Another stop on our cruise down the River Nile was Karnak Temple. Karnak is an ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the Nile River in Thebes, now known as Luxor. It is said to date from around 2055 BC to around 100 AD, being formed over a period of 2,000 years with the oldest structures dating back to around 4,000 years ago.
Despite being derelict, this temple is capable of overshadowing other world wonders due to its size, structure and detail. It is said to be the largest religious building ever constructed, covering around 100 – 200 hectares of which the central sector of the site (61 acres – the sites largest amount of space) are occupied with sacred temples dedicated to Amun-Ra. Amun-Ra was a male god associated with Thebes who became the ultimate god of all gods after the 12th dynasty. His name simply means ‘Hidden Light’ (Amun = Hidden / Ra = Light) and in Egyptian mythology he is the ram with curved horns.
This was significant to the Egyptians, especially the Pharaohs as rams signified fertility. Additionally, it was understood that he personified the Sun God, as the Sun is the symbol of birth and energy. Consequently, the Pharaohs thought of themselves ‘beloved of Amun’, meaning that they considered themselves to be representatives of the god of fertility. This is why Amun became known as the father of the Monarch and was given prominent space at this Thebal capital as the supreme god of the kingdom.
Furthermore, this explains why it is also believed to be where the god lived on earth with his wife Mut and his son Khonsu. To the South of the central area is a smaller section dedicated to Amun-Ra’s wife, the goddess Mut and to the north an area dedicated to Montu, the falcon-headed god of war.
In the New Kingdom Egyptian rulers created a series of 10 pylons at Karnak that functioned as a gateway, a gateway that is connected through a network of walls. Hypostyle hall is probably the most striking feature of this, consisting of 54,000 square feet and featuring 134 columns that occupy a space between the second and third pylons.
These pylons were often decorated with scenes depicting the ruler who built them whilst others highlighted the prestige of Amun and the wealth of the Egyptians. This is evident in the sheer amount of art covering the walls and columns – all of which are made more impressive by the memory that they illuminated the halls with a vast array of rich colours.
Lastly, the sacred lake which is by far the largest of its kind and was filled with water from the River Nile. It is definitely worth seeing if only to visit the charming little café that will allow you to rest your feet and marvel at your surroundings.
The temple at Luxor dates from around 1392 BC and is situated close to the Nile, paralleling the riverbank. It was first built to celebrate Egypt’s Opet Festival by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but was completed by Tutankhamen (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then later added to by Ramses II (1279-131 BC). Despite Amenhotep III initially constructing the temple a lot of the carvings and statues have been repurposed by Ramses to feature and praise mainly himself.
Before Ramses, the northern end of the court was originally the entrance to the temple and was enclosed by seven pairs of 52 feet high columns. The court then lead on into the Hypostyle Hall, four small rooms and an antechamber leading to the birth room, the sanctuary and chapel of Alexander the Great which has a granite shrine dedicated to him.
Being at the heart of Luxor makes Luxor Temple a site easily accessed even when it is not open to visitors as it can be visibly seen by simply taking a walk down the Nile. Luxor and Karnak both add to the attraction and beauty of Luxor, especially the juxtaposition between the new city with the old temples. This really makes one experience, visualise and appreciate the depth of Egypt’s long and complex history.
According to history these temples are connected through the Egyptians belief that at the end of an annual agricultural cycle the gods and the earth would become exhausted. As result they thought both required a fresh input of energy from the cosmos’s energy. To achieve this, the Opet festival, held yearly at Karnak and Luxor lasted 27 days and was a celebration of the link between the Pharaoh and the god Amun. This celebration was a procession that began at Karnak and ended at Luxor Temple.
During this time the statues of the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu and the King were carried between the two temples. Amun was bathed in holy water, adorned with gold and silver jewellery and dressed in linen. Then the priest placed the gold into the ceremonial barque and the Pharaoh emerged from the temple with his priests carrying the barque on their shoulders into the crowded streets.
When they arrived at Luxor the Pharaoh and his priests entered the temple and performed ceremonies to regenerate Amun, transfer his powers to the Pharaoh and recreate the cosmos. When next the crowds saw the Pharaoh re-emerge from the temple they believed in the fertility of the earth, of abundant harvests to come and the power of the Pharaoh. As a result of these religious devotions and the link between Amun and the Pharaoh Luxor temple during the age of the New Kingdom became a place for royal burials.
Whether you are interested in the history that binds these two temples together or are simply impressed by the magnificent architectural detail accomplished by the ancient Egyptians, then Karnak and Luxor will definitely be for you. It will leave you awe inspired and questioning everything you think you know about the earth, religion and the possibilities of construction.
Thanks for reading 🙂