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

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

Getty / iStockphoto

Cairo – When the Americans settled down to enjoy the long-standing tradition of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, almost 6,000 miles away, Egypt set out to revive its own tradition, which had probably not been seen for a few 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 Karnak temples in the north with Luxor in the south. Paved in sandstone blocks, the 1.7-kilometer-long road is lined on both sides with more than 1,050 statues of sphinxes and rams. They have spent centuries buried under the desert sands, but slowly, over many years, Egypt’s famous archaeologists bring them back into the light of day.

The grand opening of Sphinx Avenue in Luxor | Opening of Kabash Road in Luxor by
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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 could be dated all the way back to Queen Hatshepsut, about 3,500 years ago, but Dr. Al-Saghir says scientists have not found “any archaeological evidence on the way to support this theory.”

Others believe that it was built under King Amenhotep III, a few hundred years later, but Dr. Al-Saghir says the artifacts on the road regarding that pharaoh were moved there later. He believes 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 by road goes back to King Tutankhamun, who reached 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 Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt
The Avenue of the Sphinxes leads towards the ancient Egyptian colossi at the entrance to the Court of Ramses II, the Luxor Temple, Luxor, the Nile Valley, Egypt.


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

Road parade

Every year, ancient Egyptians held a festival called “Open” in 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 spouse Mut and their son Khonsu – from Karnak to Luxor.

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

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

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

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

The excavations have continued for years, to and from, while archaeologists uncover and map the ancient road. They have had to tear down some buildings, including mosques, a church and many homes that have sprung up along the route over the ensuing millennia.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was praised for the spectacle it put on in April last year, when the Royal mummies were paraded down a traffic artery 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 old Opet festival and included music, dance and light shows.


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