Egypt’s Luxor ready for ‘spectacular’ Avenue of Sphinxes parade

Officials expect ceremony will surpass spectacle of Royal Mummies parade in April

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The city of Luxor will return to the spotlight on Thursday with an elaborate parade to mark the grand reopening of the Avenue of Sphinxes after years of painstaking restoration.

A procession of hundreds of performers in period costume will set out from the city's famous Karnak Temple – Egypt’s second most-visited heritage site after the Giza Pyramids – and head the 2.7 kilometres down the avenue to Luxor Temple.

In a bid to highlight as much of the city's pharaonic splendour as possible, the procession will wind its way past two other temples, the country's Tourism Ministry said.

The avenue, known as El Kebbash Road and known for the sphinx heads that flank both sides, has been carefully restored in a bid to reinvigorate Egypt's tourism sector, which was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Believed to be about 3,000 years old, the avenue, as well as the two temples it connects, are set to open as an open-air museum after years of excavation and restoration.

The day after the parade, the entire length of the avenue and all the temples it includes will be open to visitors free of charge, the Tourism Ministry said.

“This procession will be nothing short of spectacular,” said Dr Mostafa El Soghayar, who supervised the restoration.

“We expect it to surpass the grandeur of the Royal Mummies Parade,” he told The National, referring to the procession through Cairo in April of 22 ancient Egyptian mummies that were transported from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation.

“Karnak is one of the oldest and most beautiful sites in the world. We are happy that it is finally getting the care it deserves,” he said.

Watch Egypt’s mummy parade in two minutes

Watch Egypt’s mummy parade in two minutes

“Hundreds of the locals have been working day and night to bring the procession up to a level that will impress everyone watching it. We want to pay our respect to ancient Egyptian culture and there’s no better place to do that than Luxor,” he said.

Details on the ceremony have been shrouded in secrecy, with tourism and antiquities officials told not to reveal anything.

Nevine El Aref, a media adviser for Egypt’s Tourism Ministry, said the ceremony was “intended to be a complete surprise for everyone watching”.

However, videos posted on various social media platforms showed performers rehearsing choreographed dances in preparation for the event.

The Avenue of Sphinxes

The grand reopening was originally planned to coincide with the anniversary of the discovery, on November 4, 1922, of King Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor. The date is celebrated each year as an official holiday in the province.

Thursday's ceremony will also be a modern recreation of the ancient Egyptian Opet Festival, which was predominantly celebrated in Thebes – as Luxor was known in the ancient world – and especially during the New Kingdom of 1550 to 1069 BCE.

The festival involved priests, civilians and noblemen making a processional walk from Luxor Temple to Karnak down the avenue during the second month of the Nile flooding season. The ritual was a tribute to the ancient Egyptian god Amun-Ra, who was the principal deity of the ancient city of Thebes.

The avenue that connects the temples is about 3,000 years old. Karnak is believed to have been built as a tribute to Amun-Ra.

Unlike the sphinx at the Giza plateau, which has a human head, many of Karnak’s sphinxes have ram heads and lion bodies and are intended as guardians to the ancient temple.

At the other end of the avenue, closer to Luxor Temple, there are also several human-headed sphinxes lining the road.

Most of the surviving sphinxes date to the time of King Nectanebo, who reigned between 380 and 362 BCE.

Over the centuries, many of the ancient Egyptian relics were damaged or buried. Local people even built homes on sections of the avenue.

Structures that had to be taken down to make way for the excavations included a 115-year-old church and a 350-year-old mosque.

During its heyday, the avenue is believed to have been lined with 1,350 sphinxes. Of these, 650 have been unearthed, with many of the others believed to have been taken and repurposed during the Roman period and Middle Ages.

Updated: November 25, 2021, 12:40 PM