Karnak Temple

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Karnak, Karnak temple, Karnak temple Egypt

The Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, This great national monument of Egypt has no equal. It is not a single temple, but temple within temple, shrine within shrine, where almost all the pharaohs, particularly of the New Kingdom, wished to record their names and deeds for posterity. Though most of the structures were built in honour of Amon-Ra, his consort Mut and son Khonsu, there were numerous shrines within the complex dedicated to what might be called “guest deities', like Ptah of Memphis and Osiris of Abydos.

As successive pharaohs replanned entrance pylons, erected colonnades and constructed temples, they often reused valuable blocks from earlier periods. In the core of the Third Pylon built by Amenhotep III, for example, there were blocks of no less than ten temples and shrines from earlier periods. In cases where it was found necessary to remove a construction completely (either for purposes of design, for political reasons, or in times of threat of war), the temple or shrine was carefully dismantled and buried.

The Sun Temples of Akhenaten suffered this fate. Thousands of distinctly uniform, decorated sandstone blocks, known as talataat, were buried beneath the Hypostyle Hall and the Second Pylon, as well as within the core of the Ninth and Tenth Pylons. One of the most challenging problems facing Egyptologists today is to trace the history of the temple of Amon at Karnak through such reused or buried evidence.

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The Entrance Pylon

The Entrance Pylon, was possibly constructed during the Kushite Dynasty and it was never completed. It is approached from a landing stage where there are two small obelisks erected by Seti II, down a flight of stairs, and between a double row of ram-headed sphinxes. Between the forepaws of each sphinx is a statue of Ramses II. Entrance to Karnak is flanked by statues of rams.

Passing through the first pylon, we enter the Great Court (1), which spreads over an enormous area of 8,919 square metres and contains monuments spanning many Dynasties.

The single smoothshafted column with lotus capital near the centre of the court was one of ten raised by the Kushite pharaoh Taharka. To the rear is the Second Pylon (P.2) built at the beginning of the 19th Dynasty. To the left is a shrine (2) built by Seti II in honour of the three gods of Thebes. To the right is the Temple of Ramses III (3), which is a fine example of a traditional temple.

Temple of Ramses III

This small temple, designed and built in the lifetime of a single pharaoh, is a typical New Kingdom temple. It comprises an entrance pylon with two towers flanked by statues, a central doorway leading to an open court (surrounded by colonnades), and a covered terrace to the rear. From the terrace a doorway leads to the Hypostyle Hall that is roofed: the difference in height between the central and side columns is made up by square pillars which allow light into the otherwise darkened hall. Beyond lies the Sanctuary, or Holy of Holies, where the sacred statue of the god was kept. In this temple there were three sanctuaries, for Amon, Mut and Khonsu.

In a typical temple, the pavement rises progressively and the roof lowers from the entrance to the sanctuary, this is symbolic of the primaeval hill rising from the eternal ocean. The temple also gets progressively darker, from the open court to the inner sanctuary: from the known towards the mysterious. Only the pharaoh, or the high priest in his stead, was permitted to enter the darkened sanctuary, and to cast his eyes on the statue of the god.

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The inner walls of a temple were usually covered with reliefs depicting religious scenes, ritual celebrations and sacrificial offerings in honour of the gods. The outer walls were decorated with heroic scenes of war and conquest.

Ramses III recorded his victories on the entrance pylon (a). The left-hand tower shows him wearing the Double Crown. He holds a group of prisoners by the hair with one hand and raises a club to smite them with the other. Amon stands before him, handing him the Sword of Victory and delivering to him three rows of conquered cities. These are represented as a human figure rising out of a symbolic fort that bears the name of the city. On the right-hand tower the theme is repeated but with Ramses wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. Two statues flank the doorway over which Ramses, in relief, receives the symbol of Life from Amon.

The open court is surrounded by covered passages on three sides. each supported by eight square pillars with statues of Ramses III in the form of Osiris before each. The terrace to the rear has four square pillars and four columns with bud capitals. The reliefs on the left-hand rear wall of the pylon show Ramses receiving the hieroglyph for Jubilee from the enthroned Amon. On the righthand wall is a procession of standard-bearers and Ramses leading the priests who bear the sacred barges of the Theban triad.

The Hypostyle Hall, which has eight columns with papyrus-bud capitals, leads to the three sanctuaries. The reliefs show Ramses making offerings before the sacred barge of each god: Amon in the central chamber, Mut to the left and Khonsu to the right.

Returning to the Great Court, we turn east and approach the Second Pylon (P. 2) that dates to the beginning of the 19th Dynasty. The core, as already mentioned, contained thousands of the sand-stone blocks from the Sun Temples. Also buried were discarded statues, such as the huge red granite statue of Ramses II, usurped by Pinedjem, son-in-law of the high priest of Amon. It was buried under the ruins of the northern tower and now stands to the left of the central doorway (b). A small figure of Nefertari, one of the most complete statues ever found of this beautiful queen, stands in front of his legs.

The Great Hypostyle Hall

The Great Hypostyle Hall (4), with its 134 columns arranged in sixteen rows, covers an area of 4,983 square metres. It is the largest single chamber of any temple in the world. The double row of central columns, which lead towards the sanctuary, are higher than the side columns. Their shafts are smooth, and they soar to a height of twenty-one metres. The spreading calyx capitals retain much of their original colour, as do the massive architraves. The shorter side columns have bud capitals. The discrepancy in height is made up by square pillars between the steps of the roof that provided the only light when the hall had its original roofing.

The Hypostyle Hall was decorated throughout. All the walls and the shafts of the columns were covered with reliefs and inscriptions showing adoration of the deities, especially Amon-Ra. Seti I was responsible for the entire northern half of the hall, and Ramses II built the southern portion, but many other 19th Dynasty pharaohs recorded their names there.

On the outside of the Hypostyle Hall are some important historical reliefs. On the southern wall is a record of Ramses It's Battle of Kadesh, which contains the actual text of the treaty with the Hittites. On the northern wall are scenes of Seti I's battles which took place in Lebanon, southern Palestine and Syria. At (c), in the upper row, we can see Seti I in his chariot shooting arrows at the enemy charioteers, cavalry and infantry who are depicted in flight. Some of the inhabitants of the conquered territory take refuge in a fortress surrounded by water. To the right Seti appears in three scenes: he binds captives, marches behind his chariot dragging four captives, and leads rows of captured Syrians to Amon, Mut and Khonsu.

In the lower row there is a triumphal march through Palestine. Seti stands in his chariot. The princes of Palestine honour him with uplifted arms while he appears to turn towards them in acknowledgement.

Further along the wall is the battle against bedouin tribes in southern Palestine: some of the survivors flee to the mountains. The victorious Seti returns from Syria, along with captives. The boundary between Asia and Egypt is marked by a canal. On the Egyptian side priests and officials welcome Seti, and he delivers the captives and the booty to Amon-Ra. To the right of the doorway, at (d), are three rows of battle reliefs: the storming of Kadesh in the top row; the battle against the Libyans (with pig-tails and feathers) in the middle row, and the battle against the Hittites in northern Syria in the bottom row. On both sides of the doorway are huge reliefs of Amon-Ra who, in return for the tribute and the several rows of captured territories, which he holds by cords, presents the Sword of Victory to Seti.

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The Third Pylon

The Third Pylon (P. 3) was built by Amenhotep III, and it once formed the entrance to the temple. During drainage operations in recent years, prior to reconstruction of the pylon, it was discovered that hundreds of blocks of earlier structures had been buried in its core. Among those that have been reconstructed are a magnificent 12th Dynasty pavilion built by Senusert I of fine-grained limestone, and an alabaster shrine of the reigns of Amenhotep I and Thutmose I.

Thutmose I ascended the throne early in the 18th Dynasty. He made the first major alterations to the original shrine of Amon-Ra built by the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom, and also erected the hrst pair of obelisks at Karnak: one still stands in the Central Court between the third and fourth pylons.

Pylons P.4 and P.5, were built by Thutmose I; Hatshepsut, his daughter and builder of the famous mortuary temple of Deir el Bahri (page 72), erected another pair of huge obelisks between them.

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Hatshepsut's standing obelisk, erected in the sixteenth vear a reign, was made of a single block of pink granite and rises to a heil of twenty-nine and a half metres. It is one of the two tallest standing obelisks (the other is in Rome outside St John Lateran). The inscription records that it was quarried from Aswan, transported and erected in seven months; a considerable feat in view of the fact that it weighed some 323 tons. The base of the second obelisk is still in situ; the upper part is near the Sacred Lake (page 70) and fragments have been taken to the museums of Boston, Liverpool. Glasgow and Sidney.

Passing through the doorway of the Fifth Pylon (P.5) we enter Thutmose I's second colonnade. It is now very much in ruin. Beyond rises the sixth and smallest pylon (P.6) erected by Thutmose III and restored by Seti I. On each face are lists of the tribes of Nubia, Kush and Syria, which were subjugated by Thutmose III's army. The conquered territories are, as usual, shown as an elliptical hieroglyph character surmounted by a human bust with arms bound behind the back.

Passing through the doorway of the Fifth Pylon (P.5) we enter Thutmose I's second colonnade. It is now very much in ruin. Beyond rises the sixth and smallest pylon (P.6) erected by Thutmose III and restored by Seti I. On each face are lists of the tribes of Nubia, Kush and Syria, which were subjugated by Thutmose III's army. The conquered territories are, as usual, shown as an elliptical hieroglyph character surmounted by a human bust with arms bound behind the back.

The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary (e) lies directly to the rear. The inner shrine is made of pink granite and carved with fine reliefs. The ceiling is adorned with stars on a black background, and the representations are of Philip Arrhidaeus, the half-brother of Alexander the Great who succeeded him to the throne, being crowned, presented to me gods and seated before an offering table.

A corridor runs around the sanctuary, enabling us to view the finely carved reliefs, particularly on the outer southern wall to the left of the sanctuary). These are in four rows showing the pharao undergoing purification with water and other rituals attending his entrance into the sanctuary. There are also offering scenes and a ne representation of the sacred barge of Amon.

Great Festival Temple of Thutmose III

The Great Festival Temple of Thutmose III (5) lies beyond the ruins to the east of the sanctuary. It was built in honour of Amon-Ra by the pharaoh who fought no less than seventeen battles during his reign, creating a vast empire for his country. In his thanks for victory, Thutmose III ordered the erection of this spacious and elegant temple 44 metres wide and 16 metres deep.

The roof of the temple was supported by twenty columns in two rows with unusual inverted calyx capitals - an artistic innovation that was never repeated - and thirty-two shorter, square pillars on the sides. The reliefs depict Thutmose making offerings to the gods.

Grouped around the sanctuary, which comprises three sections, were some fifty halls and chambers. One of them to the left) has four clustered papyrus columns and unusual reliefs on the lower walls. They show different animals and exotic plants that the conqueror brought back to his country from Syria in the 25th year of his reign. Southern Buildings (see Plan No. 10, page 66) This area is approached from the Central Court (between P.3 and P.4). The first court (6) was the site of the famous Karnak Cachette. It appears that periodically, either for political or religious reasons, or to protect them in times of threat, the priests removed objects that had been dedicated and because of their having been consecrated, buried them in sacred ground. In the Karnak Cachette thousands of objects were unearthed in 1904: stone sculptures, sphinxes and statues of Sacred Lake at Karnak with giant scarab of Amenhotep III in the foreground sacred animals, as well as smaller items in metal and stone. There were 47,000 bronze items alone.

Sacred Lake

The doorway to the east leads to the Sacred Lake (7) where the priests of Amon purified themselves and conducted religious rites. Lying on the left-hand side of the path is the upper part of the obelisk of Hatshepsut, which enables us to view the fine technique of relief carving on granite. In the sunlight it can be seen that the figure and name of Amon were chiselled out in a scene where Hatshepsut is being crowned) and were later recarved.

The huge granite scarab, associated with the Sun-god in the form of Kheper, was dedicated to the rising sun by Amenhotep III. It was taken from his mortuary temple in the necropolis, as were many of the blocks, which were reused.

Thutmose III erected the Seventh Pylon (P.7), and Hatshepsut the Eighth (P.8). The Ninth and Tenth Pylons (P.9 and P.10) were built by Tutankhamon and Haremhab. As already mentioned these two latter pylons were found to be filled with talataat from the sun temples of Akhenaten. The word, which means 'three' in Arabic, was coined by workmen because the size of each block measured three hands' width. The total number that have been found in the Karnak complex, beneath the flag-stones of the Hypostyle Hall, in the Second Pylon, and in the Ninth and Tenth Pylons, numbers over 40,000.

It would appear that the sun temples were built before Akhenaten transferred the capital to Telel Amarna (Chapter 4). After his death, however, and with the reinstatement of the priests of Amon, the temples were dismantled and the blocks re-used and hidden from sight. (Some three hundred blocks have been reconstructed in an 18-metre wall in the Luxor Museum.

The eastern avenue of sphinxes extends from the toth Pylon to the Temple of Mut, consort of Amon, which is now being excavated and reconstructed. To the west of the Southern Buildings are the temple of Khonsu (8) and the adjoining temple of Osiris and Opet (9), which was built in the Ptolemaic Period.

The Temple of Khonsu

The Temple of Khonsu (8) was started by Ramses III. and like his small temple in the Great Court, it is a classical New Kingdom temple. It was dedicated to the moon-god Khonsu, son of the Theban triad. The reliefs were completed by Ramses IV, Ramses XII and Hrihor, the high priest who usurped the throne at the end of the 20th Dynasty.

The entrance pylon bears representations of Hrihor and his wife making sacrifices to the Theban deities. He stands in the position and posture traditionally assumed by the pharaohs of Egypt. The temple is, therefore, of historical importance, bearing witness to the transmission of pharaonic power from the royal line to the priests of Amon, around 1080 BC. In this temple the name of a high priest appears in a royal cartouche for the first time.

The ceremonial gate (southern gate) was built by Ptolemy III Euergetes (222 BC). Between it and Luxor Temple to the south were the palaces, villas, factories and markets of the inhabitants of ancient Thebes, now lost beneath the accumulated ruins of successive generations who have inhabited the same place. There was also a sphinx-lined avenue along which ceremonial processions travelled between the two temples.


Explore Luxor Tours countless adventures, start with the East bank tour visiting: Karnak TempleLuxor Temple, then enjoy West bank tour visiting: Valley Of The KingsHatshepsut Temple, the Collossi of Memnon, enjoy hot air balloon ride in the morning. Take in Nile Cruise from luxor to Aswan visiting: Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna while enjoying the beautiful view of the Nile along the way or spend a day in Cairo visiting: The Pyramids of Cheops, Chefren, Mykreinus, the Sphinx, the egyptian museum, old Cairo then go shopping in Khan El Khalili, or travel to Aswan visiting: Philae Temple, Unfinished Obelisk, the High Dam and Abu Simple Temples.

All these tours are sure to add something unforgettable on your tours in Luxor.

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Q- IIs Luxor worth visiting? A-Luxor and Cairo are exceedingly different places and yes Luxor is well worth visiting. If you want to see iconic sites such as the Valley of the King's and Karnak Temple, then you have no choice.

Q-How many days do you need in Luxor? A-Two days- Luxor requires a minimum of 3 days IMO. There is so much to see and do so you will be on the go the whole time. I'd say the minimum time needed to visit Luxor is two days, but you can easily spend longer as there are so many sites, and it's worth taking the time to enjoy the atmosphere.

Q-How long is the train ride from Cairo to Luxor?A-Departs Cairo Ramses Station 10 hours.

Q-Is it safe to travel from Hurghada to Luxor?A- There is no FCO advice against travel to Cairo, Alexandria, the tourist areas along the Nile, and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. The section of the country between the Nile and the Red Sea is also considered mostly safe.

Q-What can you buy in Luxor?A-Some of the best souvenirs to bargain for & buy in Luxor are Egyptian cotton, alabaster vases & other products from alabaster factories, mouldings and carvings of Pharaohs, queens & gods, glass scent bottles, leather, silver, gold to name a few.

Q-Is Aswan worth visiting? A-“Aswan itself: the town is worth a visit” ... With its great market, connection to Nubian people and culture, its easy cross Nile ferry trip and a great place to stay, Aswan is a much more enjoyable place than any other place in the world.

Q-How long is a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan? A-The Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan takes 5 days and vice versa from Aswan to Luxor 4 days.