The Precinct of Amun-Re, located near Luxor, Egypt, is one of the four main temple enclosures that make up the immense Karnak Temple Complex. The precinct is by far the largest of these and the only one that is open to the general public. The temple complex is dedicated to the principal god of the Theban Triad, Amun, in the form of Amun-Re.
The site occupies some 250,000 m² and contains many structures and monuments. The main temple itself, the Temple of Amun, covers some 61 acres and could accommodate 10 average European cathedrals. Some parts of the complex are closed or semi-closed, including large parts of the North-South Axis (the 8th, 9th, and 10th pylons), which are under active excavation or restoration. The whole southeast corner is semi-closed. The northwest corner is a museum that requires an additional ticket to visit.
Most of the southwest is an open-air assembling area containing millions of stone fragments, from small to huge, laid out in long rows, awaiting reassembly into their respective monuments. The area is not closed, as the temples of Khons and Opet both lie in this corner and are open to the public, though both are rarely visited, relative to the huge numbers of tourists who come to Karnak. Also found in that area is the Akhenaten Temple Project, in a sealed long building which contains surviving remnants of the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten).
Main article: History of the Karnak Temple complex
The history of the Karnak complex is largely the history of Thebes. The city does not appear to have been of any significance before the Eleventh Dynasty, and any temple building here would have been relatively small and unimportant, with any shrines being dedicated to the early god of Thebes, Montu. The earliest artifact found in the area of the temple is a small, eight-sided column from the Eleventh Dynasty, which mentions Amun-Ra. The tomb of Intef II mentions a 'house of Amun', which implies some structure, whether a shrine or a small temple is unknown. The ancient name for Karnak, Ipet-Sut (usually translated as 'most select of places') only really refers to the central core structures of the Precinct of Amun-Ra, and was in use as early as the 11th Dynasty, again implying the presence of some form of temple before the Middle Kingdom expansion.
The main temple is laid out on an East/West axis, entered via a quay (now dry and several hundred metres from the Nile).
The modern entrance is placed over the end of the ancient cult terrace (or tribune), causing most visitors to miss this significant feature. Inscribed into the terrace (though many are now eroded away) are the inundation levels for several kings of the Third Intermediate Period, collectively known as the Nile Level Texts. The cult terrace is often mistakenly thought to be a dock or quay, but other examples, such as the one at the Hathor temple at Deir al-Madinah, do not have access to water. It was intended for the presentation of cult images.
Originally the quay led via a corridor of Sphinxes to the entrance to the second pylon, but these were moved aside when the First Pylon was constructed.
Construction of the current pylon began in 30th dynasty, but was never totally completed. It is 113m wide and 15m thick. There are large numbers of mud bricks piled up against the inside of the pylon, and these give a clue as to how it was constructed.
The construction of the original first pylon and Forecourt in the 22nd dynasty enclosed several older structures, and meant that the original avenue of sphinxes had to be moved.
Main article: Bubastis Portal
This pylon was built by Horemheb near the end of his reign and only partly decorated by him. Ramesses I usurped Horemheb's reliefs and inscriptions on the pylon and added his own to them. These were later usurped by Ramesses II. The east (rear) face of the pylon became the west wall of the newly built Great Hypostyle Hall under Seti I who added some honorary images of the late Ramesses I to compensate for having had to erase his father's images there when he built the hall.
Horemheb filled the interior of the pylon towers with thousands of recycled blocks from dismantled monuments of his predecessors, especially Talatat blocks from the monuments of Akhenaten along with a temple of Tutankhamen and Ay.
The Second Pylon's roof collapsed in late antiquity and was later restored in Ptolemaic times.
Main article: Great Hypostyle Hall
This was begun by Seti I, and completed by Ramesses II. The north side of the hall is decorated in raised relief, and was Seti I's work. He began to decorate the southern side of the hall shortly before he died but this section was largely completed by his son, Ramesses II. Ramesses decoration was at first in raised relief, but he quickly changed to sunk relief and then converted his raised relief decoration in the southern part of the hall, along with the few reliefs of Seti there, to sunk relief. He left Seti I's reliefs in the north wing as raised relief. Ramesses also changed Seti's names to his own along the main east–west axis of the Hall and along the northern part of the north–south processional route while respecting most of his father's reliefs elsewhere in the hall.
The outer walls depict scenes of battle, Seti I on the north and Ramesses II on the south. These scenes may not show actual combat, but could have a ritual purpose as well. Adjoining the southern wall of Ramesses II is another wall that contains the text of the peace treaty he signed with the Hittites in the year 21 of his reign.
Through the walls of the Hypostyle Hall is the mostly ruined Transverse Hall, alongside a reconstructed Third Pylon of Amenhotep III. Though much ruined, in antiquity it was quite splendid and parts of it were even plated in gold by pharaoh Amenhotep III. A vestibule was added late in the pharaoh's reign and then partly decorated with incompleted triumph scenes by Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten before the new pharaoh abandoned the project due to his religious revolution which rejected the cult of the god Amun-Re.
In building the Third Pylon, Amenhotep dismantled a number of older monuments, including a small gateway he himself built earlier in the reign. He deposited hundreds of blocks from these monuments inside the pylon towers as fill. These were recovered by Egyptologists in the early 20th Century and led to the reconstruction of several lost monuments, including the White Chapel of Senusret I and the red chapel of Queen Hatshepsut, which are now in the open-air museum at Karnak. At the time of its construction, Amenhotep III had the Third Pylon gilded and covered with precious stones, as he relates on a stela now in the Cairo museum:
|“||The king made a monument for Amun, making for him a very great gateway before Amun-Re lord of the thrones of the two lands, sheathed entirely in gold, a divine image according to respect, filled with turquoise [one-half ton], sheathed in gold and numerous stones [two-thirds ton of jasper]. The like had never been made... Its pavement was made of pure silver, its front portal inset with stelae of lapis lazuli, one on each side. Its twin towers approach heaven, like the four supports of the sky. Its flagpoles shine skyward sheathed in electrum.||”|
The reliefs on the pylon were later restored by Tutankhamen who also inserted images of himself. These were, in turn, later erased by Horemheb. The erased images of Tutankhamen were long thought to be of Akhenaten himself, supposedly evidence of a coregency between Akhenaten and Amenhotep III, though most scholars now reject this.
In a narrow court, there are several obelisks, one which dates from Thutmose I, and is 21.2 m high and weighs nearly 150 tons. Just beyond this is the remaining obelisk of Hatshepsut, nearly 30 m in height. Later kings blocked out the view of this from ground level, and constructed walls around it. Its companion lies, broken, by the sacred lake.
These were built by Thutmose I.
The Sixth Pylon was built by Thutmose III, and leads into a Hall of Records in which the king recorded his tributes. The pylon also includes some images of the god Amun which were restored by Tutankhamen after they were vandalized by Akhenaten. These images were later recarved by Horemheb who also usurped Tutankhamun's restoration inscriptions.
Only the base of three doors mark the entrances to the internal structures of this court.
Main article: Festival Hall of Thutmose III
This stands to the east of the main temple complex. Between the sanctuary and the festival hall is an open space, and this is thought to be where the original Middle Kingdom shrines and temples were located, before their later dismantling.
The Festival Hall (or Akh-menu – "the most glorious of monuments") itself has its axis at right-angles to the main east–west axis of the temple. It was originally built to celebrate the jubilee (Hed-Sed) of Thutmose III, and later became used as part of the annual Opet Festival. In this temple, the Karnak king list, shows Thutmose III with some of the earlier kings that built parts of the temple complex. It contains the Botanical garden of Thutmosis III.
This axis, with its massive pylons, heads off to the Precinct of Mut. Most of this area is off limits to tourists, as it is under active reconstruction and excavation.
On the southern side, there is a carving of Thutmose III smiting Asiatic enemies, under which is a list of names of towns and peoples conquered in his campaigns in Syria-Palestine.
Off to the eastern side of the court is an alabaster shrine, constructed for the jubilee of Thutmose III.
Constructed by Hatshepsut, the seventh pylon marks the end of the area that is normally accessible to the public.
This pylon was constructed (or at least completed) by Horemheb. It is hollow and allows access to its top, via internal staircases.
Located within the outer precincts of the complex are a number of other structures, some of which are accessible to the public.
The sacred lake was where priests purified themselves before performing rituals in the temple. The sound and light show is now viewed from a seating area next to the lake.
Main article: Temple of Ptah at Karnak
Also known as the Temple of the Hearing Ear this temple is located to the east of the main complex, on the east–west alignment. It was built during the reign of Ramesses II.
Main article: Temple of Khons at Karnak
Main article: Karnak Open Air Museum