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Temple of Amun at Karnak

avenue of ram-headed sphinxes


18th Dynasty

To the original temple, Amenhotep I added a court with a pylon (VI) at its entrance. In the 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 ceremonies.
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
wadjit 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 (sacred images of the gods) was constructed to the east and a second, tall stone enclosure wall w
as 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.

19th Dynasty

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.

20th Dynasty

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 I.
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 25th Dynasty.

Late period

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.

Ptolemaic period

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 excavations.

Roman period

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 the inhabitants.
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.


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