August 5, 2013

Karnak

Karnak
About three kilometres from the temple at Luxor one finds the vast zone covered by the monuments at Karnak which the Greeks called Hermonthis. The area covered by the monuments is divided into three with rough brick walls separating them. The largest, which covers about thirty hectares, is the central area which is also the best preserved. Diodorus of Sicily said of it that it is the most ancient of the four temples at Thebes. It is the temple dedicated to Amon. On the left is the sanctuary of Montu, the god of war, which is rectangular and covers about two and a half hectares. On the other side covering about nine hectares, of which about half is as yet unexplored, is the sanctuary of the goddess Mut, Amon’s wife, who is symbolically represented as a vulture.

Karnak
The great temple of Amon amazes one by its sheer size. It is the largest temple supported by columns in the world and is so vast that it could easily contain the whole of Noire Dame de Paris and according to Leonard Cottrell «would cover at least half of Manhattan». The most truly amazing feature is the hypostyle hall which is one hundred and two metres long by fifty three metres wide and in which there stand (this time one is really tempted to say defying the centuries!) one hundred and thirty four columns 23 metres high. The tops of the open papyrus shaped capitals have a circumference of about fifteen metres and are big enough for fifty people to stand on them. A veritable «forest of columns» which excite tremendous emotion because of their size and the play of light and shade on them. During the XlXth dynasty 81,322 persons worked in the temple of Amon if we count not only the priests and guardians but also the workmen and peasants involved. The temple enjoyed the income from a considerable number of estates, markets and work sites to which one should add all the riches and booty which the Pharaoh brought back from his victorious military expeditions. Various pharaohs contributed to the realization of the hypos- tyle hall. Amon-Ofis III built the twelve columns in the central nave which support the enormous architraves. Ramses I initiated the decoration and this work was continued by Seti I and Ramses II.

Karnak
Beyond the hypostyle hall there once stood (today only one remains) the obelises of Tutmose I which were 23 metres high and weighed 143 tonnes. Higher still is the one erected by his daughter Hatshepsut for the construction of which it is said that the queen spared no expense, the chronicles of the period state that she provided « bushels of gold as if they were sacks of grain » for the project. What then temains to be said about the « Banqueting Hall », Tutmose Ill’s Akh-Menu? Here too there is a beautiful hypostyle hall with two rows of ten columns and one row of thirty two rectangular pillars. From the traces of paintings dating from the 6th century A.D. we know that this hall was converted into a church by some Christian monks.

Karnak
The complex at Karnak also had a sacred lake, 120 metres long, where according to Herodotus the priests carried out their nocturnal rituals. Today the reflection of the imposing remains of the temple can be seen in the lake, and on those nights when the monuments are illuminated for the inevitable « Son et Lumiere », the ancient splendour of Thebes comes back to life.

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