Thebes was an ancient Egyptian city located east of the Nile about 800 kilometers (500 mi) south of the Mediterranean.
Ancient Thebes was home to some of the greatest monuments of the ancient world—built to honor the living, the dead, and the divine. The city, known to the ancient Egyptians as Waset, and called Luxor today, was the capital of Egypt during parts of the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1750 B.C.) and the New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1070 B.C.).
On the river’s east side was the city proper and many important temples, including the legendary Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak. It comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings. The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut (“The Most Selected of Places”) and the main place of worship of the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad with the god Amun as its head. Karnak was one of the biggest religious complexes in the world, and even after more than 3,000 years it remains one of the most awe-inspiring.
Karnak was linked to another legendary site, the Luxor Temple, by a grand, 1.9-mile-long (3-kilometer-long) avenue lined with sphinxes. Luxor Temple, with its soaring columns and statues of Ramses II, is nearly as familiar as the Sphinx or Pyramids at Giza.
On the Nile’s west bank, the dead held sway. It was here that the Egyptians created the extensive Theban Necropolis to commemorate the lives of the royal and highborn—and to prepare them for the afterlife.
The Valley of the Kings (actually two distinct valleys) was placed within the heart of the Theban Necropolis. It was used to bury royalty during much of the New Kingdom era, from about 1550 to 1070 B.C. Rulers were interred in elaborate underground structures, with chambers and passages decorated with paintings and filled with everything a pharaoh could desire in this world or the next.
This area has been a focus of archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the eighteenth century, and its tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (with its rumours of the Curse of the Pharaohs), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis.