The Temple of Karnak is one of the largest religious complexes in the world that developed over a period of 1500 years. It consists of gates, pillars, halls, obelisks, statues and a sacred lake.
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, second only to Angkor Wat, 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 predecessors’ 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, which was then the 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 (as seen in the photograph above), in antiquity this would have been connected to the Nile by a canal. The sphinxes symbolize the god Amun each of which has a small effigy of Ramesses (Ramses) II (1292–1190 BCE), in the form of Osiris, standing between their front paws.
The avenue leads to the first pylon, which was built by Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) who also built the wall surrounding Karnak. Some scholars believe that an earlier pylon may have stood at this location.
The tower on the right (north tower) is around 71 feet (21.70m), and the left tower 103 feet (31.65m). If the pylon had been completed it is believed that it would have probably reached a height of between 124 feet (38m) to 131 feet (40m). It was the last pylon to be built at Karnak and is today the main entrance into the temple. It was never completed so has no decorations.
Inside the entrance is the first or Great Courtyard, also known as the Ethiopian Courtyard. This contains a mound of mud bricks against the pylon 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.
This courtyard contains the Shrine of Seti II, the Kiosk of Taharka and towards the far end of the courtyard is the Temple of Ramesses III.
In the middle of the Great Courtyard is a single column and a few stones. This is all that remains of the Kiosk built by Taharqa (690 - 664 BCE) who was the fourth king of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. This originally consisted of ten twenty-one-meter-high papyrus columns linked by a low screening wall.
At the far end of the courtyard is the pylon of Ramesses II, the third king of the 19th dynasty, this leads into the enormous hypostyle hall built between 1294 and 1213 BCE by Seti I (1292–1190 BCE) and Ramesses II, his son.
The Hypostyle Hall is over 100 metres long by over 50 wide and contains 134 columns 75 feet (23 metre) high with 12 larger columns standing 80 feet (24 metres) high which line the central aisle.
At the top are open papyrus shaped capitals which still shows some of the paint that once adorned them. They have a circumference of approximately 49 feet (15 metres) which are big enough for 50 people to stand on.
The Hall was started by Seti I (1292–1190 BCE) with the outer walls of the northern wing depicting Seti’s battles. The southern wing was completed by Ramesses II who usurped the decorations of his father along the main processional walkways. The south wall depicts a record of Ramesses II’s peace treaty with the Hittites. Later pharaohs were to add inscriptions to the walls and the columns.
Through the hall, is the central sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, and to the two obelisks that are still standing.
The one to the right was erected by Thutmosis (Thutmosis or Tuthmosis) I (about 1504 - 1492 BCE), the other by Queen Hatshepsut (1479 - 1458 BCE) and is 30 metres high and weighs approximately 200 tons. Both are made of pink granite. Nearby is the statue of Ramesses II.
The statue shows Ramesses with his arms crossed, holding crook and flail - the symbols of kingship - and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt
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. Dug by Tuthmosis III (1473-1458 BC) it is lined with stone and has stairways descending into the water.
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 to the God Khepri by Amenhotep III (1390 – 1353 BCE), who is also known as Amenophis III.
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.