Karnak Temple is a massive temple complex located on the east bank of the River Nile near the modern-day Luxor in Upper Egypt, with many of its structures dating back 4,000 years. It is believed to be the largest religious complex ever built, and it is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year. Because of its immense popularity, it is featured in many of our Egypt tour packages, including many of our Nile River cruises.
The temple complex is conveniently located near to the modern day town of El-Karnak, just 2.5 km from Luxor. The site is massive, to the point where some people feel it’s necessary to spend at least one full day exploring the area. It’s also good idea to have a guide with you when you visit.
A Brief History Of Karnak Temple City
While the oldest structures date back to around 4,000 years ago, most are considerably younger, keeping in mind that the city of temples formed over a period of 2,000 years. Originally, it was actually also part of Thebes, the ancient Egyptian capital. Today, it is also a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited Luxor tourist attractions.
Despite the fact that it is a rather derelict site, its sheer size, its many gigantic stone columns, and unbelievable number of structures make it one of the most visited attractions in the country. All in all, the complex covers an area of roughly 200 acres of land, of which 61 acres are occupied by the sacred enclosure of Amun. Put another way, one could fit approximately 10 average sized cathedrals into the enclosure of Amun.
Karnak Temple – Home Of Amun
To a great extent, one could say that the temple city of Karnak was the official home of the god Amun. It was only after the 12th dynasty however that Amun rose up to become the God of all gods. To better understand how this occurred, one needs to keep in mind that back in those ancient times, when battles were fought, they were essentially battles between the various gods.
When two opposing forces clashed, the god of the victorious army became evermore powerful. King Thutmose III won many battles under the watchful eye of Amun, and this is essentially how Amun eventually went on to become the supreme god. Unlike many other Egyptian gods, not much is actually known about Amun other that he was often referred to as “Vizier Of The Poor”.
Who was Amun?
Amun was one of the most important deities in ancient Egyptian mythology. He was originally worshipped as the king of the gods in Thebes, but his cult spread throughout Egypt and beyond. Amun was often depicted as a man with a tall, plumed headdress, holding a sceptre and an ankh, symbols of power and life. He was also associated with the ram, and was sometimes depicted with ram’s horns.
Amun was considered a creator god, and was associated with fertility, the sun, and the air. He was often depicted as a powerful warrior, and was believed to protect the pharaoh in battle. Amun was also associated with wisdom and knowledge, and was often worshipped by scribes, who believed that he had given them their writing skills. In later periods, Amun was often identified with the Greek god Zeus, and was worshipped by Greeks and Romans alike.
The Ancient Pharoahs that Contibuted Most to the Creation of Karnak
Over the centuries, several pharaohs contributed to the construction and expansion of the Karnak temple complex, making it a remarkable masterpiece of ancient Egyptian architecture. So, which Egyptian rulers contributed the most towards building the largest temple complex ever built?
Amenhotep III was the ninth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1391 to 1353 BC. Amenhotep III was a prolific builder and expanded the Karnak temple complex, adding several pylons, obelisks, and statues. He built two massive statues of himself, known as the Colossi of Memnon, which still stand at the entrance of the temple complex.
Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt and one of the most successful female rulers in ancient history. She ruled from 1479 to 1458 BC. Hatshepsut commissioned the construction of several monuments at Karnak, including the red chapel, which was dedicated to the god Amun. She also added a series of obelisks and the second pylon.
Thutmose III was the sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt and one of the most successful military leaders in ancient history. He ruled from 1479 to 1425 BC. Thutmose III continued the expansion of the Karnak temple complex and added several structures, including the fourth pylon and the Festival Temple of Amun.
He also built a series of statues representing himself and various gods, including the Gayer-Anderson statue, which is now housed in the British Museum. Thutmose III’s contributions to the largest Egyptian temple complex made it one of the most impressive in all of ancient Egypt.
Seti I was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who ruled during the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period, from around 1294 to 1279 BCE. He was the son of Ramesses I and father of Ramesses II, who would later become one of the most famous pharaohs in Egyptian history. Seti I is best known for his military campaigns, particularly his successful wars against the Hittites and Libyans. He is also remembered for his extensive building projects, including the construction of several temples, including the temple of Abydos, which he dedicated to his father. His reign is considered to be a time of prosperity and stability in ancient Egypt.
King Ramses II is one of the most revered leaders in ancient Egyptian history. He ruled during the 19th dynasty, from 1279 to 1213 BCE, and is widely known for his military campaigns, ambitious building projects, and cultural achievements. Ramses II is often referred to as “Ramses the Great,” and his reign is considered one of the most prosperous and prestigious in Egyptian history. He oversaw the construction of numerous temples, monuments, and statues throughout Egypt, including the famous temples of Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum. Ramses II was also an accomplished military strategist, leading successful campaigns against several neighboring empires, including the Hittites. His legacy continues to fascinate historians and scholars to this day.
Inside The Hypostyle Hall At Karnak
As with so many things at Karnak Temple complex, the hypostyle hall is massive, covering an area of 54,000 square feet, and home to no less than 134 massive pylons/columns. Each of these massive columns are about 23 meters tall, and it is only when you actually stand inside the hall amongst its forest of columns that you truly get to appreciate just how much wealth the New Kingdom had and to what extend Amun was revered.
The Sacred Lake of the Temple of Karnak
All ancient Egyptian temples had a sacred lake, albeit of different sizes. However, the sacred lake at Karnak Temple was by far the largest of its kind and was filled with water from the Nile River. Today there is a very nice café at the lake, and it’s an ideal place to sit and relax while you let your imagination travel back through time.
Other Nearby Not-to-be-Missed Momunents
Luxor governorate is home to so many ancient wonders, but there are five in particular which every visitor should try to see:
- Karnak Temple
- Luxor Temple
- The Valley of Kings
- The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
- The colossi of Memnon
If you are going to be booking one of our Nile cruises from Luxor to Aswan that includes visiting Luxor, it will almost certainly include a visit to Karnak Temple, and the same applies if you book a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Like so many attractions in Egypt, this huge complex is a place you need to visit in person in order to fully appreciate it.
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Last Updated on May 3, 2023