Karnak temple

Karnak temple Karnak was ancient Ipet-isut, that may be translated as the most select of places,The ancient Egyptians considered Ipet-Isut as the place where Amun Ra made the first mound of earth rise from Nun tour in egypt .

The East-West Axis with the Avenue of Sphinx and the First Pylon
The East-West Axis with the Avenue of Sphinx and the First Pylon

The word Karnak

The word Karnak  is perhaps derived from the word Khawarnaq الخورنق which is the name of the palace of el-Noaman Ibn El-Monzer, the king of el Heira to the North of today’s Saudi Arabia, This word is still used today to mean a fortified village. 

 in Karnak temple is a combination of temples dedicated to several Egyptian Gods, among these are temples for Ptah, Sekhmet, Ipet, Aton, Montu, Mut, Khonsu, and the most important temple of Amon.  Karnak temple is thus considered the largest religious structure ever built by man. It covers a ground surface of 247 acres [about 100 ha].

The Great Temple of Amon

The wealth of the temple during the New Kingdom was huge, more than 80,000 people served here under Ramesses III, the temple owned vast agricultural land, over 5000 statues of Amon Ra as well as large numbers of cattle and offerings.

kanak temple
karnak temple

 karnak temple

The area was used as a temple for Amon from the Middle Kingdom till the Roman period which means that the temple structure lasted for over 2000 years. 

The temple has two axes, one is east-west and the other is north-south. While most temples had one or two pylons,  Karnak temple has ten pylons, the oldest of which are pylon IV and V by Thutmosis I and the newest is the first pylon by Nectanebo I of the 30th dynasty, Six Pylons are in the main axis and four are in the north-south axis.

The east-west axis

The modern entrance of the Karnak temple is the quay of Ramses II which gave access to the temple in ancient times from a canal linked to the Nile,On the quay stands one of the two small obelisks of Seti II, This quay was used during feasts when the barques [boats] of the gods left the temple for religious activities.

This leads to an avenue of crio-sphinxes [ram headed sphinxes, symbolizing Amon-Ra] made by Ramses II. Each sphinx has a statue of Ramses II by its chest, The avenue marked the procession’s road and reached originally to what is called today the second pylon but today they reach till the first pylon.

Plan-du-Temple-dAmon-a-Karnak-avec-distinction-des-etapes-de-sa-construction
Plan-du-Temple-dAmon-a-Karnak-avec-distinction-des-etapes-de-sa-construction
Maquette-of-Karnak-Temple
Maquette-of-Karnak-Temple

karnak temple plane

The First Pylon This was built during the late period probably as late as the 30 Th dynasty, It was never finished as judged from the uneven surface and the remains of the mud-brick ramp that can still be seen inside the open court, The pylon was about 40 m high and about 130 m in width which makes it the largest pylon in Egypt, Four recesses on each side were meant to receive four flag standards.

 

The First Pylon: This was built during the late period probably as late as the 30Th dynasty. It was never finished as judged from the uneven surface and the remains of the mud-brick ramp that can still be seen inside the open court. The pylon was about 40 m high and about 130 m in width which makes it the largest pylon in Egypt. Four recesses on each side were meant to receive four flag standards. The Open Court: The court which opens behind this pylon contains a triple barque shrine of Seti II made of granite and sandstone, consisting of three contiguous chapels dedicated to Amun, Mut and Khonsu. These were used as rest stations for the sacred boats of the gods that were carried during some festivals. During the rest period prayers would be held, offering would be made, and incense burnt for the boats before they are carried to the next station.
The Open Court

 The court which opens behind this pylon contains a triple barque shrine of Seti II made of granite and sandstone, consisting of three contiguous chapels dedicated to Amun, Mut and Khonsu. These were used as rest stations for the sacred boats of the gods that were carried during some festivals. During the rest period prayers would be held, offerings would be made, and incense burnt for the boats before they are carried to the next station. 

The remains of the mud-brick ramp that was used for construction is still seen on the back of the pylon.,Ancient Egyptians dragged the blocks and placed them in one row creating the first course of stones of the pylon, Then to be able to lay the second course they built a mudbrick ramp facing the course and dragged the blocks on it to be placed on top of the first course, They then made the ramp higher and longer, dragging more blocks on it to build the third course and so it went till they built the whole pylon in Karnak temple.

This would create a large ramp facing the pylon that they used to polish and level the surface of the stones and remove the ramp afterwards, Since that pylon was never finished, remains of the ramps were found in the open court and part of it is still seen by the southern tower of the pylon. 

Inside this court lies some of the criosphinx of Ramses II that one day started from the quay to the second pylon and were removed and put aside when this court and the first pylon were added.

In the center of the forecourt there are remains of a colonnade of Taharqa, one of the columns of which has been re-erected, These columns –originally 10 in number- took the shape of open papyrus and were once connected by screen walls, In the center of the colonnade lies an alabaster altar, A small temple of Ramesses III faces into the forecourt from the south. 

The doorway on the north side of this court leads to an open-air museum, where a number of small monuments have been reconstructed, including the White Chapel of Senusret I and Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel.

 A colossal statue of Ramesses II stands at the end of this court. The statue of the king has a figure of Queen Bentanta standing between his feet, Then lie the remains of the second pylon that was begun under Horemheb and completed in the time of Seti I.

The Great Hypostyle Hall

Behind the pylon in Karnak temple, lies Great Hypostyle Hall in Karnak temple, the most impressive part of the whole temple complex with its 134 papyrus columns that were used to carry the roof of the hall (now lost), The relief decoration of the hypostyle hall is the work of Seti I and Ramesses II. The exterior walls depict military campaigns of these kings in Palestine and Syria, including the Qadesh battle against the Hittites while the interior walls have religious scenes of the king and the gods in different rituals.

The Great Hypostyle Hall
The Great Hypostyle Hall

The hall in Karnak temple is considered to be one of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces, The columns are of different heights as the two rows at the center are taller than the columns on the sides, Above the capital of each column, are found some architectural elements to help in carrying the roof and distribute the weight above it evenly.

The first element above the capital is a square block called the abacus, above it lies a rectangular huge block that stretches between every two columns that is called architrave, then a thin protruding tube that is called the torus is place as a decorative element right below the cornice, Above this cornice are found windows to fill the space between the short and the tall columns. When the roof of the hall was still in its place.

these windows were the only source of light into the room, This will make the room half dim to act as a transition between the bright open court and the dark inner parts of the Karnak temple, This style in building was later adopted by the Romans in building churches that are called the Basilica. 

The difference in the height of columns
The difference in the height of columns
Architectural Elements of a column
Architectural Elements of a column

War scenes

 war scenes in Karnak temple ,The whole northern exterior wall of the Karnak Hypostyle Hall is filled with a panorama of war scenes celebrating the military achievements of Seti I, The first of the great Ramesside war monuments, they set the artistic standard for Seti’s predecessors, but their superb style and composition were never equaled.

The war scenes are our main source for Egypt’s foreign relations during Seti’s reign, The scenes are laid out in a symmetrical form on either side of the north gateway, On both sides of the north gate are two huge scenes of the triumphant king smiting a group of prisoners with his mace in the presence of the god Amen Re,The war scenes included battles against the Shasu Bedouins, the town called Yenoam in Palestine.

Libyans, and the Hittites in Kadesh. On his way back from Syria, Seti captured the fortress of Tharu (Tell Hebua) at the Egyptian border, A canal filled with crocodiles divides the two sides of Tharu, Egyptian archaeologists have discovered both of the Tharu fortress complexes during recent excavations. 

Sety I marching prisoners to the Egyptian border fortress at the town of Tharu (Tell Hebua). A canal filled with crocodiles divides the two sides of fortress.
Sety I marching prisoners to the Egyptian border fortress at the town of Tharu (Tell
Hebua). A canal filled with crocodiles divides the two sides of fortress.

The Southern exterior Hypostyle Hall walls were intended for Ramses II Kadesh narrative of texts and war scenes, but before work was finished, Pharaoh changed his mind and had scenes of his later wars in Syria and Palestine carved over top of the incomplete Kadesh scenes. 

Ramesses II campaigned in Palestine and Syria for the next fifteen years after Kadesh and commemorated these wars with panoramic war scenes on several temples including the Hypostyle Hall. Egyptologists have not been as interested in these war scenes because of the erosion and random damage that they have received over the centuries, making them hard to read.

Eighteenth Dynasty area

 After the hypostyle hall in Karnak temple we have the area built by the 18th dynasty kings. Here we find the great obelisks of Thutmosis I and of his daughter Hatshesut as well as the pylons of Thutmosis III. The obelisk of Hatshepsut is the tallest in Egypt today and is 29 m high and weighs 323 tons of one block of granite that was brought from Aswan by the river, There was a twin for the obelisk, but it was broken in two.

Eighteenth Dynasty area The upper part can be seen today next to the sacred lake, When Thutmosis III destroyed images and figures of the queen, he could not do any damage to the obelisk as it was the sacred symbol of the sun god, so he built two towers around each obelisk to hide names and figures of the queen. Remains of these towers are still seen today.

 In fact, they protected the obelisks and we see how excellent the quality of the carvings still is, This area contains the ruins of the third pylon, built by Amenhotep III; the fourth and fifth, built by Thutmosis I and the sixth pylon, built by Thutmosis III,The area also contains a suite of rooms built by Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III, Here are found the famous annals of the king or his records of annual activities,Inside one of the rooms, a shrine of Philip Arhidaeus was later added. 

Shrine of Philip Arhidaeus

 As we pass these buildings we find a shrine in Karnak temple built for the brother of Alexander the Great, Philip Arrhidaeus (323-316 BC) who ruled the Empire after his brother’s death. Scenes of the king show him as an Egyptian Pharaoh worshiping Amon-Ra and Amon-Min, Beautiful scenes of the sacred boats carried during festivals are still in a very good condition. 

The Akh menu

After the Eighteenth Dynasty area in Karnak temple there is a court often referred to as the central court or the Middle Kingdom court. Past this, there is an important building on that same axis known as the festival hall of Thutmosis III which was called akh menu by the Ancient Egyptians which means the “Most Splendid of Monuments”.

This hall was transformed into a church by Early Christians. Paintings with Christian pictures can still be seen today. These were painted over the ancient scenes. The columns inside the hall are of a rare style known as tent post columns. They probably were favored by the king who must have used many tents during his numerous campaigns. 

The tent-post columns
The tent-post columns
The Akh-menu
The Akh-menu

The Botanical Garden

Thutmose III built rooms with pictures of the plants and animals that he brought from the Levant (Syria and its neighbors) and put them in the Zoo and the botanical garden that he made in Thebes. This suite of rooms in Karnak temple is called the Botanical Garden.

The Botanical Garden 2
The Botanical Garden 2
The Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden
The north-south axis
This axis in Karnak temple makes the temple plan look like a T-shape. It has the remaining four pylons. The seventh pylon was built by Thutmosis III, the eighth by Hatshepsut, and the ninth and tenth by Horemheb, The court before the seventh pylon is called the court of the cachette tour.
 Court of the Cachette

 The first court  in Karnak temple in this axis is frequently referred to as the Court of the Cachette because of the 20,000 or so statues and stelae that were discovered there at the beginning of the twentieth century. These artifacts were discovered between 1903 and 1905 by the archaeologist Georges Legrain working under the supervision of Gaston Maspero, and represent the largest find of statuary ever made in Egypt and perhaps anywhere in the world.

The second axis of Karnak.
The second axis of Karnak.
The Sacred Lake

The rectangular Sacred Lake in Karnak temple is dug by Thuthmosis III, It is the largest of its kind that we know of, and is lined with stone and provided with stairways descending into the water. It measures some 120 meters by 77 meters, We believe that most temple precincts included a sacred lake.

The Sacred Lake
The Sacred Lake

Water from the lake, filled with groundwater, was used by the priests for ritual ablutions and other temple needs, and was also home to the sacred geese of Amun. However, it was symbolically important in the ancient Egyptian’s concept of creation, representing the primeval waters from which life arose.

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