The complex of Karnak’s stunning monuments on the bank of the River Nile near the Egyptian city of Luxor is the largest and one of the most ancient religious sites in the world.
It’s like a vast open-air museum comprising ruined temples, shrines, monumental gateways known as pylons and carved hieroglyphic inscriptions, glorifying the heroic deeds of the mighty pharaohs.
The first few temples were built after Thebes became Egypt’s capital about 4500 years ago and the ruling pharaoh wanted to embellish it with grandiose temples and other buildings.
A succession of 30 pharaohs later built more ostentatious temples and expanded the complex. They seemed to have developed a tendency to demolish earlier edifices and use the stones and bricks for constructing grander buildings, often replacing the earlier builder’s name with their own.
Worshippers have abandoned this temple complex long ago. Now travelers from different parts of the world come here in great numbers throughout the year to marvel at these awesome man-made architectural wonders.
The Temple Complex
This vast and derelict temple complex covers an area of 100 hectares. There are 25 temples and shrines in the complex which are the finest examples of ancient Egyptian architecture. Karnak is generally known as being the Precinct of Amun-Re because this is the only part that visitors are allowed to see.
The other three areas – the Precincts of Mut, and Montu, and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV – are closed to the public. There are also a few smaller temples outside the enclosing walls of the four precincts and several avenues lined with ram-headed sphinxes.
Temple of Amun
Karnak’s most spectacular monument is the Temple of Amun dedicated to Amun-Re, the sun god. It’s a vast walled complex with several colossal statues and the world’s tallest obelisk. The huge blocks of sandstone used for this complex was transported by boats from a site 100 miles south of the River Nile.
The entry to the ancient Temple is along an avenue lined with exquisitely sculpted ram-headed sphinxes leading to the first of ten other magnificent gateways.
The Hypostyle Hall
The most striking feature of the Amun Temple complex is this awesome Hall covering over 54,000 square feet. It was built as a ceremonial hall. Although Pharaoh Ramses II gave the finishing touches in the early 13th century BC, its construction was started a thousand years earlier. Throughout this long period various additions and alterations were carried out.
The Greeks named the Hall ‘Hypostyle’ as, in their language it meant ‘resting on columns’. The Hall’s massive roof was indeed once rested on 134 enormous columns which still exist in various stages of decay but the stone slabs used as the roof collapsed long ago.
The Temple of Mut
This temple precinct built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III is now a wilderness of long grass and cracked paving. It’s now being restored and hopefully the time would come soon when visitors would be allowed inside.
Today the temple precinct is a wilderness of long grass and cracked paving, but there are many interesting remains to be seen, including a great number of beautiful statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet scattered around its courts.
How To Reach Karnak
As Karnak doesn’t have hotels, travelers have to stay in Luxor located less than two miles away. Although taxis are available but a horse-drawn carriage, known locally as ‘caleche’ is the most romantic way to reach Karnak’s stunning monuments.