the original temple, Amenhotep
I added a court with a pylon (VI) at its entrance.
middle of this court was the famous alabaster chapel, the first known
shrine of the image of the sun bark, which played a central role in all
Tuthmose I built an enclosure wall and, to the west, two pylons (IV and
V) forming the sides of a jubilee hall (hall of
columns). In front of the west façade of the temple he erected the
first pair of obelisks.
Tuthmose II created a great festival court in the open area in
front of the temple, and placed two more obelisks there.
Queen Hatshepsut made some major changes. She demolished Amenhotep I’s
works in the heart of the temple and replaced them with offering halls
and a second sun bark shrine, which together were called the Palace of Ma’at. On the western side, she removed the roof of the
hall, which became a court where she placed two enormous obelisks. A new
jubilee complex was then undertaken, east of the temple. Finally, along
the north-south axis, she constructed a pylon (VIII). It was also during
her reign that sandstone blocks systematically replaced the limestone
ones used earlier.
Tuthmose III, wishing to destroy the queen’s work, restored the
wadjit hall’s roof, which then hid her obelisks from the ground
view. Before the temple’s west façade he erected a pair of his own
obelisks. The vast jubilee complex of the akhmenu
images of the gods) was constructed to the east and a second, tall
stone enclosure wall was
built around the whole temple. He also built Pylon VII on the
north-south axis and erected its two obelisks.
Tuthmose IV gave the festival court a portico to the east of the
akhmenu complex, in which he erected a single obelisk, the largest
of all Egyptian monoliths. It is placed on the central axis of the
temple, at the extreme east, and makes an end point for the plan.
Amenhotep III destroyed the festival court of Tuthmose II and in its
place built Pylon III with the reused blocks of many earlier buildings.
Most of the blocks on display now in the open-air museum at Karnak were
found during the excavation of this edifice. Along the north-south axis,
Amenhotep III began to build the southernmost pylon (X), and in front of
its facade he erected immense royal colossi.
The reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten was marked by the construction of a
large, separate complex of temples to the east, near Tuthmose IV’s
obelisk. These temples were dedicated to the worship of the Aten. They
were made with small modular blocks of stone, known today as talatat,
which allowed very rapid construction.
At the end of the dynasty the temples in Akhenaten’s complex were
systematically destroyed by Horemheb, who reused thousands of talatat
for the foundations and filling of his own buildings. Horemheb
erected Pylon II to the west of the one built by Amenhotep III. He also
built all of Pylon IX and finished Pylon X.
Seti I began the great Hypostyle Hall between Pylons II and III; it
was later completed by Ramesses II. The latter king also laid out the
plan of the great western causeway and quay (when the temple was
approached by water), and, in the complex’s eastern part, built the
temple named Amen-who-hears-prayers, enclosing Tuthmose IV’s obelisk
in its sanctuary. Farther east along the central axis a monumental
gateway was erected, with two obelisks at its entrance.
Seti II built a triple shrine for the barks of Amen, Mut and Khonsu west
of the temple.
In the western court, Ramesses III built a triple bark shrine which
is of such enormous size that it appears to be a temple. He also
undertook the construction of the temple of Khonsu.
Third Intermediate Period
During the XXII Dynasty the last festival court was laid out. It was
bounded on the north and south by a colonnade, and on the west by Pylon
The most remarkable subsequent works are those of Taharka (XXV
Dynasty), the Kushite (Nubian) king who built the large sacred lake
with a temple, the so-called lake edifice, at its northwest corner. He also
built columned pavilions leading to the eastern
and western entrances of the temple, and in front of the temple of
Khonsu. The small pylon of the temple of Opet was also begun during the
Nectanebo I (XXX Dynasty) gave the temple a huge enclosure wall made
of horizontally curved courses of mudbrick (thought to resemble the
primeval waters of Nun). He began, but left unfinished, two stone piers
for Pylon I, and he built secondary gates outside the enclosure wall to
the north, east and west.
The large gate of Ptolemy III Evergetes was built in front of the
entrance of the temple of Khonsu and at the back of the temple of Opet.
During this period extensive repairs were made to the bases of walls
that were damaged where ground water had percolated up, through
capillary action. The foundations of the Hypostyle walls were repaired,
and the eastern and western gateways were entirely redone. Likewise, all
the inner rooms of the temple show signs of repair, during which many of
their statues and offerings were removed. They were buried, level by
level, in the famous Karnak cachette, where they were discovered at
the beginning of this century during Georges Legrain’s spectacular
Few buildings were undertaken during the Roman period. For example,
there is a modest, baked-brick chapel for the cult of the Emperor to the
west of Pylon I, near the temple’s main entrance.
During the time of Constantine I (circa
AD 330), Karnak’s
decline, apparently already complete, was punctuated by the removal of
the two largest surviving obelisks (Tuthmose IV’s huge obelisk and one
in front of Pylon VII). The final abandonment of the religion of Amen is
also indicated by the establishment of a Roman camp around the temple of
Luxor. After this only a few monks’ cells and some modest mudbrick
buildings occupied Karnak. During the centuries of abandonment, many
limestone blocks from temple walls disappeared into the lime kilns of
Having vanished from memory, Karnak was not identified as the ancient
cult center until the eighteenth century. Its true scientific
rediscovery would not come until Napoleon’s expedition in 1799. The
pioneering work in the nineteenth century of Jean- François Champollion,
Richard Lepsius, Auguste Mariette and Gaston Maspero, and, in the
twentieth century, the work of Paul Barguet, the Office of the
Directorship of Works at Karnak, and later the Franco-Egyptian Center
for the Study and Restoration of the Temples of Karnak, have all made
possible this broad outline of development of the most important complex
of temples in ancient Egypt.
Copyright © 2000-2021
Dariusz Sitek, Czestochowa - Chicago - Ann Arbor