The Temple of Karnak is not a single temple but a temple complex that developed over a period of 1500 years. It is one of the largest religious complexes in the world and consists of gates, pillars, halls, obelisks, statues and a sacred lake. Each of the Pharaohs would make further additions and then remove those erected by their predecessors; thereby replacing them with their own. In order to make the people believe that they were the builders, they would remove predecessorsí cartouches and replace them with their own. The Temple played a significant part in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, being situated in what was Thebes, the religious capital of Egypt.
The principal temple was dedicated and sacred to Amun, who was originally a local God who became the principal God nationally from 1600 BCE and was identified with Re, the Sun God. He was worshipped with his consort Mut, who has an adjoining temple. At its height, over 80,000 people worked in the Temple of Karnak and it had significant income from its estates, markets and the plunder that the Pharaohs brought back from their military campaigns.
The temple is approached along the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leading to the first pylon, which was built by the Ethiopian kings around 656 BC. In antiquity this would have been connected to the Nile by a canal. Against the pylon in the courtyard is a mound of mud bricks which indicate that construction was still being undertaken when the temple was finally abandoned. This also gives us an indication of how construction took place, with the bricks being used as a ramp.
Inside the entrance is the first courtyard, this contains the Shrine of Seti II, the Kiosk of Taharka and it leads to the Temple of Ramses III. At the other end of the courtyard is the pylon of Ramses II which leads into the enormous hypostyle hall which was built between 1294 and 1213 BC by Seti I and his son Ramses II. It is over 100m long by over 50 wide and contains 134 columns 23 m (75ft) high. At the top are open papyrus shaped capitals with a circumference of approximately 15 metres (49 feet) which are big enough for 50 people to stand on.
Through the hall, toward the holy of holies, you come to the two obelisks that are still standing. The one to the right was erected by Thutmosis I, the other by Queen Hatshepsut and is 30 metres high and weighs approximately 200 tons. Both are made of pink granite. Nearby is the statue of Ramses II.
The Sacred Lake at Karnak is 120 metres (393 feet) by 77 metres (252 feet) wide and was used by the priests to perform their ritual ablutions three times a day. It symbolizes the primaeval sea of the Egyptian history of creation, from which all life sprang. It was surrounded by storerooms and living quarters for the priests. The lake was fed by water from the Nile by underground pipework. Next to the Sacred Lake is a giant scarab, dedicated by Amenophsis III to the God Khepri. The Egyptians believed that the Sun was pushed by a scarab on its daily crossing of the sky and it came to symbolize eternity. It is said that if you walk around the scarab seven times, you will never again have love problems. You will therefore frequently see visitors to the Temple walking around the scarab seven times in order to fulfil the prophecy.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.