karnak temple

Karnak Temple; Places to visit in Luxor

Region: Upper Egypt              Governorate: Qena

Opening hours: in summer, daily 6 am—6 pm, in winter daily 6 am—5 pm.

An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leads from the Temple of Luxor north to the sanctuary of Karnak. A portal built by Ptolemaios Ill Euergetes I which has a winged sun in its chamfer is the entrance to the large temple precinct, which is enclosed by a masonry wall and which, together with the Luxor and West Thebes, was once part of the Egyptian capital of Thebes.

The largest temple complex in Egypt lies north of Luxor. It mainly consists of the large Amun Temple, the Temple of Khonsu as well as a Festival Temple of Tuthmosis Ill, but also encompasses many other structures. The northern and southern temple precincts as well as the buildings south of the eighth pylon are currently closed to visitors. 

Temple Construction

Great Amun Temple

The rectangular terrace in front of the pylon was flooded by the rising Nile from ancient times, as the water level markers from the 21st to 26th dynasties mounted on its front show. On the terrace, there is a small obelisk of Seti Il — of its counterpart, only the base is left. An avenue of rams built by Ramses Il led from here to the Amun Temple

The Great Amun Temple, the main attraction at Karnak, was not built to a uniform plan. Since its founding, which dates back at least to the early 12th dynasty, the pharaohs competed to decorate the sanctuary ever more magnificently. Amenhotep I built a second sanctuary at the side of the main temple; however, it was removed again quite early. When Thebes became the capital of the New Kingdom, the first building no longer seemed worthy of the power of the god. Tuthmosis I built a large courtyard around the temple of the Middle Kingdom; it was closed off in the west by a pylon and surrounded on the inside by colonnades with Osiris pillars. Later, he erected a pylon with an enclosing wall, two obelisks in front of it, and a colonnade between the two pylons.

Under Hatshepsut, several structures were built in the interior: in front of the temple of the Middle Kingdom in the courtyard of Tuthmosis I, a sanctuary, and in the colonnade between the fourth and fifth pylons, two obelisks; the hall itself was also rebuilt at this time. Hatshepsut’s step-son and co-regent Tuthmosis Ill continued this work while he was the sole ruler. He had the colonnades in the courtyard of Tuthmosis I torn down for the most part and replaced with rows of smaller chapels. The sixth pylon was built; the courtyard between it and the structure of Hatshepsut (which had been extended by a hypostyle hall) was decorated with colonnades. The colonnade of Tuthmosis I between the fourth and fifth pylons was subjected to thorough alterations, probably in order to remove the obelisks of I Hatshepsut which stood here from the view of temple visitors. Two new obelisks were erected before the obelisks of Tuthmosis l. About 20 years later, the king added further structures — the two halls of records and the vestibules between the fifth and sixth pylons, as well as the large festival temple to the east. Amenhotep Ill and Horemheb each added another pylon to the temple complex.

All of these structures from the 18th dynasty were surpassed by the kings of the 19th dynasty. Seti I and Ramses Il created a gigantic colonnade between these pylons. To the present day, it is regarded as one of the greatest works in architectural history. Ranuses Il also had another enclosure wall built. This gave the structure its final form. The temples of Seti Il and Ramses 111 were independent buildings outside the great sacred precinct. Not until the time of the Libyan kings of Bubastis (22nd dynasty) were the traditions of the old pharaohs resumed. Sheshonk created a large courtyard with two side colonnades in front of the pylon of Horemheb — half of the temple of Ramses Ill was incorporated in this structure — and the courtyard ended in the first large pylon. Later, the Kushite ruler Taharka (25th dynasty) had a passage with colossal columns built in this courtyard. Consequently, the temple complex remained largely unchanged, even under the Ptolemies, who only made few changes. It began to decay in imperial Roman times.

The first pylon

The first pylon, the gigantic gate from the 30th dynasty (380—343), is the largest pylon of ancient Egypt — with walls 15m/50ft thick, a height of 43.5m/143ft, and a width of 113m/370ft — despite the fact that it remained uncompleted. In the gate passage of the pylon, inscriptions at the top right provide a reminder of the scholars who came to Egypt in 1799 with the French army. They determined the latitude and longitude of the main Egyptian temples. On the opposite side, on the left, inscriptions commemorate a group of Italian scholars who determined the deviation of the compass to 10′ 56″ here on 9 February 1841.

The Great Court

The Great Court beyond the first pylon dates from the 22nd dynasty. It is enclosed by colonnades on both sides; the southern colonnade is interrupted by the front of the temple of Ramses Ill.

In the north corner of the courtyard, immediately on the left when entering, stands the Temple of Seti Il, a small structure of grey sandstone. The door frames and lower walls are made from a reddish sandstone containing quartz. Its three chapels are ornamented with beautiful reliefs: the middle chapel was dedicated to Amun, the lefthand one to Mut, and the right-hand one to Khons. Images of gods stood in the niches. In the Khons chapel, a stairway within the wall leads onto the roof of the temple.

On the north-west and south-west sides of the court are recumbent ram figures which were stored here in ancient times. They were originally part of the avenue of rams of Ramses Il, which led to the second pylon, and were removed when the various structures in the Great Court were built.

The Colonnade of Taharka was at the center of the courtyard. Only one of the ten columns is still completely standing. With its imposing height of 21m/69ft, it provides an impression of the former monumental size of the colonnade.

The Granite Sanctuary

The granite sanctuary in which the holy barque stood — and whose base is still in place was built under Philippus Arrhidaeus (323—317 BC), probably as a replacement for a previous one built by Tuthmosis Ill, fragments of which stand outside. It is of pink granite and is subdivided into two rooms, of which the front room opens to the west and the backroom to the east. On the east wall of the rear room, four steps lead up to a double window. The inside and outside walls are covered with reliefs, some of which have extremely well-preserved coloring. The inner wall in the first room shows Philippus sacrificing to the various embodiments of Amun and carrying out other rituals. In the second room on the left, he sits at a dining table.

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Also known as Set, Setekh, Suty and Sutekh, Seth was the god of chaos, darkness, violence, evil, deserts, storms, and one of the Osirian gods. In the Osiris myth, he is the murderer of Osiris (in some versions of the myth, he tricks Osiris into laying down in a coffin and then seals it shut.)

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