Karnak temple or Karnak complex is the complex contains a group of temples inside the same surrounded Mud-Brick wall such as
- The Great Temple of Amon Ra
- The Temple of Khonso
- The Temple of Mut with its beautiful swimming pool to the south or sacred lake
- The Ipt Temple is next to Khonso temple
- The Temple of Ptah is next to the temple of Montho to the North of Amon Temple
- the Temple of Montho is to the north of the temple of Amon and the Temple of the God Osiris.
Karnak temple is the largest religious building ever made, covering about 200 acres and it is one of the most important temples in Egypt.
In ancient time Karnak was known as Ipet-isut, ‘The most select of places’ it was called also pr-imn or pr-Amon as the house of Amon . They believed that the temple is the Pr-Netr the house of God and the god there was Imn so it was the house of the god Amon.
The Names of Karnak temple
The word Karnak may date back to the Arabic people. When they saw the Karnak temple they compared between Karnak and one of the Khalifa’s palaces called Khorneq for Al Noman Ibn El Monzer. The palace was just nice and fortified as Karnak for them. So they called it Khorneq and the word was corrupted later into Karnak or in Edfu temple we have mentioned from Ptolemies the third that he fixed something in the Car-Neg or the house of the goose, Karnak temples he meant and the name was corrupted later to Carnak or Karnak.
The oldest part of the temples date back to the 11th Dynasty, king Intef II erected a small mud brick temple. Senusret I, second king of the powerful 12th Dynasty added parts to the previous building then every king came later and he had in his mind that he wanted to be famous or he wanted to leave something known by his name, he added a part to Karnak temple.
The complex is different from the other temples as it has two axes, the sun axe from West to East (6 Pylons) and the Nile axe from South to North (4 Pylons) this numbering system does not represent the order of construction.
Some Facts about Egyptian Temples
- It is known that all the Egyptian temples started from inside to outside means the oldest part of the temple is the last part and the newest is the first part.
- Almost all the Egyptian temples have the same design they started with Pylon-One or more Hypostyle hall-Sanctuary and Sacred Lake. This design we can see it in Luxor temple, Edfu and Kom Ombo temple, Dendera and Abydos Temple.
- All the temple has one axe means if you stand outside, you can see the end of the temple if you look straight.
- The Sanctuary has the highest floor and the lowest ceiling because they believed it’s where Nun existed and from where the world was created.
- All the temples had ceiling built most of the temples they lost their ceiling now.
- Priests of the temples should be bold, cleaned and wear no shoes and have no sexual relation (they do not marry)
- Each temple had its own daily ritual which was conducted by the king himself or the high priest.
- Most of the temples have sacred lakes for purification or entertainment or keeping some of the rare birds like geese for example in Karnak, one of the sacred animals for Amon.
Karnak temple and the Nile River
It was known that Karnak complex was connected with the River Nile via small Canal reach the harbor of the temple in the Westside Which was used as a resting station on the processional journeys of the gods to and from the River Nile.
Connect between the harbor and the first Pylon. 20 ram-headed statutes of sphinxes on each side and they have between their paws a little figure of the king means the king needs the protection of his god Amon.
First Pylon of the Karnak temple
The pylon consists of two huge towers and the entrance between them. This pylon is unfinished and undercoated and it measures 40 meters high and 113 meters from North to South and 14 meters width. The pylon and the mud-brick enclosure wall date back to the thirty Dynasty, king Nectanebo the first.
On both sides of the entrance, we can see four huge niches or flagstaffs have been added to the pylon towers for fixing the flags of the temple. Seems the entrance had one day a huge wooden door out of two leaves. High upon this gate is an inscription left by French Expedition from Napoleon time which is still visible.
We have a lot of monuments in the first open court for example
To the right-hand side, the remains of mud brick ramps used to build the pylon can still be seen inside the court.
The Three Shrines
To the left-hand side the three shrines built by the king Seti second as a resting place for the three barques of the triad of Karnak Amon(center), Mut(left) and Khonso(right).
Taharqa is one of the kings of the 25th Dynasty; he constructed a kiosk supported by 10 columns, 5 on each side with 4 entrances. Unfortunately, all are missing and we still have only one column known by the name of the builder Taharqa Column, 21 meters high with open lotus flower capital.
In the middle of Taharqa kiosk is the alabaster altar which served as a station for the sacred barque or for ritual purpose.
The temple of Ramses the third
Ramses third built temple inside the temple or state inside the state. It is a Perfect example for the Egyptian temples. It consists of Pylon, two towers and the entrance in between with colossi of the king flanking the entrance. Open court, Hypostyle hall and three sanctuaries.
Facing the three shrines of Seti second there is a statue like a sphinx made out of alabaster has similar features to the boy king Tut-Ankh-Amon
Two rows of columns to the right and left when facing the second Pylon and they run between the second pylon and the first one and in front of them the ram-headed avenue of sphinxes.
The Bubastite Portal
Between the second pylon and the small temple of Ramses III stands that gate which is known as the Bubastite Portal. It takes its name from one of the Delt’s towns called Bubastis.
The kings of the 22 Dynasty built that gate and still known with their names till now. King Shoshenq I built that gate to brighten Thebes. King Sheshonk commemorates his victory over Rehoboam, son of Solomon, king of Judah when Egypt attacked Solomon temple in Dynasty 22.
One of the scenes has historical interest. We can see the god Amon Ra stands with a sword in his hand and announces the conquest of 156 villages in Judah and Palestine.
Colossi of Ramses
Huge granite statue of the king Ramses second but it was usurped by Ramesses VI (1143-1136 BC) and later by Pinedjem a High Priest (1070- 1032). The king wears the nemes headdress with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and his arms are crossed, holding crook and flail; symbols of power and kingship.
At his feet, Princess Bent’anta holds a flower and wears a Uraeus crown of rearing cobras. Her name Bent’anta (Bintanath) is Syrian, meaning Daughter of Anath, referring to the Canaanite goddess Anath. Her mother was Isetnofret, one of Ramesses’s most important wives.
It was built by Horemheb of the 18th Dynasty around 1323-1295 B.C and later was completed by Ramses first. The second pylon separates the Open Court from the Great Hypostyle Hall; one of Egypt’s most impressive architectural achievements but it is badly damaged and is decorated with scenes of the king in the company of the gods.
Hypostyle Hall of the Karnak Temple
The great hypostyle hall between the second and third pylon measures 103 meters by 52 meters. It has 134 gigantic stone columns, 12 central columns each like 22 meters in height and 3.5 meters in diameter with open lotus flower capitals around 5.4 meters in diameter. And 122 columns (66 columns on each side), each like 15 meters in height, in 14 rows with closed papyrus capitals.
Amenhotep III built the 12 central columns while the rest were built and decorated by Ramses first, Seti first and Ramses second. We can easily notice that the central columns are higher than the side ones or the laterals. The whole place was roofed and the ceiling in the center is higher than the laterals, and it allows light into the temple.
The scenes on the walls of this hypostyle hall is between scenes representing the king in his relation with different deities offering them some offerings or purification scenes for the king, the representation of the very famous feast of Karnak when Amon of Karnak visit his wife Mut in Luxor temple and then very famous scene of the tree of millions of years.
Also, we have scenes of the temple foundation ceremony, where the king and the gods are shown performing important rituals before a new building at the temple was constructed.
It is now between the second and the fourth pylons along the temple East-West axis and at the same time facing the North-South axis of the temple. It was built by Amenhotep III and measures 28 meters tall.
What makes this pylon very remarkable and unique is, the builder of this pylon dismantled and used in the foundation and fill of the pylon “festival court” of Thutmose II and the numerous pillars, bark shrines and other monuments.
Tuthmosis first Court
After the third pylon and seems it was the main entrance for the temple at the time of Tuthmosis the first, we can see a rectangular court with two obelisks. Thutmose I erected two obelisks which were the first pair of obelisks erected at Karnak.
The northern obelisk base still exists; the southern obelisk still in place at Karnak today. It measures 19.5 meters high and inscribed by the names of Kings: Tuthmosis I, Ramses II and IV
It was built by Tuthmosis the first 23.5 meters tall with a total width of 62.6 meters. It was constructed out of sandstone and covered with white limestone. The king also added enclosure wall around all the 18th Dynasty temples till his time.
Between the fourth and fifth pylon of the Karnak temple, we can see what the famous queen Hatshepsut left us. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Tuthmosis first and Ahmose Nefertari became the wife of her half-brother Tuthmosis second. She was not the first woman to rule Egypt; there were others before and after her like Tausret and Niteeqret.
Hatshepsut erected four red granite obelisks in the Karnak temple, from which only two remain in site (pair).inscriptions were carved on all sides emphasize her devotion to Amon and Tuthmosis first.
The obelisk which still in its original position is 29.5 meters high and 320 tons in weights. After her death, a surrounded wall around the two obelisks from the four sides was erected by Tuthmosis the third to hide them.
It was built by king Tuthmosis first, father of Queen Hatshepsut. It is not in very good condition. The pylon was built of sandstone covered with limestone but at the base with red granite. The fifth pylon and its court connected to the new stone enclosure wall surrounding the temple.
The last pylon along the Sun axis, it was built by Tuthmosis the third between the court of the fifth pylon and the sanctuary. Not much remains of the sixth pylon the Sanctuary area contains two beautiful pillars, sometimes called the pillars of the north and south, erected by Tuthmose III.
The northern pillar shows the emblem of Lower Egypt, the papyrus, and the southern one is the lily (or Lotus) of Upper Egypt.
It is known that the Sanctuary is the oldest part in the Karnak temples and all the kings built their buildings always to the front of the Holly of the Hollies or the most sacred place or the Sanctuary. Tuthmosis the second replaced an earlier shrine and the one we have right now dated back to Philip Arrhidaeus, half-brother of Alexander the great and it is built of red granite.
Like always it has a stone pedestal and one day had a wooden door but what is really strange and has no architectural reason the ceiling, the shrine has double ceiling and we still do not know the reason behind that. On the walls of the Sanctuary, we have a famous calendar and a lot of figures for the god Amon.
Around the Sanctuary
We have some rooms surrounding the Sanctuary built by Queen Hatshepsut and have very beautiful scenes even finished and unfinished scenes and we can easily know the technique that the ancients used for making the scenes on the walls.
Festival-Temple of Tuthmose III or Akh- Meno
‘Most splendid of Monuments’ it is a rectangular building located in the eastern part of Karnak temples. It has two entrances, one in the southwest corner and one in the middle of the West wall. The southwest entrance led to a line of nine small chambers to the south and to a short vestibule on the north.
The temple has a pillared hall consist of two rows of columns representing the poles of a portable tent. The hall was roofed and decorated with blue ceiling and yellow stars.
We can see three chapels standing to the north of the hall with scenes of cult rituals. To the southeast corner of the building, we can find many rooms dedicated to the god Soker, ithyphallic form of the god Amon and to the king himself.
Hall of ancestor
We can find Small room north to the entrance corridor of the southwest corner known as the Hall of the Ancestors, the royal ancestors of Thutmose III. A list of 61 kings of Tuthmosis’s ancestors depicted seated and receiving offerings from the king. The earliest preserved king names listed refers to 4th Dynasty rulers of Egypt.
Zoological Garden or Botanical Garden
Big room to the north of the temple and has unique representation for some plants, animals, and birds, which were brought from Syria to Egypt, by the KingTuthmosis.
Second axis or transverse axis or the Nile axis
From the Botanical Garden, we shall go back to the area between the third and fourth pylons. Turn left beside the obelisk of Tuthmosis first till we reach the courtyard in front of the 7th pylon which is known as the court of cachet.
In 1903, the French Egyptologist Georges Legrain (1865–1917) discovered 700 stone statues and 17 000 bronzes hidden before the 7th pylon in the open court underground. We can see the treasure now between the Cairo National Museum and Luxor Museum.
Built by Tuthmosis III and it is badly damaged, Two colossal statues of Tuthmosis III decorating the entrance of the pylon.
It was built by Hatshepsut decorated by Tuthmosis III, and restored by Seti I. The scenes on the façade of the Pylon represent Hatshepsut with different deities. Statues of Thutmose II, Amenhotep I with Ahmose-Nefertari, and Amenhotep II were erected along its southern face.
It was built by Horemheb who dismantling the east Karnak temples of Akhenaten and used their sandstone “talatat” blocks as building fill for the ninth pylon. He wanted to eliminate all traces of Akhenaten, the heretic king.
The last pylon on the Nile axis and it was constructed by Horemheb and it was the nearest pylon to the processional route leading from Karnak temples to Luxor temple from the south. In front of this pylon, there is a venue of sphinxes till the gate of Ptolemy second.
At the temple’s southeast area, lies the compound’s sacred lake which provided water for the priests’ ablutions. With flights of stairs descending from each corner, this stone-lined ceremonial basin is largest of its type in any Egyptian temple. It measures 130*77 and was surrounded by Nilometer to the North, chapel for the god Ibis to the West, administrative buildings to the East and magazines to the south.
Near the sacred lake to the West north corner of the Karnak temples, originally it was located on the West bank of the River Nile at Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple and it was later moved but we are not sure who and when?
We have in Egypt very famous three scarabs
- The first in Alexandria
- The second in the Egyptian Museum
- The third and biggest is the one in Karnak temple.
The ancients noticed that at the end of the day the scarab makes a ball of dung and it laid its eggs in this dung ball and with the image of the larvae coming out of the dung ball, it came in their imagination like reborn or good luck.
The scarab statue at Karnak temples represents the god Khepri (he who has come into being), the reborn sun at dawn. In the New Kingdom, the scarab was placed over the heart of the mummified deceased during the final judgment as a kind of entreating the heart to do not stand as a witness against him.
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