Medinet Habu, Luxor: In the kingdom of monuments

These are from collection of images I had shot on a trip to Egypt a few years ago. The Medinet Habu temple in Luxor, West Bank, is a monumental structure built by Rameses III.

Having read Norman Mailer’s ‘Ancient Evenings’ in my youth, witnessing in person the war, magic, gods, death and reincarnations; the lust, ambitions, jealousies and betrayals in the land of the dead was indeed a dream come true.

The vivid inscriptions and relief work on the massive walls and columns of this grand monument left me stupefied, maybe even a bit dizzy and disoriented in the arid air of the desert. Like the 700 page book, the stories proved too bulky to both comprehend and digest especially in a quick, unplanned, self guided tour. What I figured is this: you must spend a lifetime in Egypt to really learn, find and absorb all the facts and perspectives, an hour or two is just not enough for a temple this size.  An ancient civilisation so grand, mesmerizing and powerful, even a week that we spent in Cairo and here was inadequate.

I decided instead to capture what my eyes were seeing while listening to what was being said by my better informed friends and family accompanying me, not to mention the locals, the touts and the guides who would tag along uninvited.

Before entering the temple we stopped by at a local cafe for a bottle of water. The Egyptian owner, a middle-aged man claimed he was born in one of the courtyards inside the temple. “A brick was used to cut the umbilical cord” he added with a certain brutal look in his eye. His mother would visit the temple to rest inside its cool and airy courtyards he informed us. “Better than any modern-day air conditioner” he winked while handing over a tepid bottle of water to me. Though he left the village as a youngster to find a better life in Berlin, he said the place has a magnetic pull, hence he returned to set up this little cafe at its doorsteps. “It’s special, very special”,  he shouted behind us as we made our way to the entrance.

The entrance to the Temple is like a fortress. The colour of sandstone everywhere dazzled my senses.

The massive gateways lead from one courtyard to the other. As I found out later, the Medinet Habu is one of the best preserved mortuary temples at Thebes. The complex of buildings here dates from the time when Hatshepsut and Thutmose III dedicated a temple to Amun, around the Roman times. A Coptic church was also established in the second courtyard of the temple at some point of its long history.


The first monumental gateway leads into an open courtyard, lined with colossal statues of Ramesses III on one side, and uncarved columns on the other. The second gateway leads into a peristyle hall, again featuring columns replete with inscriptions from the life of Ramesses. One must have at least 4 hours to discover all the ramps, gateways, courtyards and chapels.

Medinet habu

The sheer scale of this temple’s architecture blew me away. The temple walls measure about 16 meters in height and contain more than 7,000 sq ft of decorated wall reliefs! Whew, imagine the extent of workmanship on display here! And to interpret the stories… no wonder archeologists from all over the world have lived and died here.


Rameses was one of the most notable warrior kings of Egypt. The temple decoration mainly consists of a series of reliefs and texts telling of the many exploits of the king. From his campaign against the Libyans to, most importantly, his war against the Sea Peoples (as I gathered later mainly the Minoans from the Greek island of Crete).


The Military theme is evident in both the inscriptions and large sculptures erected in various ante rooms. Ironically the sculpture itself was beheaded. Left me wondering ‘whodonit’!


Madinet Habu also contained luxury goods within. Frankly I was curious to know how much had been plundered by those excavating or even casually exploring this place over the thousands of years of its existence.

Medinet Habu Egypt

The temple is said to have a palace built inside it. Could these intricate hieroglyphics be telling us the story of a kingdom rich in gold, silver and precious stones as much as about deceit, betrayal and greed?

Medinet Habu Egypt

Since we were here on a spontaneous visit without a guide, it was hard to figure out what these inscriptions depicted. On some of the walls it was easy to see warfare while the others seemed to depict the daily life of the kingdom. I could see themes ranging from festivities and religious ceremonies to the Pharoah’s accession to the throne. I believe artisans would start working on inscriptions from the time a Pharoah is born!

Medina Habu Egypt

My friend struck me as a powerful woman with this royal backdrop, almost as if she were a queen walking in the courtyard of the royal palace

DSC_0173 copy

This was the burial room where Rameses III was probably mummified. So I gathered from this Egyptian who could hardly speak any English. He claimed to be a guard. There was nothing official about my interpretation of what he said.


About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
This entry was posted in Documentary, Photo essay, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Medinet Habu, Luxor: In the kingdom of monuments

  1. Geo Parkin says:

    Since our visit earlier this year, India now ranks as the most fascinating country we’ve ever visited but prior to that, it was definitely Egypt, which we visited back in 2008. The cruise down the Nile and visits to ancient sites such as Luxor will forever be etched in the memory. You’ve got some really nice shots here and I too have watched on with sadness and disbelief as recent events have unfolded and the Egyptian tourism industry, such an important source of revenue for the country, has effectively dried up. A terrible shame but hopefully a temporary state of affairs.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      I was fascinated by the images of Ramesis on a chariot similar to images of Ram (the god of truth and righteousness) in India. The two civilizations indeed have many similarities. Thanks for your comment and yeah, it is truly sad to see all that’s gone wrong in Egypt…I’m glad I made it there before the revolution, wonder what it must be like now…


  2. Looks Amazing! We are thinking that might be our next trip. Nice pictures 🙂 That last one is amazing! superb light.


  3. Know-All says:

    Excellent photographs! Awe-inspiring…is the word to describe the structure! 🙂


  4. Anonymous says:

    Magnificent! What a glorious place. Your friend does look a like queen there.


  5. The size is unbelievable. Great shots too.


  6. shabnamphoto says:

    Thanks Bente, I had almost sensed an unrest whilst in Cairo in 2010 just months before the revolution. Life was a lot more peaceful in Luxor. So visit you can I think. Thanks for being the solitary visitor on this post and enjoying it too!


  7. Egypt is one of my favorite countries, so hope to go to Luxor too, some day. We must cross our fingers that this magnificent country can find peace and democracy soon. Wonderful post, I really enjoyed it.


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