Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis (1979)

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United Nations (New York) 2005. Statue of Ramses II in Thebes.

Thebes, the city of the god Amon, was the capital of Egypt during the period of the Middle and New Kingdoms. With the temples and palaces at Karnak and Luxor, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Thebes is a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height. 

  • United Nations (New York) 2005. Statue of Ramses II in Thebes. 

Thebes (Egyptian Weset or Newt), is an ancient city and, for many centuries, capital of ancient Egypt, on both sides of the Nile River, about 725 km (about 450 mi) south of present-day Cairo. It is partly occupied today by the modern towns of Al Karnak and Luxor. 

It was named Thebes by the Greeks, who knew it also as Diospolis (“heavenly city”); it is the city identified in the Hebrew Bible as No (“city”) or No-Amon (“city of Amon”). Scattered over the site are the remnants of numerous temples, tombs, and other ancient monuments. 

Of prehistoric origin, Thebes began to figure in the recorded history of Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC). Tombs dating from the 6th Dynasty (2323-2152 BC) of Egyptian kings have been discovered in the original necropolis, which is on the west side of the Nile. 

As the biblical name of Thebes indicates, the local deity of the city was Amon, originally the Egyptian god of the reproductive forces and, later as Amen-Ra, the “father of the gods.” The ruined Temple of Amon, which ranks among the best-preserved and most magnificent structures of Egyptian antiquity, is at Al Karnak. 

  • Egypt 2000. Temple of Amon, Karnak. 
  • Egypt 2000. Obelisk of Ramses II. 

Egypt 2000. Temple of Amon, Karnak.

Egypt 2000. Obelisk of Ramses II.

Egypt 1914. Temple at Karnak.

Egypt 1914. Colossi of Thebes.

Under the kings of the 9th and 10th dynasties (2134-2040 BC), Thebes emerged as the administrative center of a powerful line of nomarchs (governors). The Theban nomarchs successfully challenged the Herakleopolitan pharaohs, winning complete control of Egypt about 2040 BC. With this event and the establishment of the Theban dynasty of kings, Thebes became the capital of Egypt. The city retained this status until the reign of Akhenaton (1353-1335 BC). 
  • Egypt 1914. Temple at Karnak. 
  • Egypt 1914. Colossi of Thebes. 

Many of the great temples, the avenue of sphinxes, several beautiful tombs, and numerous other lasting monuments were erected in and around Thebes during the period. Thebes was reestablished as the seat of the Egyptian government shortly after the death of Akhenaton. Subsequently, in particular during the 19th and 20th dynasties (1307-1070 BC), the Egyptian pharaohs made additional contributions to the architectural splendor of the city. The Assyrians sacked Thebes in the 7th century BC. Although it was later partly restored, the city declined steadily after the defeat of the Persians in 332 BC (the Persians had conquered Egypt, for the second time, in 343 'BC). Thebes was destroyed by the Romans late in the 1st century BC. 

Several of the chief ruins of Thebes are described in the articles dealing with Al Karnak and Luxor. Among the ruined Theban edifices of great archaeological importance are the tombs of the pharaohs. Other celebrated Theban ruins are the Ramesseum, a temple built during the reign of Ramses II (1290-1224 BC); Medinet Habu, the temple of Ramses III (reigned 1194-1163 bc); and the temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (reigned 1473-1458 BC).
  • Egypt 1947. Air Post. Ramesseum of Thebes, built  during the reign of Ramses II. 

Egypt 1947. Air Post. Ramesseum of Thebes, built  during the reign of Ramses II.

Egypt 1927. Amenhotep, Son of Hapu.

Valley of the Kings, burial site used by Egyptian rulers of the New Kingdom period (1550-1070 bc). It is located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the modern town of Luxor. Although only a few kilometers west of the riverbank, the valley is concealed by high cliffs and a long, narrow, and winding entranceway. Before the New Kingdom period, the kings of Egypt had built mortuary complexes consisting of pyramid-tombs and accompanying temples.

In the 18th Dynasty, King Amenhotep I (reigned 1525-1504 bc) departed from tradition, building his temple closer to the riverbank and concealing his tomb farther north and west, in the cliffs. His successors continued this practice of separation, but they located their tombs within the valley. 

In all likelihood this move was an attempt to circumvent robbing of the royal tombs. Although no longer marked by a pyramid constructed of millions of carved blocks, the tombs stand below a pyramidal mountain called today The Horn (Arabic Al Qurn). 

  • Egypt 1927. Amenhotep, Son of Hapu. 

Thirty-four tombs have been discovered at this site, beginning with that of Seti I, which was found by the Italian explorer G. B. Belzoni in 1817. The actual body of Seti, along with 39 other royal mummies that had been moved from their original resting places, were discovered in one great burial chamber on the Nile side of the cliffs in 1881. 

Most of the tombs were carved deep into solid bedrock and contain a multitude of rooms with carved and painted hieroglyphic texts and magical and symbolic scenes. The last tomb discovered (1922), that of Tutankhamun of the 18th Dynasty, was the only one to survive wholesale looting in ancient times. Although robbed twice, the tomb still contained more than 5000 items buried with the young king. Except for the wife of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut, who was a ruler in her own right, royal wives were buried several kilometers south in the Valley of the Queens. 
  • Egypt 1926. Battleship of Queen Hatshepsut. 

Egypt 1926. Battleship of Queen Hatshepsut.

Tutankhamun or Tutankhamen (reigned 1333-1323 BC), Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, the son-in-law of Akhenaton, whom he succeeded, and possibly his son by a minor wife. He became pharaoh at about the age of 9 and ruled until his death at about the age of 18. Peace was brought to Egypt during his reign as the worship of Amon, abandoned under Akhenaton, was restored and Thebes, the city sacred to Amon, was again made Egypt's capital. Although he was not an important king, Tutankhamen is well known today because his tomb, containing fabulous treasures, was found virtually intact by the British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in 1922. 

Egypt 1972. Air Post. Tutankhamun in the Garden. Egypt 1972. Souvenir sheet, imperforate. 50th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamon's Tomb. Egypt 2000. Gold Statuette of Tutankhamun.

King Nebkheperura Tutankhamun remains the most famous of all the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, but in fact he was a short lived and fairly insignificant ruler during a transitional period in history. Little was known of him prior to Howard Carters methodical detective work, but the discovery of his tomb and the amazing contents it held ultimately ensured this boy king of the Immortality he sought. He is believed to be the 12th ruler of the 18th dynasty. 

Egypt 2004. Cartouche, Tutankhamun. From the series "Egyptian Treasures". Egypt 1993. Air Post. Profile of Tutankhamun's Funerary Mask. Egypt 2004. Canopic Jar, Tutankhamun. From the series "Egyptian Treasures".
Hatshepsut (lived 15th Century bc), Egyptian ruler of the 18th Dynasty, daughter of Thutmose I. She married her half brother, Thutmose II, with whom she coruled Egypt until his death in 1479 bc. His successor, Thutmose III, a son by a concubine, was a child at the time and was married to Hatshepsut's daughter by Thutmose II. 

In 1473, however, she had herself crowned as pharaoh, and reigned in her own right until 1458. Her nominal coruler was Thutmose III, who ruled alone after her death. Hatshepsut built a great temple at Dayr al Ba?ri near Thebes, approached by a lane of sphinxes and huge, colonnaded terraces. 

A second wife of Thutmose III, named Meryetre Hatshepsut but not related to the queen, was the mother of the next pharaoh, Amenhotep II (reigned 1427-1401 bc).

  • Egypt 1997. Thutmose (Thotmes) III. 

Egypt 1997. Thutmose (Thotmes) III.

Egypt 2000. King Seostris.

Al Karnak, village, eastern Egypt, on the Nile River. Al Karnak occupies the northern half of the site of ancient Thebes. The southern half is occupied by the village of Luxor. The fame of Al Karnak rests upon the ruins of a group of temples built here when Thebes was a center of the Egyptian religion, beginning about the 11th Dynasty in 2134 bc. The temples, with their walled enclosures of rude brick and connecting avenues of sphinxes, extend over nearly 3 sq km (1 sq mi). Two small enclosures surround temples built in honor of the god Mentu and the goddess Mut by Amenhotep III. The greatest and most important temple, that of the god Amon, was begun by Sesostris I and was completed by Ramses II, although additions continued to be made until the 1st century bc. 
  • Egypt 2000. King Seostris. 

The Temple of Amon stands in an enclosure measuring about 140 sq m (about 1500 sq ft). Its most outstanding feature is a hypostyle hall, the roof of which rests on 122 columns that are more than 21 m (more than 70 ft) high and built in nine rows. Reliefs and inscriptions cover the walls, and obelisks, statues, and pylon gates are found throughout the enclosure. Systematic restoration of the temple was started in the late 19th century. 

To round off this page, I would like to present a few wall paintings of Thebes from the 20th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, founded by Setnakhte, but its only important member was Ramses III, who modelled his career after his ancestor, Ramses II the Great. The 20th dynasty is considered to be the last one of the New Kingdom of Egypt, and was followed by the Third Intermediate Period. 

Egypt 2002. Wall painting from Thebes, the Tomb of Irinefer. Dead man standin in the barge of the sun worshiping the phoenix, symbol of the sun god of Heliopolis. Imperforate stamp. Egypt 2002. Wall painting from Thebes, Tomb of Anhurkhawi. The barge of the Sun on it's night course. Right to left Isis, Thost, the Sun god, Hu, and the dead man who steers the boat.

Egypt and its history is such a vast subject matter that it is virtually impossible to cover it on a few web pages related to World Cultural Heritage. I have therefore chosen some very restricted texts, all freely available in the public domain, that can be illustrated on current Egyptian postage stamps, and hope that I have whetted your appetite in focusing on this collecting area. 

Sources and links:


Other World Heritage Sites in the Egypt (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Egypt section, for further information on the individual properties. 

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Revised 20 jul 2006  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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