Exploring the temples of Luxor’s East bank
We had a marvellous day in Luxor exploring the magnificent Temple of Karnak. Built some 3,000-4,000 years ago, this immense complex was Egypt’s mmost important centre of worship during the years of the New Kingdom. For almost 1,500 years every pharaoh that ruled Egypt added to the temple in an attempt to curry favour with the Gods. The result of more than a millennia of expansion, renovation and reconstruction was a temple complex of incredible size, wealth and artistry – the likes of which the world may never see again. Today the vast temple complex is mostly in ruins, though parts of it survived Nile floods, vandals and the weathering of time. Even with so little of the temple remaining intact, it was still amazing wandering through its many halls, courtyards, chapels and chambers today.
The Karnak Temple Complex was known in ancient Egypt as Ipet-isut (translation = the most sacred of places) and was dedicated to the sun god Amun-Ra. There are actaully about a dozen chapels and temples within the 250 acre grounds, as well as a number of large ceremonial halls, storage rooms, avenues and a large made-made lake that contains water channeled from the Nile. The waters from the sacred lake were once used during purification rituals and seasonal ceremonies.
Today the complex is a vast open-air museum and is considered the largest ancient religious site in the world. It is the largest temple complex ever built, and represents the combined achievement of many generations. The overall effect is quite awe-inspiring, though a little confusing as there are just so many parts to the temples. This is to be expected though, given that evey pharaoh for 50 generations added their own “bit” to the temple!
Most impressive was the Second Great Hall of Karnak, built by Rameses II (i.e. Ramses the Great). The hall was roofed and contains 132 huge pillars, each 12.8m high and covered in detailed hieroglyphics depicting Ramses II making offerings to Amun-Ra and glorifying the name of both God and King.
Before Ramses II, his father Seti I built the First Great Hall of Karnak. The amazing thing about the First Great Hall is the way it was designed to allow natural light into the hall. A central colonnade was built, some 6m higher than the other columns. The outer columns were then topped by 6m-high glassless windows, upon which the flat roof sat. With all the hieroglyphics and ststaues colouredin vivid reds, blues, yellows and greens, and the roof still in place, the overall effect must have been quite spectacular.
There are also several granite obelisks around the temple complex, each standing 20-30m tall and weighing about 300 tons. These monumental towers were incredibly difficult to quarry, transport, place and carve, and were thus only ever used to record the most grandiose of each pharaoh’s achievements. The largest of those at the Temple of Karnak records all the great achievements of Hatshepsut, the pharaoh/queen whose tomb/temple we saw yesterday on the West Bank of the Nile.
Interestingly all the chapels and halls of the temple were built along a single axis. This axis was drawn to follow the trajectory of a particular star across the sky. Apparently historians are not sure which star’s path across the night sky the temple mirrors, but they are certain that, in keeping with ancient Egyptian beliefs, the temple’s alignment would have corresponded with some heavenly sign. This means that, when standing at the temple’s inner-most heart (the sanctuary where the sacred golden statue of Amun-Ra would have been kept), we could look straight down the central corridor and see all the way to the outer-most part of the temple. Very cool!
There were so many nooks and crannies to explore around the temple that we happily spent a few hours there and left with our brains full and appetite for history and wonder well satiated. Egypt has been amazing – all the tombs and temples, the history and the scenery, have been fantastic. This is just such a unique place with so much to see that we feel we’ve hardly even scratched the surface in the 2 weeks we’ve been here. But unfortunately our time in Egypt is coming to an end – tomorrow we fly back to Cairo for one last day in the “big smoke” before flying out on Thursday. Still, it’s been great seeing some of the marvels created by the ancient Egyptians and, even better, to have had so many of the sites to ourselves!