Explore Ancient Egypt

  • By Liesl Clark and Peter Tyson
  • Posted 06.23.11
  • NOVA

Want to walk around the Sphinx? Clamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza and seek out the pharaoh's burial chamber? Visit the magnificent tombs and temples of ancient Thebes? In this multi-layered, highly visual interactive, view 360° panoramas, "walkaround" photos, and other breathtaking imagery shot throughout the Giza Plateau and ancient Thebes (modern-day Luxor), often with special permission. You'll see Old and New Kingdom tombs and temples, pyramids and statues, and a 140-foot-long wooden boat that is 4,600 years old. Enjoy this unique journey through the Land of the Pharaohs.

Launch Interactive

With 360-degree and other imagery, walk around the Sphinx, enter the Great Pyramid, visit tombs and temples, and more.

Some of the imagery and text in this feature originally appeared on the NOVA Pyramids and Mysteries of the Nile websites.


Explore Ancient Egypt

With 360-degree and other imagery, walk around the Sphinx, enter the Great Pyramid, visit tombs and temples, and more.

Want to walk around the Sphinx? Clamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza and seek out the pharaoh's burial chamber? Visit the magnificent tombs and temples of ancient Thebes? In this multi-layered, highly visual interactive, view 360° panoramas, "walkaround" photos, and other breathtaking imagery shot throughout the Giza Plateau and ancient Thebes (modern-day Luxor), often with special permission. You'll see Old and New Kingdom tombs and temples, pyramids and statues, and a 140-foot-long wooden boat that is 4,600 years old. Enjoy this unique journey through the Land of the Pharaohs.



View From Top

You are now standing atop Khufuí­s Pyramid, 45 stories above the Giza Plateau. Until early in the 20th century, this pyramid was the tallest building on Earth. The wooden surveying tripod at the summit indicates the original height, which was 481 feet. The top stones have since fallen off or been removed. Note the graffiti that previous visitors, some from earlier centuries, have carved into the stones.

Other things to look for as you navigate around the summit are the Sphinx, Khufu's three Queens' Pyramids, greater Cairo, and—hard to miss—Khafre's Pyramid. Climbing Khufu is prohibited, so enjoy this rare and beautiful late-afternoon view.


Descending Passage

Length: 192 feet
Width: 3.5 feet
Height: 4 feet
After ducking into the Great Pyramid at its entrance 55 feet up its northern face, you begin working your way carefully down the Descending Passage. Sloped an angle of 26°, this passage heads through about 90 feet of Pyramid masonry then another 100 feet of bedrock before reaching the Subterranean Chamber. The passage is so precisely designed that in that entire 192-foot length it never deviates more than half an inch in either angle or orientation. The general public is not allowed down this cramped passage, but we have recreated the experience for you. Caution: This is not a place for claustrophobes.

Subterranean Chamber

Length: 46 feet (planned)
Width: 24 feet (planned)
Height: 17.5 feet (planned)
This unfinished chamber, lying nearly 100 feet below the surface of the Giza Plateau, is closed to the public. Standing alone inside this oxygen-deficient space is quite an experience: Over two million blocks of stone collectively weighing six-and-a-half-million tons loom overhead. Ancient workers down here chipped away at the limestone bedrock to build what some scholars believe may have been the original burial chamber for King Khufu. These scholars think the room was never finished because Khufu suddenly decided he wanted his burial chamber higher in the structure and ordered the workers to stop. Khafre's Pyramid follows a similar pattern, with an unfinished burial chamber deep underground.

Do you see the small grated opening across the room from the entrance? Scholars are puzzled by this. It opens on a cramped passage that ends a short distance in. What was it meant to be?

Ascending Passage

Length: 129 feet
Width: 3.5 feet
Height: 4 feet
For most visitors to the Great Pyramid, this is the beginning of the long and cramped journey up to the King's Chamber. Are you ready? Note: The 1908 edition of Baedeker's Egypt warns, "Travelers who are in the slightest degree predisposed to apoplectic or fainting fits, and ladies travelling alone, should not attempt to penetrate into these stifling recesses." Consider yourself forewarned.

Do you see the small grated opening across the room from the entrance? Scholars are puzzled by this. It opens on a cramped passage that ends a short distance in. What was it meant to be?

Okay, let's begin. You must literally hunch over and scramble your way up this tight passageway, which has a steep 1:2 gradient—45° angle with the plateau. At the top of the passage, you'll arrive at the Grand Gallery.

Alternatively, if you dare, you can head down from the lower part of this passage into the Descending Passage and even deeper to the Subterranean chamber. The Pyramid is yours to explore.

Grand Gallery (Lower)

Length: 154 feet
Width: 7 feet
Height: 29 feet
After crawling up the narrow confines of the Ascending Passage, you can finally stand up in the immense Grand Gallery, which continues upward at the same steep rate of incline all the way to the entrance of the King's Chamber. From this lower end of the gallery, you may also choose to visit the misnamed "Queen's Chamber," which lies at the end of a long horizontal passage.

"Queen's Chamber"

Length: 19 feet
Width: 17.5 feet
Height at center: 20 feet
Although it is called the Queen's Chamber, some Egyptologists think this space was meant to be the final resting place for King Khufu, until he changed his mind yet again and opted for a burial chamber even higher. Other scholars, including Mark Lehner, author of The Complete Pyramids, believe instead that it might have been a sealed room for a special statue of Khufu, as the 15-foot-high corbelled niche you can see here might suggest. The roof of the chamber is raised at its center. Note the two tiny openings to what may have been air shafts.

Grand Gallery (Upper)

Length: 154 feet
Width: 7 feet
Height: 29 feet
Here at the upper end of the Grand Gallery, you can clearly see that the gallery is not perfectly rectangular—the ceiling narrows to a roof that is corbelled, or roughly triangular-shaped. From here you can duck into the passage that leads to the King's Chamber or go back down the steep staircase to the bottom of the gallery. For a sense of scale, look for the visitor in both parts of the gallery.

King's Chamber

Length: 35 feet
Width: 17 feet
Height: 19 feet
This is the chamber where King Khufu was ultimately buried. Unfortunately, all that remains in this sacred space is the king's sarcophagus, which is made of large blocks of red granite and, amazingly, lies on the exact central axis of the pyramid. Khufu's body and his earthly possessions were looted long before archeologists arrived, probably before the end of the Old Kingdom in circa 2218 B.C. Some of the colossal granite ceiling stones for the King's Chamber are more than 18 feet long and weigh 25 to 40 tons. This chamber, which lies about 300 feet below the apex of the pyramid, is a remarkable space in which to stand, and some visitors come from points far and near to meditate here.

Khufu Boat

In 1954, the Egyptian archeologist Kamal el Mallak made an astonishing discovery. In a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid, he uncovered one of the world's oldest planked vessels. Buried in pieces by Khufu's son, the so-called Solar Barque may have carried the pharaoh's body across the Nile for burial, or it may have served solely a symbolic purpose, lying ready to transport the king in the afterlife.

The boat's 1,224 separate components included cedarwood planking and oars, ropes of halfa grass, wooden dowels and battens, and copper staples. Its near-perfect preservation allowed conservators to reconstruct the 144-foot-long craft, which is now housed in a white museum built over the pit where it was found. Modern ropes were used to lash it together, but its timbers are 95 percent original.

As you move along this composite image, you'll see the boat's 12 oars, 10 along the sides and two larger ones at the stern. The blades were insufficient to move a vessel of this size and were either ornamental or used for steering only. The high, curving prow and stern resemble those of papyrus boats common in ancient Egypt. Notice also the cabin and canopy amidships, which were originally covered in rush matting. Can you find the forward canopy?

Khafre (E. Side)

Khafre's Pyramid is second to his father Khufu's Pyramid in size, but since it is built on higher ground and at a steeper angle (about 53°), it appears taller. This view was shot from Khafre's Mortuary Temple, the ruins of which stand at the eastern base of the Khafre Pyramid. The temple was one element within the pharaoh's vast funerary complex, which included, besides the Pyramid, a lengthy causeway or roofed ramp stretching downhill from the Mortuary Temple to the Sphinx, the Sphinx's temple, and a Valley Temple, all of which in olden days would have stood on the edge of the Nile. (A change in the river's course has left it farther east today.)

You start facing Khafre's towering pyramid. Working around to the right, you can see, to the north, the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the white Solar Barque museum at its base; to the east, the plateau dropping down to the unseen Nile, with Cairo beyond; and to the south, the vastness of the Sahara and, lastly, the smaller pyramid of Menkaure, Khafre's son. Can you zoom in and find the rear of the Sphinx? Hint: Look beneath the distant skyline of modern Cairo.


The most enigmatic of sculptures, the Sphinx was carved from a single block of limestone left over in the quarry used to build the Pyramids. Scholars believe it was sculpted about 4,600 years ago by Pharaoh Khafre, whose Pyramid rises directly behind it and whose face may be that represented on the Sphinx.

Half human, half lion, the Sphinx is 240 feet long and 66 feet high. Badly eroded, it has undergone numerous restorations over the millennia, beginning with one conducted about 1400 B.C. by the pharaoh Tutmosis IV, who dreamt that the Sphinx asked him to clear the sand around it in return for the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The Sphinx has recently undergone a major modern restoration.

In this 180° image, as you "walk" around the Sphinx from its left side to its right, watch the sunrise first strike the top of the Khafre Pyramid in the background then light up the Sphinx itself.

Converging Pyramids

The Pyramids were not laid out willy-nilly on the Giza Plateau. Each side of each of the three Pyramids lines up precisely east-west or north-south. It's a bit of a mystery how the ancients achieved such a perfect alignment, considering they did not have the magnetic compass at their disposal. The Pyramids' proportions are just as exacting. For example, the greatest difference in the length of the Great Pyramid's four sides at its base, which are about 750 feet long, is less than two inches.

As you scroll along this image, which was shot from the desert a few miles south of the Pyramids, notice how the three structures—those of Menkaure, his father Khafre, and his grandfather Khufu—eventually line up perfectly along their righthand edges.


Khufu 1

The Great Pyramid of Khufu contains about 2,300,000 blocks of stone. Until the early 20th century, it was the tallest building in the world.

Khufu 2

Visitors clamber—illegally—on Khufu's Pyramid.

Khufu 3

Ancient Egyptians built the Solar Barque of Khufu in the 26th century B.C., then buried it in pieces within a carved stone pit directly beneath the Great Pyramid. After it was discovered in 1954, the vessel was reassembled and installed in its own museum next to the pyramid.

Khufu 4

Was Khufu's body taken across the Nile in this cabin 4,600 years ago?

Khufu 5

Fully 95 percent original, the wood of Khufu's solar boat is conifer, probably cedar of Lebanon. This detail of the ship's deckhouse displays the fine workmanship the ancients achieved with their copper and flint tools.

Khufu 6

Each of the Khufu boat's 12 oars was carved from a single piece of wood. Ten oars are lashed amidships ahead of the deckhouse, though this positioning is arbitrary: where, or even whether, the oars were affixed is unknown. A final pair attaches to the stern as steering oars.

Khafre 1

Each of the Pyramids is remarkably well-proportioned. This is the Khafre Pyramid from its southwest corner.

Khafre 2

Each block in the lower portion of the Khafre Pyramid weighs about two and a half tons.

Khafre 3

Khafre's pyramid, foreground, is built on bedrock that is some 33 feet higher than that of his father Khufu. This results in the son's pyramid appearing, from many angles, the taller of the two even though it's not.

Khafre 4

Visitors take a ride below the Khafre Pyramid.

Sphinx 1

The morning sun illuminates the top of Khafre's pyramid well before it touches the Sphinx far below.

Sphinx 2

Speaking of the Sphinx in his book The Complete Pyramids, the Egyptologist Mark Lehner writes, "The royal human head on a lion's body symbolized power and might controlled by the intelligence of the pharaoh, guarantor of cosmic order, or maat."

Sphinx 3

When we look at the Sphinx, are we, as some scholars believe, looking at the face of Khafre himself?

Sphinx 4

The upper portion of the so-called "dream stela" of Tuthmosis IV, which the pharaoh placed between the Sphinx's front paws about 1400 B.C., over a thousand years after Khafre lived

Sphinx 5

Dwarfed by a giant: A man standing flush against the Sphinx offers a striking sense of just how colossal the monument is.

Sphinx 6

The Sphinx, seen here from the rear with Cairo in the distance, has undergone numerous restorations over its 4,600-year history.

Giza Plateau 1

While the Great Pyramids lie amidst barren desert sands, not far to the east the Nile enriches lush green fields on the edge of Cairo.

Giza Plateau 2

Part of the ancient enclosure wall of Menkaure's pyramid complex can be seen in the left of this image.

Giza Plateau 3

As compared to his father Khufu's pyramid (farthest away in this image), Khafre's pyramid has a slightly sharper angle of slope—53° 10' to Khufu's 51° 50'. This slight difference in angle, which is discernible in this photo, helps make Khafre's pyramid appear taller than it actually is.

Giza Plateau 4

From this vantage point far out in the Western Desert, Khufu's pyramid completely disappears behind those of his son and grandson.


Queens' Pyramids

This is one of three Queens' Pyramids that stand in a row along the eastern base of Khufu's Pyramid. Each has a sloping passage leading to a burial chamber. In the distance lies Cairo. Look for the person for scale.

Sphinx Temple

Part of the Sphinx Temple can be seen here fronting the Sphinx. Now in ruins, the temple once had a central courtyard with 24 stone pillars. To the left you can see part of Khafre's causeway, a 1,630-foot ramp that was once covered and likely bore detailed bas-reliefs. The causeway linked the pharaoh's Pyramid and Mortuary Temple with his Sphinx and Valley temples on the edge of the Nile.

Valley Temple

Even after four and a half millennia, the skill of Khafre's stonemasons is clearly evident, as these two shots from within his Valley Temple reveal.

Menkaure Pyramid

Menkaure, known by the Greeks as Mycerinus, ruled 2447íñ2442 B.C. He was the king buried in the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza and is believed to be Khufu's grandson. Base: 335 by 343 feet Height: originally 215 feet, now 203 feet Angle of Slope: 51° 20' 25" Construction Material: Limestone and red granite

Queens' Pyramids [near Menkaure Pyramid]

In this view from the southwest, Menkaure's three Queens' Pyramids appear like stepping stones to the three Great Pyramids. All three once had mudbrick chapels and presumably received burials of queens.

View Southeast

In the middle distance of this photo, which looks southeast from near Khafre's Pyramid, lies a modern Muslim cemetery. Just before it you can see the tomb of the mysterious Queen Khentkawes. The tomb was carved from a piece of bedrock just as the Sphinx was; it is topped by a mastaba-like masonry structure. Can you locate other ancient pyramids in this photo?

Workers' City

For years, archeologist Mark Lehner has been painstakingly excavating what he calls the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders. This is where the laborers who built the Pyramids lived. Note the white limestone casing stones that still top Khafre's Pyramid.




Great Court

During the New Kingdom, the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak was the most important place of worship in Egypt. (Amun-Re was King of the Gods and father to the pharaoh.) The entire temple complex covers an area of nearly 75 acres, and there are two other, smaller complexes within the Karnak precinct. The farther back one walks in the Temple of Amun-Re, the older the structures become, so this initial Great Court is one of the more recent constructions.

You start by facing west towards the First Pylon, a massive wall 372 feet wide. Look at its base for the remains of an earth-and-mud-brick ramp, which ancient workers used to haul stones up during the gateway's construction. Swinging around the right (north), you'll see the bottom half of a huge column. It is the only one remaining of the Kiosk of Taharka, a seventh-century B.C. Ethiopian pharaoh; the kiosk once boasted 10 such columns and held processional barks.

To the right of the column, near the palm tree, stands a 50-foot-high statue of Ramses II. To the east are the ruins of the Second Pylon, begun by the pharaoh Horemheb and finished by Ramses II, and to the south lies the entrance to the Temple of Ramses III. In the image as a whole, see if you can locate the Shrine of Seti I, a small temple with two visible doors.

Temple of Ramses III

This nearly 200-foot-long temple features three bark chapels, a hypostyle hall of eight columns, a vestibule with four columns, and an open court (within which this view was taken). The court is surrounded by statues of Ramses III in his Jubilee vestments. Jubilees were typically celebrated in the 30th year of a pharaoh's reign and every five years thereafter.

You start facing south toward the temple proper, with columns visible within its dark recesses. Moving around to the right, you'll see that the most complete remaining statues of Ramses III out here in the court show him in Osirid form. Osiris, the god of the dead, is traditionally depicted in mummy form, with a crook and a flail. Continue moving to the right and you'll come to the doorway back to the Great Court, with the statue of Ramses II in view.

Great Hypostyle Hall (N. side)

The Great Hypostyle Hall is one of the most magnificent monuments of ancient Egypt. Possibly begun by Amenhotep III, this veritable forest of soaring pillars was continued by Seti I and finished by Ramses II. Covering an area of 7,200 square yards, it is large enough to contain Notre Dame Cathedral.

When you enter from the Great Court, you're facing south towards the heart of the temple. In the background center of the image, outlined against the sky, stands one of the soaring central columns. Two rows of these massive, 69-foot-tall columns range east-to-west down the central gallery. All the other pillars you see as you rotate around comprise some of the Hall's 122 lower columns.

As you explore, look for the sun discs, depicted by a circle, that are carved into many of the columns. Also, can you find the architrave—rectangular block that sits atop and connects columns—with hieroglyphs that still bear traces of original paint? Hint: You might need to zoom in to see them.

Great Hypostyle Hall (S. side)

The English writer Amelia Edwards, who traveled through Egypt in the 1870s, described Karnak as "a place ... of which no writing and no art can convey more than a dwarfed and pallid impression." The same is true of these 360° images; the only real way to gain a sense of the vastness of the Great Hypostyle Hall is to walk through it yourself. But until you can get there, we hope images like this will suffice.

When you enter from the hall's north side, you find yourself facing east, with the obelisk of Tuthmosis I silhouetted against the rising sun. Swing around to the right and admire the forest of pillars in the Great Hypostyle Hall to the south and west. Gazing at these massive columns, you can understand why Gustave Flaubert, on his visit to Karnak in the 19th century, called the temple "a palace of giants."

Can you find the grid-like structure high atop two of the pillars? You'll need to be facing north, towards the center aisle of the Hall, which follows the east-west direction of the early-morning sunlight. These grid-like "claustra," or openwork windows in stone, once lined the sides of the central gallery and allowed shafts of light to angle pleasingly into the interior.

Obelisk Court

Between the ruined remains of the Third and Fourth Pylons lies the narrow court of Amenhotep III. He built the Third Pylon, while Tuthmosis I erected the older Fourth Pylon, which was the front of the temple during his reign. Tuthmosis I and his grandson Tuthmosis III raised four obelisks in this court, of which just this one remains.

You start by facing north towards the obelisk of Tuthmosis I. If you look carefully, you can see that it leans slightly to the left. To the right of it—that is, beyond the ruins of the Fourth Pylon—towers the obelisk of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, the largest still standing in Egypt. After the death of her father Tuthmosis I in the early 15th century B.C., Hatshepsut declared herself "king" and ruled for 20 years, erecting a pair of obelisks here. (The second one toppled, and its upper portion lies nearby.)

As you swing around to the east, you'll see the ruined hulk of the Fourth Pylon. Due west, you can get a good view of the Great Hypostyle Hall, with the central, paired rows of 69-foot columns visible between the two palm trees. Have you noticed the lighting fixtures? They come into play during the sound-and-light show put on most nights at Karnak Temple.


Pylon With Obelisk

This elegant temple rests along the Nile in the heart of the modern town of Luxor (site of ancient Thebes). It was begun by Amenhotep III and largely completed by Ramses II, though later builders added to it, including Alexander the Great and several Roman emperors.

You begin by facing south towards the temple's facade. Until it was cleared in the 1880s, the temple was engulfed in sand, which reached to the shoulders of the two seated statues of Ramses II that you see to either side of the portal. Ramses II also erected the 79-foot-tall pylon and a pair of pink granite obelisks. Only one obelisk remains; the French removed the other, which now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. As you move around this image, watch for people, who give a sense of scale. Can you locate the standing statue of Ramses II, one of four that once graced the pylon's facade?

Head of Ramses II

Ramses II (the Great) was one of the most prolific builders of ancient Egypt. Hardly a site exists that he did not initiate, add to, complete, or build entirely himself. Some of the greatest monuments on any tour of Egypt bear his stamp: Abu Simbel, Karnak and Luxor Temples, the Ramesseum, and many others. He also commissioned the largest monolithic statue ever, a seated statue of himself at the Ramesseum. Now lying in pieces, the giant red-granite statue inspired the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to craft the poem "Ozymandias" (the Greek form of User-maat-Re, one of Ramses II's many names):

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Can you locate two ancient Egyptian crosses, or ankhs, somewhere in this image? Hint: Each looks like the letter "T" with an egg perched on top.

Colossus of Memnon

This truly colossal statue and its companion are all that remains of a huge mortuary temple built by the pharaoh Amenhotep III (Amenophis) in the 14th century B.C. The temple, which the pair of Colossi fronted, collapsed in an earthquake in the first century B.C., and later builders have long since appropriated its pieces, leaving nothing but an empty field.
The quake caused cracks to develop in the Colossi, which ever after began "singing" when the sun rose. This led the Greeks to deem them the Oracle of Memnon (an Ethiopian king in Greek mythology), to which they and later the Romans made pilgrimages. When the Roman emperor Septimius Severus restored the statues in hopes of gaining favor with Memnon, they ceased speaking their oracles.

As you move around the Colossus, which is the northern one of the two, watch for its southern companion in the background and the range of hills to the west, wherein lie the Valley of the Kings and other necropoli. Keep an eye out, too, for a pair of Egyptians standing by the Colossus, who give a sense of just how immense these 60-foot-tall, 1,300-ton statues really are.

Tomb of Rekhmire

Rekhmire was a governor of Thebes during the reigns of Tuthmosis III and his son Amenhotep II. His tomb is one of more than 500 found in the Valley of the Nobles in ancient Thebes. Like most such tombs, Rekhmire's featured a reverse T shape, with a shallow front chamber followed by a long inner corridor. His is one of the finest painted tombs in the Theban necropolis.

You begin facing east towards the door to the outside and the unseen entrance chamber (which forms the top of the T). After workmen finished carving this corridor, which slopes higher as one moves farther into the tomb, they prepared the wall surface with a mixture of earth and straw overlaid with a layer of plaster. Artists then painted scenes both from Rekhmire's life and funeral procession, and of the craftsmen whose efforts he oversaw: carpenters, goldsmiths, sculptors, masons, and many others.
As you spin around, zoom in closer to examine the fine paintings. See if you can make out the painted pair of small funerary obelisks, which Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty often placed before their tombs in honor of the sun god. At the opposite (western) end of the tomb, notice the empty niche, where statues of Rekhmire and his wife likely once stood.


Main Hall

Though left unfinished, this is the finest carved tomb in the Valley of the Nobles. Ramose was a governor of Thebes and vizier of Egypt under both Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV. Amenhotep IV is better known as Akhenaten, the "rebel" pharaoh who established the world's first monotheistic religion based on a belief in the Aten, or sun disk.

When you first open the Main Hall image, you find yourself facing northwest into the columned tomb. Originally the hall was meant to hold 32 stone pillars, many of which are now missing. You can see entrance steps leading down into the tomb mid-way along the right wall.

As you turn to the right, notice the exquisite reliefs along the right (east) wall. These show Ramose's family, friends, and others bearing offerings for the deceased. (Zoom in for a closer look at the hieroglyphs.) High on the south wall are well-executed paintings of Ramose's funeral procession.

In your examination of this room, look for a gaping hole behind a broken column. This leads to a dark passage that angles steeply down a series of dusty stone staircases to the unfinished burial chamber, which rests perhaps 100 feet below the Inner Hall.

Inner Hall

Despite the many months, if not years, that workers took to carve Ramose's tomb out of solid rock and begin illustrating its walls, the sepulcher was never completed. Midway through its construction, Ramose suddenly left Thebes and moved north to Tel el-Amarna, Akhenaten's new capital.

On the floor of the Inner Hall, you can see pedestals of the eight columns originally planned for this room; rubble from the columns still litters the floor. Notice, too, the seemingly freshly carved ceiling; in places, it looks as if stone masons might have chipped away the white rock yesterday. In the rear (west) wall is a crudely carved doorway to a small chamber, where inch-long chisel marks from the original carving out of the crypt can still be seen on the ceiling. At the other end (east), you look through a doorway into the Main Hall and the sunny front entrance.


Karnak 1

This avenue of ram-headed sphinxes, each originally guarding a miniature statue of Ramses II between its paws, greets the visitor entering Karnak Temple.

Karnak 2

The first pylon, or monumental gateway, at Karnak Temple

Karnak 3

Ramses III smites his enemies in this detail from the Great Court at Karnak.

Karnak 4

The entrance to the temple of Ramses III in the Karnak complex, with statues of the pharaoh flanking the doorway

Karnak 5

Inside the Temple of Ramses III, who ruled from 1187 to 1157 B.C. Eight more pharaohs would bear the Ramses name.

Karnak 6

NOVA photographer Annie Valva prepares to shoot a QuickTime VR inside Ramses III's temple.

Karnak 7

Several of the 134 towering columns within Karnak's Great Hypostyle Hall dwarf an Egyptian temple worker.

Karnak 8

Beautifully carved hieroglyphics and designs cover the Hall's columns. Traces of blue paint can still be seen.

Karnak 9

Original pigments still remain on the lower side of architraves perched atop the Great Hypostyle Hall. Each of the hall's 12 central columns, including the one whose capital can just be seen at left in this image, rises to a height of almost 70 feet over the stone floor.

Karnak 10

Practically every wall at Karnak features carved reliefs, including hieroglyphics and representations of figures and structures. Can you find the pair of obelisks in this scene?

Karnak 11

This obelisk bears the cartouche, or encircled hieroglyphic name, of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, who began construction on the Great Hypostyle Hall about 1375 B.C.

Karnak 12

Two obelisks remain standing at Karnak. The one on the right in this photo, erected by the pharaoh Hatshepsut, is the tallest surviving ancient obelisk. The other was put up by her successor, Tutmosis III.

Karnak 13

Hieroglyphics at Karnak

Luxor 1

The facade of the Temple of Amun in Luxor. By the mid-1800s, encroaching sand had reached as high as the shoulders of the two seated statues of Ramses II seen on either side of the entrance (one partly obscured by the obelisk). The sand was cleared away in the 1880s.

Luxor 2

This relief on the base of one of the seated statues of Ramses II (the "Great") at Luxor Temple's entrance depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Luxor 3

Their broken-off heads at their feet, the stone colossi in this court just inside the first pylon at Luxor were originally built by Amenhotep III. But Ramses II later usurped them.

Luxor 4

Scene at Luxor Temple depicting prisoners, their arms bound behind their backs

Luxor 5

Luxor Temple at night. The second granite obelisk that once stood here now graces the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Luxor 6

The French scholar Jean-Franíois Champollion deciphered the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script in the early 1800s. In this image, for example, the squiggly line in the lower right means water, while the double squiggly lines to its left represent flood.

Luxor 7

The Avenue of Sphinxes before Luxor Temple. This avenue once stretched all the way to Karnak Temple almost two miles to the north.

Luxor 8

Children at a shop in Luxor

Luxor 9

Atop a ladder specially built for the purpose, NOVA Online's Peter Tyson helps prepare to shoot a QuickTime VR panorama of the front of Luxor Temple.

Memnon 1

After centuries of wrack and ruin, the Colossus may be faceless now, but it retains a presence and a power all its own.

Memnon 2

Preparing to shoot the QuickTime VR of the Colossi of Memnon. The name comes from the Greeks, for whom Memnon was a mythical king of Ethiopia.

Memnon 3

This view from a hot-air balloon shows the rectangular plot of land that once held the enormous funerary temple of Amenhotep III, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 27 B.C. Do you see the Colossi of Memnon that fronted it long ago?

Memnon 4

The fields surrounding the Colossi of Memnon are lush and green from the annual flooding of the Nile.

Rekhmire 1

Entrance to the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier to Tutmosis III and Amenhotep III. It is one of the largest and best-preserved tombs in the Valley of the Nobles.

Rekhmire 2

Detail of Rekhmire's funeral procession from his tomb's inner corridor

Rekhmire 3

Preparing to shoot a 360° panorama of Rekhmire's tomb paintings

Ramose 1

The unfinished tomb of Ramose is entered through the doorway to the right in this image. Ramose was a vizier, or high official, to the pharaoh Akhenaten.

Ramose 2

Three singers lead a procession of butchers who, at Ramose's behest, have sacrificed animals that are being offered to the sun god Amon-Re.

Ramose 3

In this painted scene on the south wall of Ramose's tomb, funeral attendants carry, from right to left in the image, a chair and objects for writing, four chests, a bed with headrest, and, below it, a stool and a fan.

Ramose 4

Ramose had the likenesses of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten (middle figure in sunbeams) and his wife Nefertiti carved in his tomb. The portraits were defaced after Akhenaten died, when his successors promptly reinstated the traditional polytheistic religion.

Ramose 5

Ancient chisel marks are clearly visible on the ceiling of the Inner Hall's side chamber within Ramose's tomb.


Valley of the Kings

This view shows the central East Valley of the Kings. The largest entrance in the very center leads down to the tomb of Ramses VI, while just in front of that entrance and to its left lies the tomb of Tutankhamen. The tomb with the dark opening in the upper left is that of the pharaoh Amenhotep II.

Valley of the Queens

The entrance to the exquisite tomb of Nefertari, one of the most beautifully painted ancient tombs ever discovered, stands in the foreground in this photo of the Valley of the Queens. To help preserve the fragile wall paintings, visitors are allowed only 10 minutes inside the tomb.

Hatshepsut Mortuary Temple

Tucked into the cliff-ringed basin known as Deir el-Bahari, the uniquely designed mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, a woman who ruled as a pharaoh in the New Kingdom, is half built from quarried stone and half cut from the native rock.

Deir el-Medina

Deir el-Medina is the settlement where the artists and craftsmen who worked in the tombs and temples of the Theban necropolis lived.


The ruined temple seen in the left foreground is the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramses the Great. To the right are green fields flooded every year by the Nile, which flows out of sight to the right, with the modern city of Luxor on its far bank.

Medinet Habu

This photo shot from a hot-air balloon gives a bird's-eye view of Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramses III. The enormous complex contains over 75,000 square feet of decorated wall reliefs, some still bearing their original bright colors.

City of Luxor

Now a modern Egyptian city, Luxor was the site of ancient Thebes, and it boasts the two sprawling pharaonic temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak.

View of Nile

In this late-afternoon shot looking northwest from the center of Luxor, huge ferries await their next trip along the Nile while a single felucca, the traditional wooden sailboat of Egypt, moves upriver. The Theban necropolis, with the Valley of the Kings and all the mortuary temples, lies across the river and out of sight to the left.


Liesl Clark and Peter Tyson
Tyler Howe and Frank LeClair
Daniel Hart


All QuickTime imagery and still photos by Aaron Strong, Peter Tyson, and/or Annie Valva (all © WGBH Educational Foundation), except:

Giza Overview
© 2007 Digital Globe/www.satimagingcorp.com
Luxor Overview
Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, Mission ISS018
Workers' City
Courtesy Mark Lehner
Deir el-Medina
Olaf Tausch/Wikimedia Commons

Pyramid cross sections

All pyramid cross sections
© WGBH Educational Foundation

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