Magic Carpet Journals
Karnak Temple by Night and Day
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
An avenue of ram headed sphinx lead to entrance pylons at Karnak Temple
The light show at the Karnak Temple, in Thebes, was our evening’s destination. Our guide picked us up promptly at 7:00 p.m., with a bus to transport us to our destination. Arriving at Karnak, we walked toward the temple, between two rows of sphinxes. These sphinxes border an avenue leading to the two massive pylons that form the front of the Temple of Amun, here at Karnak. Standing expectantly in the dark, we waited for the show to begin. Suddenly the lights came on, illuminating the great pylons. Voices and music boomed forth, taking us back to the beginning of time. We followed the lights as they revealed Karnak to be a mysterious labyrinth of columns and passages, esplanades and corridors, temples, statues and obelisks. At night, it was eerie, for here I got the sense that I was standing in the footsteps of the ancients. On this night though, we had the added mystique of the light of the full moon peaking through the columns. I did not see the decay of the centuries. The lights and shadows only revealed the magnificent structures as they once stood, so many centuries ago. The voices and music created the atmosphere and mental images of the days of the ancient Pharaohs. This temple is immense, by far the largest complex of all those that we have seen. A succession of Pharaohs were responsible for building different monuments to their own glory, here at Karnak. We slowly proceeded through the temple while a voice told us the story of Karnak. We ended the evening sitting, on cushions, in a grandstand overlooking the sacred lake, while voices, music and lights completed the story of Karnak. Walking back towards our bus, I mused that one of the voices that we heard tonight sounded familiar. I believed it to be the voice of a Canadian, J. Frank Willis. I know that we have seen the pěece de résistance of the tour. We proclaimed that we were glad that our tour has been from Aswan to Luxor, as we have been able to build up to this most impressive ending in Luxor.
Luxor at night with full moon
On our return to the ship, we went quickly to our room as there was time to pack our bags, before going to sleep. Our bags may be picked up at 9:00 a.m. before our morning tour. And so to sleep.
Up at six to get ready to check out of our room, before we went on tour that morning. Breakfast on the ship was always good. There was a chef waiting to fill our order, plus a good variety of fresh buns and pastries, and hot items already waiting for us.
Back in a bus, we travelled through Luxor to Karnak again, the site of the Temple of Amun, that we visited last night. As we drove through the city we noticed a large assortment of shops and some hotels. These buildings appeared to be in better condition, obviously more prosperous than those in the other towns that we have visited.
The Avenue of Sphinx in construction from Luxor to Karnak (2018)
Sphinx waiting to be moved home to the Avenue of Sphinx (1988)
As we approached Karnak, I saw that work is in progress to rebuild the Avenue of Sphinxes, a long straight road between Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, a distance of four kilometres. On my previous visit thirty years ago, archaeologists were busy digging for the sphinxes they believed had once lined the whole route. Much to their credit they have now found the lot and those sphinxes now sit in place, on either side of the road, waiting while workmen rebuild the majestic Avenue of Sphinxes as it once was. It will be a grand route between the two temples.
Entering Karnak Temple at Thebes
Karnak Temple is just as impressive, in daylight, as it was under the stars, last night. Approaching the temple in broad daylight, we found that the avenue of sphinxes, at Karnak, have rams heads. A mother dog and her young pup are having a sleep sprawled out on the walk, seeming to be oblivious to the many people stepping over or around them on their way to the temple.
Notice the dirt pile at the back of the pylon
From this entrance, the great procession of the Festival of the Floods began. When the first waves of the annual floods reach Thebes, the sacred boat of Amun was carried by a great procession of priests, preceded by the statues of former pharaohs. The ruling monarch, bringing up the rear of the procession, was carried in triumph to the Temple of Luxor. This immensely popular festival then turned into a festival of love, for the fertilization of the earth, by the Nile, became a symbolic act of love in the minds of those early inhabitants of the Nile Valley. Under the guise of the celebration, nights of love and marriage took place. Prior to the damming of the Nile, these yearly floods were greeted as a blessing, because the flood waters brought with them silt. When the water retreated, the silt was left behind. Thus the Nile renewed the soil with nutrients, leaving it fertile, ready to produce abundant vegetation. Present day Egyptians are trying to solve the problems created by the dams. Although they now have water for irrigation, the river no longer brings the annual deposits of silt to rejuvenate the land.
This morning, as we enter the Temple of Amun, between the two pylons, we note that the pylon of the right pylon is unfinished. It does not have the rough surface smoothed. The back of the pylon still has part of the earthen ramp in place. I was told that this ramp was utilized, in the construction of the pylon, to raise the huge stones to the elevation required. It no longer is high enough to appear useful for anything.
Hypostyle hall of Seti in Temple of Amun at Karnak
The massive complex was divided into three areas, each consecrated to a different god. The most ancient, the Temple of Amun, occupied the largest area, up to 30 hectares. The sanctuary of the goddess Mut, Amun's wife, was on the right. She is symbolically represented by a vulture.
Shreif leads us into Seti's Hypostyle Hall
An architectural style, which originated with the ancient Egyptians, is the hypostyle hall. These buildings had a ceiling or roof supported by rows of columns. The Temple of Amun is the largest temple that was supported by columns in the world. This hypostyle hall is 102 metres long and 53 metres wide, with 134 columns 23 metres high. The tops of the open papyrus columns have a circumference of over 5 metres. Some say that they are big enough for 50 people to stand on them. Amenophis built the 12 columns in the central nave. Ramses I initiated the decoration of this temple, which was successively carried on by Seti I and Ramses II.
Obelisk of Tuthmose III
Beyond the hypostyle hall, one obelisk remains of those of Tuthmose I. This monument stands 23 metres tall. The obelisk of his daughter, Hatshepsut, is even taller. Hatshepsut's obelisk can only be seen above the wall which was built by Tuthmose III to conceal it.
Hatshepsut's partially concealed Obelisk with Tuthmose's Obelisk on right
The banqueting hall of Tuthmose III was once a beautiful hypostyle hall with two rows of 10 round columns and one row of 32 rectangular pillars. Some paintings still exist on the walls of this hall, the colours faded by time. The early Christians used this hall as a church. They tried to convert the pictures of the ancient Egyptian gods into pictures of Christian saints. One statue was reconstructed to resemble a very crude Christ on the Cross.
The still colourful banqueting hall of Tuthmose III
A crude depiction of Christ on the Cross by early Christians
Behind the banqueting hall, we found the lovely sacred lake. We were told that everyone entering a temple had to be cleansed and purified, therefore, all temples had to have a sacred lake. This is the only sacred lake that we have seen here in Egypt.
The Sacred Lake at Karnak Temple
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
Our Nile Cruise concludes in Luxor
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Last Updated on November 05, 2018 by M. Maxine George editor.