The quaint old city of Luxor in southern Egypt has long been a destination for scholars and archaeologists as well as tourists. The obvious reason for this is that modern Luxor is also the site of ancient Thebes with its famous temples of Luxor and Karnak, as well as the fabled Valley of the Kings where the storied rulers of antiquity — including Tutankhamun —were buried. As long as tourists were able to sail the Nile, Luxor was the magnet that caused them to endure the long and difficult journey to the south.
Thousands of tourists arrive by plane, train, boat and bus, filling the temples as never before. Tour buses line up by the dozens to deliver their charges on the West Bank to Hatchepsut's Temple of Deir el Bahri or to the entrance of the Valley of the Kings, just two among many popular sites. The ultimate result is crowding, jostling, noise and confusion. It is no longer the contemplative journey to appreciate the wonders of antiquity that it once was.
In addition to the swelling number of tourists, another revolution is taking place, one not imaginable by those who have previously visited Luxor. In a move to make the ancient sites more accessible and facilitate the movement of tourists, the main streets have been widened by removing hundreds of buildings, including private houses and shops. Walls have been erected that often shut off the buildings that remain. To make the major temple sites more "attractive," large empty plazas and rows of badly designed shops have been created, again by removing many of the former occupants and their businesses.
As a small footnote to all of the activity mentioned, there is another development that is very surprising. Luxor once had a small cemetery for foreigners, neatly fenced, shaded by palms, and generally well kept. A few years ago the view of the cemetery was blocked by the erection of an elaborate mosaic wall, probably because the site was one of the first things visible as people entered the city from the airport road. Today the wall is gone, the cemetery is gone, and a park has been developed in its place. The graves of the previous cemetery, it is said, have been relocated to a site in the desert. Certainly the park is attractive, but it does seem a radical choice to disturb the resting places of those from abroad who died in Luxor in the name of progress.
The question in the minds of many concerns the real cost of all of these changes. Certainly tourism is a very important part of the Egyptian economy. Certainly facilitating the flow of tourists is also important to the generation of revenue. But what is left of a southern Egyptian city when you rip out the houses and shops to make traffic flow more speedily and the process of touring more "efficient"? The sound of bulldozers and wrecking machines can be heard every day as they go about their business. How this massive campaign of destruction affects the lives and the life of neighborhoods seems not to have been taken into consideration. It seems that some idea of "modernism" has ruled. For whatever reason, one can only say "how sad" for the old Luxor.