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Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

What Does Karnak Mean? Etymology?

The Egyptians called the Temple of Karnak “Apet-Sut,” which refers to “the seat of the thrones.” This was because it was the temple of the god Amun,

who was known as “the master of the thrones of the two lands.” Amun is claimed to have made his first entry in one of the versions of the creation myths of the Pharaohs

in the shape of a male goose who uttered the very first cry ever heard. This version of Amun is known as the Amun-Re. It is the largest temple ever built in the history of the ancient world.

It was constructed approximately 2055 BC within the city of temples and was dedicated to worshiping the ancient Pharaonic gods. Karnak means “the chosen spots” in the ancient hieroglyphic language.

The temple’s name is connected to the city of Karnak, which derives from a distorted version of the term Khorang, which can also be interpreted as “the walled settlement.”

Other names have been given to the Temple of Karnak throughout history and by the Pharaonic family. Some of these names are Nisut-Towa, which translates to “the Throne of the Two Nations,”

and Abit Isset, which means “the most exquisite house.” Archaeologists discovered these names on the inscriptions and drawings that were found on the walls of the Senusret I temple that was located in the third Pelon.

Why is the Karnak Temple so famous?

The Karnak Temple is considered one of the most famous temples in Luxor and the world. It is dedicated to the worship of the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu,

and it is the largest religious building ever constructed.

The temple was built during the Middle Kingdom era of the Pharaonic civilization. The kings of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt expanded the temple and added small temples and tombs.

It was believed in the past, in the Pharaonic era, that the city of Thebes was one of the first cities that were built on a primitive hill that was high above the ground.

The god Atum or the god Ptah stood as it was believed in the past; it was also considered a place of worship of the god Amun and a place of special sanctity.

In the past, the Pharaonic kings filled the edifices with the remnants of stones, as did the Pharaonic King Horemheb,

who stuffed the three edifices with the remains of the stones of the Aten Temple after he demolished it, in addition to King Amenhotep the Third, who in turn filled his third edifice with the stones of Senusret I’s cabin.

Karnak Temple
The Karnak temple complex at Luxor developed over more than 1,000 years

Where is the Karnak Temple located?

The Temple is located on the east bank of the Nile in the city of Luxor, the ancient pharaonic capital known as Thebes, in the south of the country.

Who built the Karnak Temple?

Although the height of its importance was during the New Kingdom, famous pharaohs such as Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III, Seti I, and Ramses II contributed significant additions to the complex;

construction continued into the Greco-Roman period with the Ptolemies, the Romans, and early Christians. Everyone who passed through there left their marks on the history of Karnak.

Who was the Temple of Karnak built for?

More than thirty pharaohs contributed to constructing this sacred enclosure, which began in the 18th dynasty. However, the site was already occupied by a minor temple for a long time before.

Karnak Temple

Who were the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu?


Also Known as Amon, Ammon, and Amen, Amun was the Egyptian god of the sun and air. Regarded as one of the most important gods, Amun is the ancient Egyptian civilization during the beginning of the rise of the New Kingdom from 1570 to 1069 BCE.


Also known as Maut and Mout, Mut was a goddess worshiped by ancient Egyptians. The meaning of her name is ‘mother,’ and therefore, she was known as the mother goddess.

For some, she was known as the mother of everything in the world, and for others, they recognized her as the mother of the moon child god khonsu.


Known as the son of the goddess Mut, Khonsu was the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon. The meaning of his name is ‘traveler.’

When was the Karnak Temple built?

The Karnak Temple dates actually from 2055 BC and continued until about 100 AD. It was built as a place of worship and was dedicated to the gods Amun, Mut, and khonsu at the time of its construction.

The ancient Egyptians referred to the Karnak Temple as the “most select of places” because it was the largest building for religious purposes that had ever been constructed.

What was the purpose of the Temple of Karnak Egypt?

When you visit Karnak, you will visit the heart of New Kingdom Egypt. This large complex was once the center of the ancient faith while power was concentrated in Thebes (now Luxor );

its importance is directly reflected in the size of its structure. In addition to its religious importance, the site also served as a treasury, administrative center, and palace for the New Kingdom pharaohs.

The Karnak Temple is considered the largest temple ever built in the world.

The Temple of Karnak developed over 1500 years, passing from generation to generation of pharaohs and reigns, resulting in a collection of temples, shrines, columns, and other decorations unrivaled throughout Egypt.

An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes previously connected it to the main temple. The Montu Temple Enclosure honors the indigenous Theban battle deity.

The 3km-long paved road of human-headed sphinxes linking Karnak temple’s enormous Temple of Amun to Luxor Temple is being cleaned anew.

Karnak Temple
The Luxor Temple

The Karnak Temple Complex

1-Axis of the Amun Temple

During the celebrations, massive vessels bearing deity sculptures docked at the Quay of Amun. We know this because tomb murals like the Tomb of Nakht depict mansions surrounded by gardens.

On the east side lies a ramp leading to the colossal incomplete first pylon erected by Nectanebo I of the 30th dynasty.

The pylon’s stone blocks were pulled up onto a large mud-brick construction ramp using rollers and ropes. The ramp had blocks on it when Napoleon’s troops came.

2- Court

The Great Court is behind the first pylon. To the left lies the Temple of Seti II, which housed the holy barques of Mut, Amun, and Khonsu before the Opet Festival.

Karnak temple, Karnak Temple
Temple of Seti

The well-preserved Temple of Ramses III (far right) is a miniature duplicate of the pharaoh’s temple at Medinat Habu.

In the hypostyle hall are eight columns and three bark chapels for Amun, Mut, and Khonsu.

Karnak temple, Karnak Temple
Madīnat Habu, also spelled Medinet Habu, the necropolis region of western Thebes in Upper Egypt.

Two rows of five columns form the court’s center. The Kiosk of Taharka, the 25th-dynasty Nubian king, measures 21m tall with a papyrus-shaped capping and a modest alabaster altar in the center.

The second pylon was built by Ramses I and Ramses II, who also built three gigantic red-granite sculptures of themselves on each side of the entryway, one of which is now demolished.

3- Hypostyle Hall

It is one of the finest religious structures ever created, beyond the second pylon. The hall is a forest of 134 towering papyrus-shaped stone pillars covering 5500 sq meters – enough room for both Rome’s St Peter’s and London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

It represented a papyrus wetland which dotted the Nile. The Egyptians thought these plants surrounded the primordial mound where life began.

Every summer, when the Nile flooded, this hall and its columns were submerged. It was originally brilliantly painted and roofed, making it gloomy away from the illuminated main axis.

The pillars’ vastness and infinite ornamentation are overwhelming: take your time, sit for a bit, and take it all in.

Seti I and Ramses II constructed the hall, designed by Ramses I. Note the gap in quality between Seti I’s exquisite raised relief and Ramses II’s considerably cruder sunken relief work in the southern hall.

Karnak Temple
The Valley of the Kings is located on the west bank of the Nile River near Luxor.

Inner walls depicted religious themes, while exterior walls depicted the king’s military power and strength, as well as his capacity to restore order to chaos.

On the right, the pharaoh is portrayed sailing the holy barque at the Opet festival.

He built a court between the third and fourth pylons, with two obelisks each commemorating Tuthmosis I and Tuthmosis III (1479–1425 BC). Except for one 22m high base built for Tuthmosis I.

4- Tuthmosis III

Tuthmosis III’s Hypostyle Hall, erected in costly wood by Tuthmosis I, was later restored with 14 columns and a stone roof by Tuthmosis III.

Queen Hatshepsut (1473–1458 BC) constructed one of two majestic 30m-high obelisks in this court to honour her ‘father’ Amun. The top shaft is fractured and near the holy lake ( right ).

The Hatshepsut Obelisk is Egypt’s highest, originally coated with electrum (a commonly used alloy of gold and silver). Tuthmosis III had all traces of Hatshepsut’s rule enclosed into a sandstone building after her death.

Karnak temple, Karnak Temple
Hatshepsut’s temple is just one of many archaeological wonders that make up Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis

This was followed by the little sixth pylon, erected by Tuthmosis III, who also built the pair of red-granite columns in the vestibule beyond, engraved with the lotus and papyrus, the emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Two large Amun and Amunet sculptures sculpted during Tutankhamun’s reign stand nearby. The old holy barque shrine of Tuthmosis III was replaced with a granite one erected and ornamented with well-preserved painted reliefs by Alexander the Great’s successor and half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus (323–317 BC).

The Middle Kingdom Court, where Sesostris I constructed a shrine, was discovered east of Philip Arrhidaeus’ shrine.

On the court’s northern wall, the Wall of Records keeps track of the orderly tribute paid to Amun by the pharaoh’s subdued provinces.

5- Tuthmosis III’s Great Temple

The Akh-Menou, Brilliant of Monuments, is Tuthmosis III’s, Festival Hall.

It has unusually carved stone columns resembling tent poles, presumably referencing the pharaoh’s many military journeys overseas.

Beautiful, realistic relief representations of the flora and fauna that the monarch experienced during his journeys in Syria and Palestine are shown in the columned vestibule beyond, known as the Botanical Gardens.

Tuthmosis III added a modest chapel onto the temple wall behind his festival hall, on each side of which are the massive bases for two of Hatshepsut’s obelisks that originally stood here.

A little farther to the southeast, Ramses II erected The Temple of the Hearing Ear, using the same foundation for a single 32.2m tall obelisk that Tuthmosis III had built.

Emperor Constantine brought the obelisk from Karnak to Rome (AD 306–337) and placed in the Circus Maximus.

It was moved in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V in front of St John (Giovanni) Lateran.

Built by Tuthmosis III, the Ptolemies and Romans completed the cult Temple of Ptah against the northern perimeter wall of the Amun Temple Enclosure.

The inner rooms are reached by five doors flanked by two of the temple’s original sculptures.

The headless figure of Ptah, Memphis’ creator deity, lies behind a barred door in the middle chapel.

To his left stands his goddess-wife Sekhmet (the terror-spreader), bare-breasted and lioness-headed.

6- Amun Temple Enclosure

The auxiliary axis of the Amun Temple Enclosure, stretching south from the third and fourth pylons, leads to the Mut Temple Enclosure by a walled processional route.

The cachette court, erected by Tuthmosis III between the Hypostyle Hall and the seventh pylon, was unearthed in 1903 with hundreds of stone and metal figures.

Around 300 BC, the priests buried the antique sculptures and temple furnishings. Most sculptures were taken to Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, although four of Tuthmosis III remain in front of the seventh pylon.

In addition to being the oldest pylon in Karnak, the eighth pylon constructed by Queen Hatshepsut is also the most well-preserved. A book she misattributed to Tuthmosis I justifies her claim to the Egyptian throne.

Horemheb erected the ninth and tenth pylons, using some of the stones from Akhenaten’s collapsed temple to the east (before he decamped to Tell al-Amarna), some of which are on show at the excellent Luxor Museum.

The holy lake is east of the seventh and eighth pylons, where the priests of Amun washed twice daily and nightly for ceremonial cleanliness.

On the lake’s northwestern shore is a stone Giant Scarab dedicated by Amenhotep III to Khepri, a form of the sun deity.

The southwestern corner encloses the Temple of Khonsu, son of Amun and Mut. A route through numerous stone blocks leads to it from an entrance in the southern wall of the Temple of Amun’s Hypostyle Hall.

The temple is north of Euergetes’ Gate and the avenue of sphinxes leading to Luxor Temple.

A peristyle court leads to a hypostyle hall with eight columns engraved with Ramses XI and Herihor. The holy barque of Khonsu was next.

7- Temple Enclosure

From the 10th pylon, a sphinx-lined road leads to the partially excavated Precinct of Mut. Amenhotep III erected the Temple of Mut, which has a sanctuary, a hypostyle hall, and two courtyards.

Amenhotep also erected around 700 black granite sculptures of Sekhmet, Mut’s northern counterpart, who thought to create a calendar with two statues for each day of the year.

8- Eighth Temple Enclosure

A wall gate reaches the Montu Temple Enclosure near the Temple of Ptah (in the Amun Temple Enclosure). Ancient Theban deities included Montu, the falcon-headed warrior deity. Amenhotep III constructed and modified the main temple. The facility is in disrepair.

9- Outdoor Museum

Most tourists overlook Karnak’s open-air museum, which is located to the left of the first court of the Amun Temple Enclosure.

Famous chapels include the White Chapel of Sextris I, a Middle Kingdom masterpiece with exquisite Middle Kingdom reliefs, the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut, rebuilt in 2000, and the Alabaster Chapel of Amenhotep I.

The museum also has statues from the temple complex.

10 – Light & Sound

The 112-hour sound-and-light spectacle at Karnak tells the history of Thebes and the lives of the numerous pharaohs who constructed here in worship of Amun. It’s worth seeing for the night stroll around the gorgeously lighted temple.

Interesting Facts about the Karnak Temple

  • South of the Temple of Amun is the Sacred Lake. The water is brackish, and on the edge of the lake is a large granite scarab dedicated to the sun god Atum-Khepri, who was depicted as a scarab.
  • The favorite time for photographers to visit the Karnak temple complex is 5 pm. This is considered the best time to see the stonework shining in the sun and the majestic shadows of the sculptures hanging over the walls.
  • Behind the Second Pylon is the Hypostyle Hall, which is rightfully considered one of the world’s wonders. Measuring 103 by 52 meters, it covers an area of ​​more than 5,000 square meters.
  • The temple of Kom Ombo in Karnak is probably the first place in the world where surgical instruments were invented – during the excavations; the researchers found forceps, scalpels, chairs for childbirth, and containers with medicines.
  • Over 420,000 animals were kept on the temple grounds at Karnak, considered sacred to Amun. At the same time, people of humble origin were not even allowed inside the temple.

Although the temple at Karnak was looted by armies, explorers, and travelers who stole statues and stonework, there are not many temple complexes left in the world that are still as majestic today.

The realms of the Pharaohs may be gone, but their power lives on in this triumphant testament of stone.

Explore Aswan and Luxor day trips.

About the author

Magdy Fattouh (Migo) is a creative content marketer and expert in search engines for over 5 years. He manifests his passion in his role as a Creative Content Writer especially in travel where he strives to evoke a strong sense of place in his write-ups.