Ancient Thebes, Egypt - History and Facts | History Hit

Ancient Thebes, Egypt

Thebes is one of the most well known Ancient Egyptian cities, dazzling visitors with its grandiose ruins since Roman times.

Teet Ottin

04 Jan 2023
Image Credit: matias planas / Shutterstock.com

About Ancient Thebes, Egypt

The ancient city served as the capital of Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom Egypt, showcasing a civilisation during its absolute zenith. Thebes, with its Necropolis, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

History of Ancient Thebes

Founded during the Early Dynastic period of Lower Egypt, Thebes was known by the local people as Wase or Wo’se. The Greek name may have derived it from Ta-ope, the ancient Egyptian name for Luxor. During the coming millennia the city would see great periods of glory before a stark decline, which left nothing but ruins in its wake.

Some of the earliest buildings surviving to the present day are roughly 4,000 years old and stem from the 11th dynasty. This period marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, during which Thebes served regularly as the capital city. Ancient Egyptians began calling the great home of their rulers Nowe or Nuwe (meaning ‘City of Amon’). Following the fall of the Middle Kingdom and the start of the Second Intermediate Period, the lords of Thebes played a crucial role in reunifying Egypt and kickstarting the New Kingdom in the 16th century BC.

The last great Golden Age of Ancient Egypt would see Thebes at its greatest. Pharaohs would bring unbelievable riches from their conquests in Nubia and the Near East, building great palaces and temples. The period would also see the establishment of the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes.

By the end of the New Kingdom a period of decline set in, culminating in the sack of the ancient capital by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC. Thebes never fully recovered and would dwindle down to the size of a village by the start of the Roman period.

Thebes today

The ruins of ancient Thebes lie within the modern Egyptian city of Luxor. Many of the buildings in and around the former capital are still standing, drawing a huge amount of tourists each year. One of the most impressive structures is the Karnak Temple Complex, which was the main place of worship during the 18th dynasty.

Other monumental survivors from the ancient past are Hatshepsut‘s mortuary temple, which is considered to be one of the greatest ancient pieces of architecture, Luxor Temple, which is connected to Karnak Temple by the Avenue of Sphinxes, Ramesseum, a memorial temple to Ramses II and the Colossi of Memnon, two monumental statues of pharaoh Amenhotep III. Many of these sites were famous tourist attractions already during ancient Roman times.

Getting to Thebes

You can take a plane from Cairo to Luxor airport, which lies on the outskirts of the city, roughly 6 miles from the ancient centre. From there, taking a cab is the easiest option to reach the inner city. There are some international flights that land in Luxor airport, with seasonal flights taking off at various European airports (including London-Heathrow).

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