Egypt reopens ancient “Avenue of the Sphinx” centuries after hosting parades for the gods

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The Avenue of the Sphinxes
The Avenue of the Sphinxes, flanked by sphinxes and frame statues, connects the temples of Luxor and Karnak of Egypt.

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Cairo – When Americans settled down to enjoy the ancient tradition of Thanksgiving Day Parade, almost 6,000 miles away, Egypt sat down to revive its own tradition that had probably not been seen in a couple of thousand years. The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities held a grand ceremony on Thursday night to mark the reopening of the ancient Sphinx Avenue in the city of Luxor.

The sacred road, once called the “Road of God”, connects the temples of Karnak in the north with Luxor in the south. The 2.7 km long road is paved with sandstone blocks and is lined on both sides by more than 1,050 statues of sphinxes and rams. They have spent centuries buried under the desert sands, but slowly, for many years, Egypt’s famous archaeologists take them back into the light of day.


The grand opening of Sphinx Avenue in Luxor Opening of Kabash Road in Luxor past
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So far, 309 statues have been excavated in good condition, but that number may increase as the excavation work continues, says Dr Mustafa Al-Saghir, director general of the Karnak monuments, to CBS News.

Who built it?

Like much of the ancient world, the Avenue of the Sphinxes has not given up all its secrets.

It is not certain who started building the road. Some scientists have suggested that it may date all the way back to Queen Hatshepsut, about 3,500 years ago, but Dr. Al-Saghir says researchers have not found “any archaeological evidence to support this theory.”

Others believe it was built under King Amenhotep III, a few hundred years later, but Dr. Al-Saghir says the artifacts on the road related to the pharaoh were moved there later. He believes that it may have been Egypt’s most famous ancient ruler, who sat on the throne about 3,000 years ago, who started the Avenue of the Sphinxes.

“The oldest monument we discovered on the way goes back to King Tutankhamun, who took the first 300 meters from the 10th pylon in the Karnak Temple to the gate of the Mut Temple,” he told CBS News.

Entrance to the Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt
The Avenue of the Sphinxes leads to the ancient Egyptian colossi at the entrance to the court of Ramses II, the Temple of Luxor, Luxor, the Nile Valley, Egypt.

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Whoever started the project, there is broad agreement that most of the road, a span of about 2,400 meters long, was built during the reign of King Nectanebo I, the founder of the 30th and last native dynasty in Egypt, for approx. 2,400 years ago.

Road parade

Every year, ancient Egyptians would hold a festival called “Opet” during the second month of the Nile flood season to celebrate the fertility of the gods and the pharaoh. Priests would carry three divine boats on their shoulders and transport statues of the Theban triad – the gods of Amun-Re, his consort Mut and their son Khonsu – from Karnak to Luxor.

The trip was made on foot along the Sphinx Avenue, or sometimes by boat along the Nile.

The festival lasted from days to weeks depending on the rulers of the time, and then the statues were carried back to Karnak.

Avenue of Sphinxes (Luxor, Egypt)
The ancient Sphinx Avenue is seen in Luxor, Egypt.

Getty / iStockphoto


In time, the road was abandoned and buried under the sand. But in 1949, the first eight sphinx statues in front of the Luxor Temple were discovered by the Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zakaria Ghoneim.

Excavations have continued for several years, occasionally, as archaeologists uncover and map the ancient road. They have had to demolish some buildings, including mosques, a church and many homes, which grew up along the road in the following millennia.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was praised for the spectacle it staged in April last year, when King mummies were paraded along a thoroughfare to a new museum home, and the government organized Thursday’s ceremony on the same scale to promote the city of Luxor as one of the largest open-air museums in the world.

The event sought to recreate the spirit of the ancient Opet Festival and included music, dance and light shows.

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