity after their deaths, alongside other Egyptian gods. Dwarfing all these complexes was the one known to have been built by Amenhotep III (r. ca. 1390–1352 B.C.).


Amenhotep III presided over Egypt during an unprecedented time that is often referred to as the Egyptian Golden Age. The pharaoh initiated an extraordinary building campaign that spurred urban growth in his capital of Thebes. He commissioned monumental structures such as his mortuary temple, the scale of which is only just beginning to be understood as a result of archaeological research over the past two decades. The picture of Amenhotep III’s “golden” Thebes has only been enhanced by the recent chance discovery of a previously unknown city built during his reign, now buried amid the monuments of the west bank. Some archaeologists consider this city one of the most important discoveries of the past century in Egypt. The remnants of both the temple and the city now stand as potent reminders of an era of peace and prosperity that preceded one of the most tumultuous periods in Egyptian history.

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Tut the Antiquarian
The Pharaoh’s Daughters
Who Came Next?
A Foreign Affair