The Landscape Guide

Map of Domain of AmunThe Domain of Amun

(see * Note on Terminology and see Key Map for Photographs)


I see the Domain of Amun, in Egypt, as the key site in the development of western landscape architecture. The civilisation of Ancient Greece did not spring, like Athena, fully armed from the head of Zeus. It developed by degrees from the civilizations of the East Mediterranean. The relationship is less easy to appreciate for landscape architecture than for other cultural traditions (architecture, religion, technology etc) because the evidence has been buried. But archaeology reveals more each year. This article was inspired by seeing more of the avenues in the Domain of Amun in 2004 than on a previous visit in 1975. For this work, I congratulate the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Egypt - and urge them to do more!.

European interest in Egypt

The Greeks and Romans were fascinated by Egypt. To a degree, it inspired their architecture, sculpture, religion and law. The first Egyptian obelisks were taken to Italy in by Roman emperors and Rome has more obelisks than Egypt. As the empire declined they fell and were lost in the earth – to be re-discovered and re-erected during the renaissance. Appreciation of Europe’s Egyptian heritage in Modern Europe followed a similar pattern. When Napoleon ‘visited’ Egypt in 1800 the ancient landscape of Luxor lay buried, and protected, by two millennia of alluvium. The capitals of some columns were protruded but most of the temples and all the avenues were hidden. By drawing what they found Napoleon’s scholars awakened an enthusiasm for excavation which has grown from year to year. Seeking the ‘gold of the pharaohs’ was a prime objective in the early years. As the market for antiquities broadened, so did the demand for transportable statues. When significant funding became available, temples were scientific excavation and restoration. Interest in the entire landscape of Ancient Egypt is a more recent development. There is much to be done but accelerating urbanisation is a problem.

The landscape architecture of Luxor

The city we know as Luxor takes its name from the Arabic name al-Uqsor (‘the palaces’). The Greeks knew it as Thebes and the Ancient Egyptians as Waset. Mentuhotep II (2055-2004 BCE) united Upper and Lower Egypt and made this city his capital. It then became Nowe, ‘the City of Amun’. Egyptian society was unitary and ordered, depending on the laws of nature and the rule of law. The ruling Pharaoh was a living god, responsible for both types of law. Pharaohonic rule protected settlements from marauding nomads, allowing allowed crops to be irrigated and cultivated. A surplus of production over consumption allowed people to specialize in aspects of knowledge and technology. Religion, law, art and philosophy were integrated, with everything depending on respect for social institutions. See note on Sacred Space in Egypt.

It was in this context that the Domain of Amun came into being. Amun was the lord of all: king of the gods and patron of the pharaohs. His Domain was a network of temples linked by processional routes used during festivals (New Year, Harvest etc). Processions began in the land of the living, on the Nile’s east bank, crossed the river by royal barge and visited the mortuary temples in the land of the dead, on the west bank. Routes were treated in various ways: as canals, walled causeways and pavements lined with trees or statues of sphinxs. Cult temples for gods with bodily existence (ie pharaohs) were built in cities. Mortuary temples for gods whose bodily phase had ended were built on the margin of the black agricultural land and the red desert land.

The Temple of Metuhotpe II was designed (pre-2000 BC) with a platform below the Theban cliffs and ramps leading to a ceremonial causeway (partly excavated and reconstructed) running to the Nile. Tree pits in the temple compound are still visible. Beside this stands the Temple of Hatshepsut (1470 BC) designed by Senenmut and, in my view, the most brilliant landscape design in the ancient world: a spectacular composition of structures, vegetation, water, landform and climate. The designer, Senemnut, was buried beside the Temple and deserves recognition as the Father of Landscape Architecture. Amongst his other titles Senenmut was Overseer of the Domain of Amun.

The Domain and modern landscape architecture

Seen from our perspective the role of the Domain was to explain the nature of the world and engender social order under the rule of law. These could stand as objectives for the modern landscape profession. We need to (1) Design with Nature, as McHarg so brilliantly phrased it (2) satisfy the Vitruvian objectives of creating outdoor space with 'Commodity, Firmness and Delight' (3) create specific outdoor space types which promote social harmony (family gardens, community space, city squares, greenways, safe streets, cycleways, processional routes).

Conservation and restoration in the Domain of Amun


Photo key map of Domain of Amun Sacred Lake at Temple of Karnak View of the Western Mountain from Karnak Hatshepsut's Temple, as seen in the Festival of the Valley Mentuhotep's Causeway View of route from Karnak Tomb of Senenmut and Temple of Hatshepsut Tree planting pits at Temple of Mentuhotep II Medinet Habu Visual intrusion on Western Mountain Traffic outside Luxor Temple Pylon at Luxor Temple, floodlit Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor Avenue of Sphinxes, leading to Luxor Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak Pleasure barge on River Nile Ramesseum Colossi of Memnon Landscape restoration at Temple of Seti Nile Cruise boats belching diesel fumes at Luxor Dier el Medina - the craftsmen's village

Electricity pylons in Egypt

The Domain of Amun could be destroyed by thoughtless development of modern buildings and infrastructure projects. See also.

Maintenance of the Domain ceased in Roman times. The trees died. The temples decayed. The palaces were washed away. Annual deposits of sediment buried the avenues. In recent times, more has been lost to urbanization. Views and lines of sight are being obstructed and polluted.

Current restoration

Excavations have proceeded since 1800. Most of the temples have been uncovered and some processional routes (avenues) have been, and are being, restored.

Future restoration

  1. There should be a complete building ban in the Domain of Amun
  2. The routes, a key feature of the Domain, should be scheduled for restoration.
  3. Copies of statues should be made and placed where they were found
  4. A long-term planting plan should be implemented
  5. The cermonial dock between Karnak Temple and the Nile should be restored, even if the car and coach park has to move.
  6. In the longer term, the Nile Corniche should be diverted inland so that the Temples of Luxor and Karnak can regain their riverside sites

* Note on terminology

The word ‘domain’ comes, via French, from the Latin word dominus (lord, master, ruler). For the lands of Amun, it seems a better choice than the word ‘estate’ which derives, again via French, from the Latin word status (standing, position, state). Sennefer’s titles included Mayor of Thebes, Chancellor to Amenhotep II, Overseer of the Granaries of Amun, Overseer of the Fields of Amun, High Priest of Amun in Menisut and Overseer of Amun's Gardens. He was, in modern English Overseer of the Domain of Amun. Senenmut was also described as Overseer of the Domain of Amun.

Contact Note for SCA

If you believe that special conservation and restoration measures should be established to protect the landscape architecture of the Domain of Amun, please write to the Director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo. At present the Council is more concerned with art and building than with landscape architecture. But experience in over-developed countries (eg Britain) shows that outdoor space (eg gardens) attracts more visitors than indoor space. There is an urgent need, and a great commercial opportunity, for a full-scale re-creation of an Ancient Egyptian Garden in Luxor. It could be based on the fabulous plan of Sennufer's Garden and the project could be undertaken by one of the luxury hotels.

Note on Cycling in Egypt and Note on Tours of Egypt