The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the time over which it was built and developed. It took long time to arrive at its final shape. Here, we are not talking about one temple; but, a complex of temples. As an ancient Egyptian temple, the construction started in the Middle Kingdom and continued to Ptolemaic times. Almost all the rulers of Ancient Egypt left their mark in this vast and huge complex. It is approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings. This process construction and renovation has led to a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Really, It is the largest religious building ever made, covering about 200 acres , and was a place of pilgrimage for nearly 2,000 years.
The Karnak Temples Complex houses a number of temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings. The construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom and continued to the Ptolemaic period. Although, when taking a close look at the place, we can find the majority of buildings date back to the New Kingdom.
This complex is a vast open site.It consists of four main parts: the great temple of Amon, the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV. There are also a few smaller temples and sanctuaries connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amun-Re, and the Luxor Temple.
The complex of Karnak has several buildings and elements. Here, we will try to give an idea about the majority of them:
Avenue of Sphinxes
The first thing which can be seen as you enter the complex of Karnak is an avenue of sphinxes. This avenue leads to the first pylon of the Great temple of Amon-Re. On both its sides, we can see the sphinxes of god Amon-Re. These sphinxes are ram-headed, symbolizing the god Amon-Re. On the sphinxes’ paws stands a small effigy of Ramesses II, in the form of Osiris
The First Pylon
The first pylon was built by Nectanebo I (380-362 BC).The first pylon is the last to be built at Karnak. It was never completed or decorated because of invasion at that time. This huge building represents the biggest pylon in Egypt, and the main entrance into the temple.
The north tower of this massive pylon is 21.70m high, while; the south tower is of 31.65m. We can imagine how huge it is if we calculate its dimensions in case it would have been completed: the structure would have been reached a height of between 38m to 131 40m.
The Great Court
This spacious Court has the Kiosk of Tahraqa,in the middle of it. On its sides, it has the Shrine of Seti I, to the left, the temple of Ramses III, to the right. To its end, there are the Statue of Ramesses II, and the Second Pylon.
The Kiosk of Tahraqa
The kiosk was built in the middle of the Great Court by a pharaoh called Tahraqa. It is the 25th dynasty pharaoh who ruled from 690-664 B.C. This huge kiosk originally consisted of ten twenty-one meter high columns. These columns were built in the shape of papyrus, and were linked by a low screening wall. Visitors to the temple of Karnak can notice that there is only one great column still standing in its full height; while, the other ones have lost their upper parts.
Bark Chapel of Ramses III
Ramses III (1184–1153 BC) built a bark shrine south of the second pylon. This nearly 60 meters temple features three bark chapels. The shrine’s entrance was fronted by two six meter statues.
The first court is lined with eight columns on its both sides. Osiride statues of the king are attached to these columns. The west side statues show the king wearing the red crown of the south, while those on the east side show Ramses III putting the white crown of the north.
Beyond the court is a vestibule with four Osiride pillars. It leads into a small hypostyle hall which, in turn, leads into three chapels for the barks of Karnak.
Statues of Ramses II
These colossal red-granite statues stand before the second pylon in the Great Court of the temple. It shows Ramses II wearing the Nemes headdress with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is an Osiride statue where the kings’ arms are crossed, holding crook and flail; symbols of kingship. At his feet, Princess Bent’anta (Bint-Anath) holds a flower and wears a Uraeus crown of rearing cobras. Her name Bent’anta is Syrian, meaning Daughter of Anath, referring to the Canaanite goddess Anath. Her mother was Isetnofret, one of Ramses’ most beloved wives.
The Second Pylon
The second pylon was built by Horemheb (1323-1295 B.C.) who filled the interior of the pylon with thousands of stone blocks from demolished monuments built by the king Akhenaton. This building was not finished and partly decorated before Horemheb’s death. His successor Ramses I completed the decoration of the Pylon during his brief reign of less than two years. Ramses I replaced all of Horemheb’s cartouches with his own. Ramses I also built two small shrines which abutted the east wall of the pylon on either side of the central passageway. Again, the royal cartouches were usurped by Ramses II during his rule of Egypt.
The Great Hypostyle hall
The Great Hypostyle hall is the most fantastic building in the temples of Karnak. It occupies 16,459 meters and features 134 columns. The largest twelve columns are 21 meters high and support the central part of the structure. The other 122 columns are about 12 meters tall. Indeed, it is still the largest room of any religious building in the world. This amazing place was built by Seti I, a pharaoh who ruled from 1290 to 1279 B.C.
On the outside walls, there are scenes showing Seti I and his successor, Ramses II, smiting enemies from Libya, Syria and the Levant.
The Sacred Lake
The Sacred Lake in the temple of Karnak was dug by Tuthmosis III (1473-1458 BC). It is the largest of its kind as it measures 120m by 77m. This Sacred Lake is lined with stone wall and has stairways descending into the water.
The lake was used by the priests for rituals. Those priests had their storerooms and living quarters for the priests surrounding it. It was considered as a home to the Sacred Geese of Amun, as well. There was an aviary for aquatic birds near the lake.