Karnak Temple is in Upper Egypt. It is named after the northern half of the ruins of Thebes on the east bank of the Nile River, where the Great Temple of Amon is located. In 1979, Karnak and other parts of ancient Thebes with its Necropolis, like Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens, were all named UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is bigger than some old cities and covers more than 100 hectares. The area in the middle of the site that takes up the most space.
Karnak Temple Facts
Karnak is a shrine to Amun-Ra, a god of Thebes who is a man. In ancient times, the area right around his main sanctuary was called “Ipet-Sun,” which meant “the most select of places”, or “Ipet-Isut,” which meant “Chosen of Places.” A smaller area to the south of the central area was made for his wife, the goddess Mut. Montu, the god of war with the head of a falcon, has another area in the north.
Also to the east is a place where the Aten, the sun disk, was worshiped. Most of this area was destroyed on purpose in ancient times. Karnak was built about 4,000 years ago. It kept going right up until the Romans took over Egypt. About 2,000 years ago, that happened. Each Egyptian ruler who built something at Karnak left his or her own mark on the building.
The UCLA Digital Karnak Project has put these changes back together and modeled them online. Their model shows a confusing mix of temples, chapels, and “pylons,” which look like gateways and were built, torn down, and changed over more than 2,000 years. Ancient people who saw Karnak would have been very impressed, to say the least.
The pylons and the walls of the great enclosure were painted white, and the reliefs and inscriptions were painted in bright jewel-like colors to make them even more beautiful. Behind the high walls, the dusty golden heat must have shown glimpses of gold-topped obelisks that pierced the blue sky, shrines, smaller temples, columns, and statues made of gold, electrum, and precious stones like lapis lazuli.
When the first signs of building at Karnak were found, Wah-Ankh-Intef II was king. He was a ruler of Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. Amun-Ra is the name of a sandstone column that has “eight sides.” It says, “The king built it as a memorial to that god.” This must mean that there was a temple, or at least a shrine, for Amun at Karnak.
During the time of King Senwosret I (1971–1926 B.C. ), a limestone temple was built. In the middle, there is a court for Amun-Ra. It has 12 pillars in front, and the bases “were decorated with statues of the king engaged in the pose of the god of the underworld, Osiris.” This is mostly just a guess, since not much of the temple is still there. Karnak stayed in a small area until the New Kingdom, which lasted from about 1550 to 1070 B.C. and was a time when many of the most important buildings were built quickly.
Karnak Temple Pylons
During the New Kingdom, Egyptian rulers began building a set of 10 “pylons” at Karnak. They kept building them over the next few hundred years. These pylons were connected to each other by a network of walls. They were sort of like gates. They were often decorated with pictures of the ruler who built them, and many of them also had flagpoles from which colorful banners were flown.
The pylons at Karnak begin near the main sanctuary and go in two different directions. One set of six pylons faces west toward the Nile River and ends in a doorway with a row of small sphinxes on either side. Along a procession route that goes south, there is another set of four pylons that face south.
Thutmose I, who was king from 1504 to 1492 B.C., was the first person to build the Wadjet Hall. He did this between the fourth and fifth pylons near the main sanctuary. The name comes from the style of the columns that were used. It is about 246 feet by 46 feet (75 meters by 14 meters) and was used for the king’s coronation and the “heb-sed” festival, which was a celebration of his jubilee. The Heb-Sed festival usually happened 30 years after a new king takes power and then every three years after that. During the festival, the king ran around a Heb-Sed court and did strong things to show that he was strong enough to keep ruling Egypt.
Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III
Hatshepsut was the pharaoh of Egypt from about 1479 to 1458 B.C. She was a woman. She fixed up the main temple at Karnak and built a “Palace of Ma’at” in its place. She also built a red quartzite chapel to hold the god’s moving bark (boat). When Hatshepsut’s successor, Thutmose III, took the throne, he had statues of the female pharaoh destroyed and her chapel, made out of quartzite, torn down and replaced with one of his own.
At Karnak, he left behind more than just destruction. He had the Ahkmenu, a pillared building on the east side of the central sanctuary, built. It has a list of all the kings of Egypt from before the Great Pyramids were built to the present. Next to the Ahkmenu, he also built a “contra temple.” “Chapel of the Hearing Ear” is what people call it. People in Thebes could pray to Amun-Ra through a statue of the king at the shrine. A “sacred lake” was also built by the king to the south of the main sanctuary.
Great Hypostyle Hall
The “Great Hypostyle Hall” was built just west of the main sanctuary, along the main entranceway. It was probably the most impressive building at Karnak. Built by Seti I, who also went by the name Sety and was king from 1290 to 1279 B.C. It takes up an area big enough to fit the whole Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The building is 337 feet (103 meters) long and 170 feet (52 meters) wide.
The researchers say that there are a total of 134 columns. The tallest twelve are 70 feet (21 meters) tall and hold up the middle of the building. About 40 feet (12 meters) is how high the other 122 columns are. Scenes of Seti and Ramesses II killing enemies from Libya, Syria, and the Levant can be seen on the outside walls. Shortly after it was built, the hall probably replaced the Wadjet hall as the place for coronation and Heb-sed ceremonies.
Amun-Ra and the goddess Mut had a child named Khonsu. At Karnak, a temple was built for him. It was put between the main sanctuary of Amun-Ra and the area that honored Mut in the south. The temple was built by Ramesses III, who was king from 1186 to 1155 B.C. It is about 230 feet (70 meters) long and 88 feet (27 meters) wide (27 meters). Its hall has columns that are about 23 feet (7 meters) high. The god’s statue was kept in a set of rooms in the temple, and there was also a separate room for a bark, or boat.
After the end of the New Kingdom, there were still some building projects at Karnak. Around 2,700 years ago, King Taharqa was part of a line of rulers from Nubia (modern-day Sudan) who took over most of Egypt. He was interested in Karnak’s “sacred lake,” so he built the partly underground “edifice of the lake” next to it.
Even though it’s in bad shape now, this mysterious monument is unique and doesn’t look like anything else. It was built for “Re-Horakhte,” a god who was a combination of two sky gods. This is why there is an open solar court above ground, and the underground rooms represent the sun’s journey through the underworld at night. A “nilometer,” a structure used to measure the level of the Nile river, was one of its parts. In this situation, the meter would have been a sign.
Nectanebo I and the Fall of Karnak
Nectanebo I, king of Egypt’s 30th and last dynasty, was in charge of the last big building project at Karnak. He was king from 380 to 362 B.C. Egypt would be ruled by people who came from Persia, Greece, or Rome after his dynasty ended. Nectanebo surrounded the site with a large wall and added another temple.
He also started building a new pylon at Karnak’s western entrance, but he never finished it. When rulers of foreign origin took over Egypt, they kept some work going at Karnak. During his reign (221-205 B.C. ), Ptolemy IV built a series of catacombs for Osiris, the god of the underworld. The building was used as an underground burial place called a “hypogeum.”
Many of these are known from ancient Egypt, where they were usually used to bury animals that were important to the religion. The one at Karnak, on the other hand, was used to bury a small statue of Osiris. When Egypt was taken over by Rome in 30 B.C., work on Karnak stopped. This is why it is now a beautiful archaeological site instead of a great monument.