Ancient Thebes, the “City of Amun”, surrounded by what is now modern day Luxor. Home of Karnak – arguably one of the most impressive monumental temple sites in Egypt. No small task in such a country.
On a tour of Egypt’s more well known temples – Philae, Edfu, Kom Ombo – Karnak is best left for last. All are spectacular, but the sheer scale and history of Karnak are nothing less than mind blowing.
Karnak is a vast conglomeration of decayed temples, obelisks, statues and other buildings ranging in dates that span a 1300 year period with the majority constructed around 1500BC. Some accounts record the foundations as far back as 3700BC. The complex is spread over 247 acres making it the largest ancient man-made temple complex in the world (Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia, often argued as the largest, by comparison, covers an area 200 acres)
It’s difficult not to be in awe, setting sight on Karnak for the first time. An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes, each cradling statues of Ramesses II, stand silent watch over the procession of tourists entering the gates to this sacred site. Inside, massive columns that once supported a heavy roof stand open to the sky. Through the rows of columns, an obelisk, erected by Queen Hapshepsut, the longest reigning female pharaoh. Beyond the obelisk – the sacred lake, beside which sits a scarab statue. Tourists circle the statue 7 times counter- clockwise to make a wish come true. Ahmed our guide assures us – it doesn’t work!
The complex, though stunning, seems almost cobbled together. And it’s not surprising. Karnak is unique in the length of time over which it was constructed. No less than thirty pharaohs contributed to the building, starting during the Middle Kingdom through to Ptolemaic times.
The crowning glory of Karnak is perhaps the Great Hypostyle Hall, started by Seti I and completed by his son Ramesses II. It is a great feat of architecture and is one of the most visited monuments in Egypt – second only to the Pyramids of Giza. Though the roof’s now fallen, the columns stand in 16 rows, 134 in total. Hieroglyphs and reliefs were added by Ramesses II, and subsequent pharaohs have carved their marks on the walls where-ever space was left. Bright coloured murals, amazingly, are still visible in some areas.
To do a visit to Karnak justice requires time and a knowledgable guide. We were lucky to have both.