Travel to Egypt: Karnak
Karnak is the modern Arabic name for a village adjoining a place more properly called Ipet Sout, Most Esteemed of All Places. This was the home of Amen-Ra, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu.
This is the first of 10 pylons. The square channels in the lower part of the pylon held flagpoles that rose above the pylons. The wall at the left is the dock of a pool once connected to the Nile, several hundred meters behind the camera. It was a landing point, in other words.
The criosphinx or ram-headed sphinx, is a symbol of Amen, and the path to his temple led past this line of them. Between their paws are statues of Rameses II as Osiris. They were made for Amenhetep III and Thutmes IV and installed at Luxor Temple; Rameses II usurped and moved them here.
Not the way you want to see the place. Look at the end of the sight line and you'll see a architrave across two posts. We'll jump down there and work our way back. The area is large: with a central enclosure 247 acres and, within that enclosure, the 61-acre Temple of Amen-ra. Until a fire in Ptolemaic times, massive gates blocked this sight line.
Whew! A bit fo privacy, here at east end of the central enclosure.
Looking back from hereLooking from wall on Central Enclosure with rectabular area of 1,700 feet squrare. The massivesely square post-and-lintel building just before the obelisk is the Akh-Menou, the "brilliant of monuments" festival hall of Thutmes III. Beyond it are two obelisks, the taller of Hatshetsut, the lower (to its left) of Thutmes. They are in the heart of the Temple of Amun. The scale of the place may now be evident. Its wealth was fabulous--mentioned even in Homer. By one account the Temple owned over 700,000 acres of arable land, 80,000 slaves and servants, and 420,000 head of cattle. It accumulated this wealth in part through enormous donations both precious and mundane, including gold, silver, copper, cloth, wheat, and oil.
Looking east beyond the wall. Just dirt? Not quite: it's the remains of a temple built by Amenhetep IV, or Akhenaten.
We're retreated to the obelisk of Hatshepsu. It's 97 feet high and weighs something over 320 tons. Bare stone now, it was formerly covered with electrum, a gold-silver alloy that reflected the morning and afternoon sun. Its west face, lit here, reads: "She made it as her monument for her father Amun-Ra, lord of the two Lands, erecting for him two great obelisks at the august gate "Amun-Great-in-Terror" wrought with very much electrum, which illuminate the Two Lands like the sun." (Translation from R.A. Schwaller de Lubica, The Temples of Karnak, 1999, p. 602.) The other obelisk, like the twin of the shorter obelisk of Thutmes, is lost.
Here's that massive "most splendid of monuments" Festival Hall, with columns like massive tent poles.
Looking east from building, with two more column types evident: a polygonal column and fascicular or papyrus-bundle columns.
Farther west is the famous hypostyle hall, no longer roofed. It was a symbolic papyrus swamp, symbolic of that swamp surrounding the primeval mound from which life was created. Until 1925, the annual flood of the Nile flooded this building a yard deep, heightening the sense of a swamp. A roof kept the whole place dimly lit from clerestories.
The hall, which measured measures 172 by 335 feet, has 134 sandstone columns. The two rows flanking the central axis are higher than the others, to elevate the roof and allow light from clerestories. The images on the columsn and surrouding walls represent processions, coronations, and, as here, pharonic offerings to the gods.
The walls of the hall have similar imagery.
The sacred bark of Amun.
The north wall of the hall presents drawings of a more historical and political nature.
Here, for example, Tuthmose III holds captives by the hair while clubbing them. An inscription reads: "He slays with a club the prisoners of the two conquesred nations in the presence of Amunre." (Weeks, Treasures of Luxor, p. 189.)
On the same wall, Sety I, conqueror of the Hittites, smiles for posterity while driving prisoners back to Thebes as a gift to Amun-Ra. An inscription reads, "...he rejoices to begin battle, he is delighted to enter into it, his heart is satisfied at seeing blood, he cuts off the heads of the rebellious-hearted, he loves an hour of battle more than a day of rejoicing. His majesty slays them one at a time. He leaves not a limb among them, and he that escapes his hand as a living captive is carried off to Egypt." (Weeks p. 87.)
We're come to the southeast corner of the central enclosure, an area where the priests of the temple lived.
On this same southern side, but here slightly more to the west, we look north over the Ninth Pylon toward the central axis.
Work on this pylon, marking an axis established by Queen Hatshepsut, is coming along very slowly. Published photographs from 2000 are hardly different than this one from 2008. The work is done by the Franco-Egyptian Mission.
Still farther west in this southern side of the central enclosure is the Hypostyle hall of the Temple of Khonsu. Note the four channels to hold flag poles.
South of the hall is this gate in the wall of the central enclosure. It's called the gate of Ptolemy III Euergetes or the Bab el-Amara. An avenue of sphinxes stretched from here to Luxor. Some survive.
Looking north over the Temple of Khonsu toward the central axis. In the distance on the left is a solitary column. Let's go over there and look east.
We're back to the central axis, but this time in the second forecourt of the Temple of Amun and looking at what remains of the second pylon. The column of the only one that survives of 10 that formed a huge, unroofed kiosk, purpose unknown.
This statue of Ramses II, with his daughter Princess Bint-anta at his feet, stands before the second pylon. It's been moved here; only the feet remain of the original, to the right, which shows the king striding forward. In the distance there's a sculpture museum worth seeing.
We're in a small building supported by massive square pillars. This is the White Chapel, originally a shrine built by Sesostris I but later recycled as fill for the Third Pylon, from which is was excavated, block by block, in the 1930s, then reassembled. Here, Sanusret I appraoches an ihyphallic Amen.
Still another: Alexander the Great offers bread to Montu, the Lord of Themes, distinguished by the solar disk and twin plumes.
This is the so-called Red Chapel of Hatshepsut, of blocks found in 1898 near the third pylon but only reassembled in 2000.
The contrast of red quartzite and black granite is dramatic.
Purifying water to wash the god.
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