Egypt’s pharaohs welcomed summer with this fabulous festival

When the Nile flooded, Egyptians celebrated the feast of Opet, a joyous procession the carried statues of the gods from Karnak to Luxor.

This 20th-century illustration by American artist Balage Balogh re-creates the vibrancy and excitement as the three sacred barks leave Karnak for Luxor.
Photograph by Balage Balogh/RMN-Grand Palais

Every year ancient Egyptians eagerly anticipated the coming of Akhet, the flooding season. Meaning “inundation,” Akhet was the all-important time when the Nile’s floodwaters replenished the land and restored Egypt’s fertility. This time of joyous renewal was also when ancient Egypt held one of its most spectacular and most mysterious festivals: the Feast of Opet.

Opet was celebrated in the city of Thebes, and the centerpiece of the festival was a grand procession from Karnak to Luxor. In these processions, statues of the city’s most sacred gods—Amun-Re, supreme god, his wife, Mut, and his son, Khons—were placed in special vessels called barks and were then borne from one temple to the other.

Opet’s formal name is heb nefer en Ipet, which translates to “beautiful feast of Opet.” The word opet or ipet is believed to have referred to the inner sanctuary of the Temple of Luxor. So important was this festive event that the second month of Akhet, when the feast typically occurred, was named after it: pa-en-ipet, the [month] of Opet. During the reign of Thutmose III (1458-1426 B.C.), the festival lasted for 11 days. By the start of the rule of Ramses III in 1187 B.C., it had expanded to 24 days; by his death in 1156 B.C., it had stretched to 27.

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