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Visiting Karnak temple complex

Home -> Africa -> Egypt -> Travelogue Egypt -> 12 January 2004

Monday 12 January, visiting Karnak temple complex

Today we will visit Karnak, one of the largest temple complexes in the world. Karnak lies a bit north of Luxor and the grounds cover more than 1.5 square kilometers, the biggest openair museum in the world. From at least 1950 BC building started at this place until 150 BC. The buildings are mainly temples and the most important has been dedicated to the local god Amun who became the most important national god during the New Kingdom, known as Amon-Ra. Together with his wife Mut and their child Chonsu he formed the trinity of Luxor.
Goats at Karnak SphinxesSphinxes with rams heads in the temple and goats outside, a good combination. A single inscription indicates the statues could be representations of Ramesses II but the experts are not sure about that.
KarnakVery impressive is the collonade hall, build by Seti I and Ramesses II (13th century BC.). Almost 150 pillars with a height of 16 to 24 meters shape a real forest of petrified papyrus stems. On top, the pillars are linked by huge stones. If this hall has been build to impress people the builders really have succeeded, because we are. Even though the Egyptian gods are dead, we still marvel at the constructions they inspired and the technical ingenuity the people had, back then.
Karnak KarnakAfter we have walked through the immense first pylon we enter the largest temple square that has ever been build: almost 10,000 square meters. Two older temples have been swallowed by the walls. In fact, the further one walks into Karnak, the older the buildings get. Original temples were replaced by new ones and every pharao expanded the complex or embellished it in honour of the gods and especially themselves.
Tutankhamun, KarnakTutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun also have made their contribution to Karnak. Here are statues of them.
KarnakAn earthquake in the dirst century BC. has rather made a mess of the temples and it is surprising that anything still stands. Especially when one considers the fact that a lot of stones have been used by later generations to build houses and the fact that ancient kings didn't have any scruples to pull down another king's temple to build his own with the same stones.
KarnakOriginally most of the pillars and inner walls were painted with bright colours. Especially the colours yellow ocher, red ocher and an intense blue were often used. Not much of it has been preserved. On this pillar one can see some remains of the colours.
KarnakHere a few statues that have been found at different places. A lot of soft sandstone has been used in the temples but important statues of kings and queens and obelisks are made of granite, a very hard kind of stone that was mined at Aswan, 200 km. to the south.
The two highest obelisks have been placed here by Hatshepsut, one of the few female kings of Egypt (Cleopatra being another famous one although there have been a few more). Made out of one piece of stone, more than 30 meters high, carried over 200 kilometers on the Nile, they have been placed in a narrow place. Her successor has tried to erase her name on all her monuments (but only at the end of his reign, nobody knwos why not earlier) and around these obelisks he build walls to make them invisible.
Karnak Obelisk of HatshepsutMaybe he even tried to pull them over. To the right the point of an obelisk of her that has fallen down. Maybe he didn't dare to pull down the second one because an accident happened while pulling down the first one, who knows. And that he then decided to build walls around them. Anyway, the standing obelisk and the fallen one are still two very beautiful peices in this temple complex.
KarnakWe wander about for hours, a travel guide in our hands. This hodgepodge of buildings is not the best of its kind in Egypt but it is very impressive, if only by its size. We wonder how it must have looked when it still was in use in Ancient Egypt. Splendidly coloured temples crowded by hundreds, maybe thousands priests while new temples were build and decorated all the time.
A puzzleYou can see Elisabeth thinking: a very difficult puzzle. A large field filled with fragments of walls and statues, all numbered and imported into some computerprogram that tries to fit pieces together. That is how the biggest part of Karnak looks like. The solving of the puzzles is extra difficult since kings often used stones of the temples of their predecessors and just erased the old writings and replace them with new texts.
Temple of Osiris Temple of ChonsuIn the southern part of the complex, where once an avenue of sphinxes started which lead all the way to the Luxor temple, 3 kilometers far away, are two younger temples, from the first centuries BC.
The hieroglyphs here are much more delicate and better preserved than in most other parts of Karnak.
It is fun to roam about Karnak once more. Once, in 1988, I was almost thrown out of Egypt at this place since I was guiding my groups of tourists and foreigners aren't allowed to do that without special permission. An Egyptian friend of mine, Kamal Ali Doma, saved me from the angry head of the tourist guides in Luxor. I have asked after him a few times the last days but nobody knows exactly where he is.
The NileAfter this long visit we really need a break. The whole day there has been a lot of wind and the sky is even red and grey from the sand in the sky. On a terrace we drink lots of Egyptian tea and we stay for quite some time to give our feet some rest.
Luxor No hassleOn our walk afterwards we are approached continuously by people who want to sell something, so we are nicely surprised when we see a shop window with notes in several languages that there is no hassle inside. We stand quite some time before the shop, looking inside, but nobody comes out to lure us inside, an unique thing in Luxor.
Mosque, Luxor Mosque, LuxorIn the narrow streets behind the Luxor temple we come across this beautiful mosque but the street is too narrow to get a good picture of it. Even modern Egypt has some nice things to show.
At night we have dinner at our hotel and spend some time at a restaurant outside. It has been a very tiring day and we have seen a lot of ancient and modern culture. It has been another wonderful Egyptian day...


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