Egypt-ology, "Sifting the Sands of Antiquity for Lost Wisdom"
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Ancient Egyptian Sites

Karnak Temple Complex

Karnak describes a vast conglomerate of ruined temples, chapels and other buildings of various dates. The name Karnak comes from the nearby village of el-Karnak. Whereas Luxor to the south was Ipet-rsyt, Karnak was ancient Ipet-isut, perhaps the most select of Places. Theban kings and the god Amun came to prominence at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. From that time, the temples of Karnak were built, enlarged, torn down, added to, and restored for more than 2000 years.

The ancient Egyptians considered Ipet-isut as the place of the majestic rising of the first time, where Amun-Ra made the first mound of earth rise from Nun. At Karnak, the high priests recognized a king as the beloved son of Amun, king of all the gods. The coronation and jubilees were also held here. Staffed by more than 80,000 people under Ramesses III, the temple was also the administrative center of enormous holdings of agricultural land.

Karnak Alley of Ram-Headed SphinxesThe largest and most important group in the site is the central enclosure, the Great Temple of Amun proper. The layout of the Great Temple consists of a series of pylons of various dates. The earliest are Pylons IV and V, built by Tutmosis I, and from then on the temple was enlarged by building in a westerly and southerly direction. Courts or halls run between the pylons, leading to the main sanctuary.

The temple is built along two axes, with a number of smaller temples and chapels and a sacred lake. The northern enclosure belongs to Montu, the original god of the Theban area, while the enclosure of Mut lies to the south and is connected with Amun’s precinct by an alley of ram-headed sphinxes. An avenue bordered by sphinxes linked Karnak with the Luxor temple, and canals connected the temples of Amun and Montu with the Nile.

Ram-Headed Sphinxes 

Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten, erected several temples for his new state deity to the east of the central enclosure of Amun. The most conspicuous features of these temples were open courts surrounded by pillars and colossal statues of the king. The temples were dismantled in the post-Amarna period and the stone blocks reused in later structures, especially the pylons built by Horemheb.


The Precinct of Montu

The square northern enclosure is the smallest of the three precincts and its monuments are poorly preserved. It contains the main temple of Montu, several smaller structures, particularly the temples of Harpre and Ma’at, and a sacred lake. A structure thought to be a treasury built by Tutmosis I was discovered outside the east enclosure wall.

The Montu precinct is the most significant architectural complex north of the Amun-Ra temple. It was first built by Amenhotep III, on a podium, its masonry including blocks belonging to discarded monuments from Amenhotep I, Hatshepsut-Tutmosis III, Amenhotep II and Tutmosis IV. It includes other monuments besides the Montu temple.

Montu Temple at KarnakAmenhotep III, the founder of the main Montu temple, built an enclosure wall around the Montu precinct. In its current state, the Montu precinct also includes several other temples and structures. The temple of Ma’at, the only one extant to this deity, leans on the rear side of the Montu temple. Largely destroyed now, it still preserves inscriptions of some of the viziers of Ramesses III and XI. A previous Ma’at temple apparently existed in this area, indicated by reliefs and stelae belonging to the reign of Amenhotep III. The trials of the accused tomb robbers were held in this temple.

The precinct also includes a temple of Harpre. The temple of Harpre is built along the east side of the Montu temple. The oldest part, the sanctuary on the south side, may date back to the 21st dynasty. Nepherites and Hakor of the 29th Dynasty built a hypostyle hall with Hathor capitals. A geographical procession formed part of the decoration of the hypostyle hall. An open court and a pylon were added to the north façade during the 30th dynasty. A subsidiary building in front of the pylon is known as the eastern secondary temple, and may be related to the cult of the bull of Montu.

The Sacred LakeThe sacred lake on the west side may have been dug by Amenhotep III and restored by Montuemhat, who has a biographical inscription in the Mut temple. A "high temple" was erected by Nectanebo II as a storehouse for the offerings.

Lastly, six doors in the south wall of the Montu precinct lead to six chapels dedicated by Divine Votaresses of Amun to different forms of Osiris. The chapels are of Nitoqret, Amenirdis, an unattributed one, Karomama, and one from the reign of Taharka.

A dromos leading to a quay on a canal, which is no longer extant, completes the complex. The dromos is a stone-paved road leading from the gate of the precinct to a quay on a canal north of the site. The quay may be dated to the reign of Psamtik I. Two statues of Amenhotep III have been found broken and buried under a chapel in the middle of the temple dromos.

A copy of the "Restoration Stela" of Tutankhamun was erected here, as was a stela of Seti I, inscriptions of Ramesses II, Merenptah, Amenmesses, and Pinedjem. The eastern part of the temple collapsed at the end of the New Kingdom, and reconstruction was probably undertook by Taharka, who also built a great portico on the main façade. This was dismantled and rebuilt by the first Ptolemies.

Outside the temple precinct, a limestone gate of Hathshepsut and Tutmosisi III was usurped by Amenhotep II and completed by Seti I. Only two brick walls of the chapel dedicated to Osiris, by Taharka, where a statue of the goddess Taweret was found by Mariette. Farther west, a door of Ptolemy IV marks the entrance to a small temple of Thoth, now in ruins. In the northwest, a columned building consecrated by Nitoqret to the Theban triad has suffered. To the east of the Montu precinct, the remains of a building known as a treasury, built by Tutmosis I, have been excavated. It consisted of a barque station of Amun, storerooms and workshops. This treasury may be the oldest building on the site.

The oldest remains on the site of North Karnak date back to the end of the Middle Kingdom and belong to urban settlements, with mud-brick houses, granaries and workshops.

All these buildings are dedicated to Amun-Ra of Thebes, even if rare mentions of Montu have been found, mainly epithets describing various kings as beloved of Montu. The dedicatory inscription of the main temple attributes the sanctuary to Amun-Ra, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Pre-eminent in Ipet-Sut., and this inscription is confirmed by various minor monuments such as the obelisks, the two quartzite statues of Amenhotep III and other statues.

The first dedicatory inscription to Montu appears on the stela erected by Seti I in the court of the temple. From the reign of Taharka we have a comprehensive documentation in the decoration of the portico, stating that Montu, Lord of Thebes, is the main god of the temple. Scenes on the Ptolemaic gate of the precinct confirm this rank for Montu.

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