After visiting all the sights of the western bank of the Nile in the area of the city of Luxor (“city of the dead”), most often, tourists are taken to the Karnak Temple, which was the largest temple complex in Egypt and had the status of a state religious institution. The Karnak Temple, like the Luxor Temple, is located on the east bank, in the “city of the living”.
It is much more correct to call this place not a temple, but a temple complex, since there are more than a dozen temples here.
This complex has been under construction for over 1,600 years and was built by 30 pharaohs. Each pharaoh completed or rebuilt something.
The first pharaoh to start construction was Sanurset I of the 12th Dynasty, two thousand years BC. He ruled back in the era of the Middle Kingdom, but construction reached its greatest scope already in the era of the New Kingdom. The most important attraction of the Karnak Temple, the Column Hall, was built by the great Pharaoh Seti I.
Each ruler of Egypt tried to write in this temple about his military exploits and other deeds. Unfortunately, many tried not only to write about themselves, but also to erase the memory of their unloved predecessors. The legacy of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) was especially affected, the temple of the god Athen (Aton) built by him was completely destroyed, or rather, dismantled for building materials by his descendants.
Usually, the tour follows a simple scenario. They entered, looked at the columns, walked around a bit, left. In this article we will try to tell you about the most important places on the territory of the temple complex. Agree, it will be much more interesting to walk here if you know what you are looking at and what value each building has.
Two to three hours are allocated to inspect the temple during the tour. For an ordinary tourist, this is more than enough to see everything interesting inside. If you are a big fan of ancient Egyptian history, then, of course, this time will not be enough for you.
The number of structures on the territory is huge, and the number of statues is measured in thousands. Active excavations are still underway here, and most of the Karnak temple is closed to tourists. Only the central part is open, the sanctuary dedicated to the god Amon-Ra, the rest of the sanctuaries dedicated to the wife of Amon-ra, the goddess Mut, their son Khons and the place where the temple of the god Athen stood are closed.
However, there is nothing terrible for visitors in this, all the most interesting and grandiose is located in the sanctuary of Amon-Ra. In front of the entrance to the first gate, and there are ten gates in total, most of which are in a dilapidated state, you will see the avenue of sphinxes.
There were several such alleys, they were used to decorate the roads. This alley is the best preserved, the rest of such roadside decorations are now being restored, literally, piece by piece.
It is on this place that there is a landmark that not all guides know about, it does not look very bright, but it has great archaeological value. This is the embankment, which fenced off the temples from the floods of the Nile River, and records were made on the walls of the embankment about the height of the flood. It is now valuable archaeological evidence that scientists are using to better understand Egyptian history.
After visiting the avenue of the sphinxes and the embankment, you will pass through the first gate. These gates are considered one of the youngest structures in the temple complex, they began to be built in 340 BC and were not completed until the end, because already in 332, a new pharaoh appeared in Egypt, at which construction almost stopped, the name of this pharaoh was Alexander the Great (Macedonian).
It is difficult to say where the gate was not completed, and where there are traces of destruction. At that moment, when the Karnak temple “fell into the hands” of archaeologists, several warehouses of building materials were found near these gates, which remained from the builders, which made it possible to get an idea of the technologies of building buildings of that time.
Imagine that in our country some building materials lay unattended for 2,300 years, while in Egypt they did. This place has long been considered the most sacred, in Egyptian it was called Ipet-Isut, which translates as “The most sacred place”.
All the most interesting awaits us outside the gates. Behind the first gate is the outer courtyard, a large rectangular square measuring 85 by 100 meters.
There are several notable places in the square that are worth paying attention to.
If after entering you look to the right, you will see the temple of Ramses III, the entrance to it is shown in the photo on the left. All the accomplishments of this pharaoh, who is considered one of the greatest in the history of ancient Egypt, are described on the walls. The statues inside are well preserved, they all depict him, the pharaohs did not “suffer from modesty” and were deified during their lifetime.
To the left of this building there is a gate called Bubastit. A very interesting place, to understand the value of which, you need to tell their story. About 1,000 BC, Pharaoh Sheshonk I ruled in Egypt, and King Solomon ruled in Israel. During the time of the pharaohs, the Egyptians entered into dynastic marriages for political purposes, but it was always the Egyptian pharaohs who married princesses from other countries. For the first time, an Egyptian princess was sent to marry a foreign ruler, one of the daughters of Sheshonk I went to Jerusalem and married King Solomon.
After the death of King Solomon, Pharaoh Sheshonk organized a campaign in Palestine, and, taking advantage of the split in the country and the weakness of King Rehoboam, from whom half of the country separated, captured the entire region.
Many cities and prisoners were taken, and on the gates were written, one might say, the results of an inventory of the captured. The names of cities and captives are written here. The inscriptions are not very well preserved, but even in this state, they are invaluable to archaeologists, in fact, this is a complete list of ancient cities in Palestine.
So Egypt again took full control of the Palestinian lands.
Strange, but these lists do not include Jerusalem, although the Jewish capital was definitely taken, the royal treasury went to the Egyptians.
These gates are very important, King Rehoboam is mentioned only in the Bible, and no more mentions of him have been found, King Solomon is mentioned not only in the Bible, but also in some other sources that are not documentary. The very existence of these rulers could be called into question, but it is these records that provide confirmation “from the Egyptian side” that the story described in the Bible did take place.
On the other side of the outer courtyard, there is a second gate, which is much worse preserved. Once they were the main gate to the temple complex, and the avenue of sphinxes, which we saw in front of the first gate, was located here, it was moved.
It is behind the first gate that the Column Hall is located. This structure was once a full-fledged building with a roof that collapsed over time, now only the columns remain.
There are 134 columns in total, which form 16 rows. The largest columns have a girth of 10 meters, if you go together, you will not be able to embrace them, you will have to cooperate with other tourists to solve this problem.
The height of the largest columns is 24 meters, it is just below the well-known 9-storey building, of which there are many Russian cities.
The first question that you involuntarily ask yourself when you see these columns is, “how did the ancient Egyptians build this?” The stones at the top of the columns weigh 70-80 tons.
There are several assumptions, for the construction of this hall they created special platforms made of wood, or, there is another version that during construction, the construction site was simply covered with soil, and then this soil was dug, exposing the finished building.
The author of this article would choose the second technology, it seems more logical and believable. You may have noticed that there are inscriptions on the columns. The hall itself was built by the pharaoh Seti I, but it was not immediately possible to determine, for a long time there were different versions about which of the rulers of Egypt is the real builder.
Under Seti I, the hall was built, but the decoration and inscriptions were not completed. The inscriptions were made by the following pharaohs Ramses II, and others. It was Ramses II that many earlier attributed the construction, remembering his long reign and greatness. Some descendants did not consider it criminal to cut off the inscriptions of their predecessors and replace them with their own. Also, the inscriptions suffered in subsequent eras, when the heritage of ancient Egypt was destroyed. Notice the inscriptions at the top, where it was difficult to get them, remained intact.
Behind the pillared hall is the third gate, and behind them, almost immediately, the fourth.
There are two obelisks between these two gates.
The first obelisk is dedicated to Thutmose I, it is smaller in size, 21 meters in height, the second is 30 meters in height and is dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut. The inscriptions naturally glorify the ruler and ruler (Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh) and their deeds during his reign.
The obelisks are very impressive, especially if you know the fact that they are monolithic weighing about 150 tons for the first and 330 tons for the second, and are made of granite. It just took more than six months to transport the obelisks from the quarry to the installation site. And the technology of their installation in place in a vertical position, in general, remains unclear.
About the installation technology, and how exactly the Egyptians could separate such a piece of stone from the rock, there are disputes, there are different theories. It is a pity, but the details of the construction technologies of that time were not documented, apparently, they believed that the descendants would not be interested in it.
The inscriptions in the Karnak temple are everywhere, each of the thirty pharaohs tried to capture their history and their deeds in the temples. At some points in history, they tried to erase this memory, and time tried, but the grandiose structure contains so many of them that they could not destroy them. It is the inscriptions that attract most tourists with cameras.
In addition to the above-mentioned places, on the territory you can see:
– An open-air museum, to enter which you need to pay an additional fee.
– A sacred lake that does not dry up and is maintained by groundwater.
– Hall of celebrations of Thutmose III, it is located directly behind the fourth gate.
The rest of the sanctuary is usually closed to tourists, but there is a lot of interesting things in the open part, and most of the visitors just get tired when looking around. The area of one sanctuary of Amon-Ra is more than 240,000 square meters.
200 Egyptian pounds. For the current pound exchange rate, see our Money in Egypt review.
From 9-00 to 17-00. Seven days a week.
How to get there
If you are traveling with an organized excursion, the guide will bring you to the temple. In this case, our comments are superfluous.
You can independently come from Hurghada, which we described in detail in the article “How to get from Hurghada to Luxor”. In Luxor, intercity buses stop near the railway station. From the station, walk 500 meters towards the Nile River, you will come to the Luxor Temple. Then turn right and after 2.5 kilometers you will see the Karnak Temple. You can take a taxi for 15 pounds.
It is not possible to get from Sharm el-Sheikh in a reasonable time. Only by plane, which is expensive and not at all fast (with a transfer).
– If you are planning to travel around Luxor by taxi, then see the official rates in our article “Taxi in Egypt”;
– Almost everywhere you need to pay in Luxor in Egyptian pounds. Change money before the trip or near the railway station. Read our in-depth review on Money Exchange in Egypt;
– The best time to see the temples of Luxor is during the winter months, when there is no sweltering heat. In the summer months, we advise you not to forget about protection from the sun, which we talked about in the article “What is not allowed in Egypt”;
– And by the way, sunburn treatment is not an insured event. If you get burned seriously, you will have to be treated at your own expense.