The temples of Karnak represent the largest temple complex in the ancient world. Amazingly, it represents the combined achievement of many generations of ancient builders and pharaohs. Its old name is Ipet-isut which means “the most sacred of places.” Continuously, the building of this complex temple lasted more than two thousand years. It comprises three main temples, smaller enclosed temples, and several outer temples on 247 acres. The great “Hypostyle Hall” is an incredible forest of giant pillars.
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the time of building and development. The construction took a long time to arrive at its final shape. Here, we are not talking about a single temple; but a complex of temples. As an ancient Egyptian temple, its 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 colossal complex. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings. This construction and renovation process has led to size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. It is the largest religious building ever made, covering about 200 acres! Additionally, it was a place of pilgrimage for nearly 2,000 years.
The Karnak Temple Complex houses several other temples, chapels, towers, and buildings. The construction of 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 that most 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. AA few smaller temples and sanctuaries connect 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:
Features of the Temples of Karnak
1. Avenue of Sphinxes
The first thing which you can see once you enter the complex of Karnak is a colossal avenue of sphinxes. This avenue leads to the first tower of the Great Temple of Amon-Re. On both sides, we can see the sphinxes of the god Amon-Re. These sphinxes are ram-headed, symbolising the god Amon-Re. On the sphinxes’ paws stands a small effigy of Ramesses II, in the form of Osiris.
2. The First Pylon of the Temples of Karnak
Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) built the first tower in the Karnak Complex. This colossal building represents the giant pylon in Egypt and the main entrance into the temple. This tower is the last to be built at Karnak. It was never completed or decorated because of the invasion at that time.
The northern tower of this massive pylon is 21.70 m high, while; the southern building is 31.65 m. We can imagine how huge it is when calculating its dimensions, assuming it arrived at a final shape. If the ancient Egyptians had completed the structure, it would have reached a height of between 38 m to 131 40 m.
3. 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, and the temple of Ramses III, to the right. To its end, there is the statue of Ramesses II and the Second Pylon.
4. The Kiosk of Tahraqa
Pharaoh Taharaqa built a kiosk in the middle of the Great Court. It is the 25th dynasty pharaoh who ruled from 690-664 BC. This giant kiosk originally consisted of ten twenty-one meter high columns. The Ancient Egyptian builders erected these papyrus-like columns and linked them by a low screening wall. Visitors to the temple of Karnak can notice there is only one great column still standing at its full height, while the other ones have lost their upper parts.
5. Barque Chapel of Ramses III
The first court is lined with eight columns on 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. In turn, this court leads into a small hypostyle hall which, in turn, leads into three chapels for the barques of Karnak.
6. Statues of Ramses II
These colossal red-granite statues stand before the second tower in the Great Court of the temple. Gloriously, these statues showRamses II wearing the Nemes headdress with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is an Osiride statue where the king’s arms rest crossed on his chest, holding crook and flail; symbols of kingship. Princess Bent’anta (Bint-Anath) has a flower and wears a Uraeus crown of rearing cobras at his feet. 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.
7. The Second Pylon of the Temples of Karnak
The second tower was built by Horemheb (1323-1295 BC), who filled the tower’s interior with thousands of stone blocks from demolished monuments built by king Akhenaton. This building was not finished and partly decorated before Horemheb’s death. His successor Ramses I completed the decoration of the tower during his brief reign of fewer than two years. Ramses I replaced all of Horemheb’s cartouches with his own. Ramses I also built two small shrines that abutted the tower’s east wall on either side of the central passageway. Again, during his rule of Egypt, Ramses II usurped these royal cartouches.
8. 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 most giant 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 globally. Seti I – a pharaoh who ruled from 1290 to 1279 BC, built this amazing place.
Scenes show Seti I and his successor, Ramses II, smiting enemies from Libya, Syria, and the Levant on the outside walls.
9. Sacred Lake
Tuthmosis III (1473-1458 BC) dug the Sacred Lake at the Temple of Karnak. It is the largest of its kind as it measures 120m by 77m. This Sacred Lake has a stone wall line and stairways descending into the water.
The priests used this lake for rituals. They also considered it as a home to the Sacred Geese of Amun. Those priests had their storerooms and living quarters around them. In addition, there was an aviary for aquatic birds near the lake.