Located on the banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt, Luxor (from Al Uqsur in Arabic meaning “the palaces”) exists on the site of the city of Thebes, the former capital of ancient Egypt. Actually, what most people think of as Luxor is really three different areas, consisting of the City of Luxor on the East Bank of the Nile, the town of Karnak just north of Luxor and the West Bank of the Nile across from Luxor. The famed Valleys of the Kings and Queens are on the west bank of the Nile.
With a large number of ancient monuments, temples and burial grounds located in and around the city, Luxor is the country’s most popular tourist attraction after the pyramids, and the base from which to explore Pharaonic Egypt.
Luxor has many attractions including the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Tombs of the Nobles, the Colossi of Memnon, the Medinet Habu, the Rammuseum and Hatshetsut Temple on the West Bank of the river Nile, and Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple on the East Bank.
Luxor is really a town built on tourism and there’s plenty to do to keep you occupied, although it is really a special place for those interested in ancient Egypt. The number, and preservation, of the monuments in the Luxor area is unparalleled and it has often been called the world’s greatest open air museum.
Luxor is currently the beginning or the end of cruises along the Nile (this will change when boats begin cruising south from Cairo); you can reach it by air, by road or by train. As well as a wealth of ancient sites and monuments, modern Luxor is a delightful city that has a full range of hotel accommodation, shopping, restaurants and night spots. It also has a number of museums. It is easy to make an excursion to the Red Sea coast from Luxor.
Festival of Tutankhamen Tomb Discovery
Luxor National Day
When: November (annual)
Egypt’s Festival of Tutankhamen Tomb Discovery is an annual event organised by Luxor City Council. It celebrates the finding of the tomb on 4 November 1922, about 3500 years after the boy king was mummified. The festival is inspired by the ancient Opet, an Egyptian ceremony that commemorated the annual reunion of the Sacred Theban Triad (God Amon, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu) during the reign of King Tutankhamen.
When: 7 January (annual)
Coptic Christians celebrates Jesus’ birth on 7 January. This is the day when believers take part in religious services and concerts and typical Christmas bazaars create a magical atmosphere. The Christmas season marks a time of fasting and vegetarianism for the community, and no meat or milk is taken from November 25th to the night of January 6th. Churches and Christian homes are festooned with lights, Christmas trees and manger scenes in the week leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve, the 6th of January, celebrations in churches are held and the bells of the churches ring out. The Pope of the Orthodox Church begins prayers at the big Cathedral in Cairo at 11 p.m., and this service is broadcasted on Egyptian television.
Website of interest: http://www.christmasarchives.com/christmas_in_egypt.html
Islamic New Year
When: January (annual)
This annual celebration, which is otherwise known as Al Hijra, is a day on which Islamic Egyptians pay homage to the journey made by Mohammed from Mecca to Medina.
International Egyptian Marathon
When: February (annual)
The International Egyptian Marathon takes place annually in Luxor, attracting nearly 2000 long-distance runners from around 36 countries. The route runs past the famous ancient monuments of the West Bank and through the sugar cane fields of the local farmers. There are also events for inline skaters and those in wheelchairs. As well there is the shorter Luxor Run (22.289 km) and the Ramsis Run & walk (12.336 km) and the kid’s Run (5 km).
When: February 22 (annual)
This nationwide public holiday held on February 22nd is an opportunity to forget about work, kick back and have some fun or spend time with family or friends.
Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday
When: moveable, according to the Sunni account (12 Rabi al-Awwal) (annual)
Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday is celebrated with parades and decorations in villages, towns and cities across Egypt. Children receive a special sweet for the occasion and there is much revelry to commemorate this holy day. The second most visual Muslim festival in Luxor after the Eid has to be the “Moulid El Nabi”. During the week before the sugar dolly stalls start to appear, here there and everywhere. Any nook or cranny will do. The dollies, in what looks like full bridal wear, are beautiful, and I’m sure every little girl will want one.
Both Muslims and Christians in Egypt welcome the first day of spring with a festive picnic called Sham al-Naseem, which means “the smell of spring”, gathering for outdoor picnics. Fuul (kidney beans) and “fasiyah” (dried fish) are the traditional food of the day. Some people boat on the River Nile, and enjoy their picnics there. It’s also a time for painting eggs and wearing new clothes. Being a national holiday, it’s a great time for having fun, and foreigners might well be invited to join the celebrations by a friendly family.
This occurs on Easter Monday, and as there is a larger proportion of Christians in Luxor than in most other places in Egypt, this is the festival where more of them are seen congregating.
Sinai Liberation Day
When: April 25 (annual)
This important historical holiday is held on the 25th of the month and is observed in commemoration of the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula after the introduction of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979.
When: 1 May (annual)
Hheld on May 1st, this nationwide public holiday is a chance for Egyptians to take a day of rest and pursue individual leisure interests.
Leylet en Nuktah
When: 17 June (annual)
Leylet en Nuktah is a special day in the traditional Egyptian calendar and according to the Coptic calendar, it is observed on the 17th of June every year. The day marks the first day of the rising of water level in the Nile River prior to the flooding of the Nile valley and delta. The flooding of the Nile valley caused the deposition of fertile silt, which was the reason behind the successful harvest. The Leylet en Nuktah was hence a very important day in terms of ancient traditions of Egypt.
Usually, though a day is fixed for the rising of Nile’s water, the significant changes are observed some few days later. The actual day of rising of the water level is somewhat close to the summer solstice. In the ancient times, the norm was that, if the phenomenon was delayed, attractive Egyptian women had to be sacrificed in the river. The belief was that the river God had to be satiated or else the flood would fail and this would result in failure of harvest. According to the Coptic calendar, the Leylet en Nuktah is observed every year on Payni 11th. Of course, since the construction of the High Dam at Aswan most of Egypt no longer sees the rising of the Nile flood.
When: June 18 (annual)
Held on June 18th, this is a public holiday observed across the nation and marks the evacuation of foreign troops in 1954.
When: July 23 (annual)
Another public holiday commemorating the 1952 Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the Egyptian constitutional monarchy.
Moulid of Abu el-Haggag
Two weeks prior to the beginning of Ramadan (July)
Two weeks prior to the beginning of Ramadan, Luxor’s biggest event, the Moulid of Abu el-Haggag, celebrates Luxor’s patron sheikh with a two-day street festival. Horse races, music, dance and tahtib (stick fights) precede the parading of large boats in the crowded streets. The parade resembles the solar barque processions of the Pharaonic era; in Islamic symbolism boats represent the quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Everything is set aside for the Moulid, the procession takes a different route each year, and one-way streets are of no consequence where Abu el Haggag is concerned! All of the route is lined with cheering crowds, families and friends come together to really let themselves go. Sweets and nuts are thrown from upper storey windows to the revellers, bottles of water appear as if from nowhere, the older celebrants stopping off for a glass of tea every now and then too.
The procession (or carnival, as the locals refer to it as) is a very exciting day for the whole town. The religious element is signified by tented camels representing each of the “Old Mosques of Luxor”.
The other grand spectacle of the Moulid is the Stick Fighting (or Dancing) which has taken place on Sharia Mustafa Kamel since time immemorial. This begins three nights before the Moulid Parade. A starting time isn’t important to the stick dancers, as long as they can go on till the have had enough, usually by about 3 o’clock in the morning.
Two months after Ramadan (October)
Two months after Ramadan this is a four-day holiday, Muslims celebrating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God. During the festival those families who can afford it sacrifices an animal and its meat is shared between the neighbors, friends and poor people. The festival begins with communal prayer and after that, locals exchange gifts among each other.
Pharaonic Wedding Festival
Held in Karnak from the 15th to the 20th of the month this is a festival about the wedding celebrations practiced in ancient Egypt. During the festival there are forty lucky couples who are marry in a traditional Egyptian style, illustrating how ancient Kings and Queens got married. The ceremony has a sophisticated atmosphere with rituals and costumes of the ancient Egypt.