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Karnak Temple Guide

 

Karnak Temple -
Guide to Egypt's Most Epic Temple

 

The scale and complexity of the Karnak Temple is simply overwhelming.

Here is a compiled list of my top 9 epic things you cannot miss at the Karnak Temple.  And, a ton of tips for visiting that will help you maximize your time and make it memorable and not frustrating.

So, stop searching, here is your guide to Egypt’s most epic Temple of Karnak in Luxor. Check it out!

 

 

What Is the Temple of Karnak

 

Karnak is a massive Ancient Egyptian temple complex.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

It the heart of it lies the Temple of Amun, dedicated to the king of the gods.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

In addition, there are a number of smaller temples, chapels and sanctuaries dedicated to other deities.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Moreover, there are endless halls, a sacred lake, pylons, colossi and obelisks.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

When Was the Karnak Temple Built

 

Construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom (around 2000-1700 BC) and continued into the Ptolemaic period (305 – 30 BC). However, most of the structures date from the New Kingdom.

 

The Sound and Light Show at the Temple of Karnak

The New Kingdom

The New Kingdom, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties of Egypt.

It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

Source: Wikipedia

 

 

Who Built the Karnak Temple

 

From the beginnings of the 11th Dynasty, pharaoh after pharaoh rebuilt, expended, restored or changed the existing structures at the Temple of Karnak. Their goal was to make a mark on Egypt’s most important temple. It was a way to ensure immortality. 

Today, you can still see many structures contributed by pharaohs such as Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III, Seti I, Ramses II and many others.

I need to add that Hatshepsut really captured my attention and I was mesmerized by the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor.

 



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What Does Karnak Mean

 

Karnak is the modern name of the temple complex.

 

The Names of the Temple Complex

The Egyptians called the site Nesut-Towi, “Throne of the Two Lands”, Ipet-Iset, “The Finest of Seats” as well as Ipt-Swt, “Selected Spot” (also given as Ipetsut, “The Most Select of Places”).

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

 
During the Muslim conquest of Egypt, which took place between 639 and 646 AD, the temple complex started to be called ‘Ka-ranak’, which means a ‘fortified village’.
 

When European explorers first began traveling in Egypt in the 17th century AD, they adopted, as well as modified the name and started referring to the temple complex as ‘Karnak’ and the name has been in use ever since. 

 

 

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Karnak Temple – Guide to Egypt’s Most Epic Temple

 

Karnak Temple – Guide to Egypt’s Most Epic Temple

 

 

Why Is the Temple of Karnak Famous

 

The Temple of Karnak is famous for two main reasons:

  • First of all, the Temple of Karnak was built over the centuries. Each ruler added to the temple complex, changed, or restored the existing structures.

The process started at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, went through the New Kingdom, and continued throughout the Ptolemaic Dynasty. However, it has even been suggested that the rulers of the Old Kingdom first started to built at the site of the temple complex due to the style of some of the ruins.

  • Second, it is the sheer size of the Temple of Karnak, that makes it so famous. The complex continued to expand with each succeeding ruler and the ruins today cover almost 250 acres of land.

 

Karnak Temple
Photograph of the temple complex taken in 1914 – Cornell University Library

Image Source: Cornell University Library via Wikipedia

 

 

Why Was the Karnak Temple Important

 

The Karnak Temple was Egypt’s most important place of worship during the New Kingdom. 

It has three main sacred areas that honor three gods:

  • The largest precinct is located in the center is the temple complex and it was principally dedicated to god Amun.
  • The second largest precinct is located in the southern area of the complex. It was dedicated to the goddess Mut, wife of Amun.
  • The smallest precinct is located in the northern section of the temple complex and it was dedicated to god Montu, the god of war.

 

 

The Theban Triad

 

Amun, Mut and their son, Khonsu, were members of the sacred family known as the Theban Triad.

Theban Triad
The Great Harris Papyrus, frame 2. Full colour vignette of Ramses III before Theban Triad; Discourse to the Gods; Thebes. British Museum.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Where Is the Temple of Karnak Located

 

The Temple of Karnak is located at the northern end of the town of Luxor.

 

 Image Source: Map data ©2020 ORION-ME Imagery ©2020 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies

 

 

How to Get to the Karnak Temple

 

With a Private Guide and a Driver

Honestly, having a driver and a tour guide is the best option of visiting the Karnak Temple. This option gives you the total flexibility. You can decide how much time you need to see everything at the Karnak Temple. Plus, having a knowledgeable guide by your side is absolutely priceless!

Now, if you are staying in one of the hotels in Luxor, your hotel will be more than happy to arrange for you a driver and a guide. Needless to say, this is an expensive option, but it is all worth it. 

On a Tour

You can ask your hotel for a bus tour that stops at all major attractions in Luxor. It is probably one of the least expensive options. But, it does not give you much flexibility. 

By Taxi

Another option is to just book a taxi and head to the Temple of Karnak. You will always be able to hire a guide right at the entrance to the Karnak Temple.

 

 

What to See at the Temple of Karnak

 

 

 

1. Avenue of Sphinxes

2. First Pylon

3. Great Court

4. Second Pylon

5. Great Hypostyle Court

6. Obelisks

7. Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

8. Seventh Pylon of Thutmose III

9. Sacred Lake

Karnak Temple Map
The Karnak Temple Map

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

The Temple of Karnak Map With the Location of 9 Epic Things You Simply Cannot Miss!

 

Karnak Temple Map
The Temple of Karnak Map with 9 Epic Things to See
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

NUMBER 1

The Avenue of Sphinxes

 

Criosphinxes (sphinxes with the head of a ram) line the processional way leading to the Temple of Karnak.

 

Karnak Temple guide
The Avenue of Sphinxes at the Temple of Karnak.

 

Between the paws of the sphinxes stands a small statue of Ramses II.

 

Karnak Temple guide
The ram-headed sphinxes symbolize the god Amun. Between their paws is a small figure of Ramses II.

 

 

NUMBER 2

The First Pylon

 

An avenue of sphinxes leads to the First Pylon. It was built by Nectanebo I.

 

Karnak Temple guide
The First Pylon was built by Nectanebo I.

 

Karnak Temple guide
An avenue of sphinxes leads to the First Pylon.

 

 

NUMBER 3

The Great Court

 

Next, once you cross the First Pylon, you will step into the Great Court. Moreover, make sure to turn around and look at the back of the First Pylon. You will be able to see the mud-brick ramp that was left by the builders. Interestingly, the First Pylon was left unfinished. 

Karnak Temple Guide
It is still a mystery why the First Pylon was left unfinished.

 

The row of ram-headed sphinxes line the right-hand side of the Great Court.

 

The Great Courtyard at the Karnak Temple
The row of ram-headed sphinxes inside the Great Court.

 

Right in the middle of the Great Court are remains of a huge kiosk built by Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty Pharaoh.

It originally consisted of 10 columns with open papyrus capitals linked by a low screening wall. Today, only one column remains standing.

 

The Great Courtyard at the Karnak Temple
The remains of a huge kiosk built by Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty Pharaoh.

 

The Great Court was built by Ramses II and his imposing statue flanks the entrance to the Second Pylon.

At his feet is a small figure of one of his daughters.

 

The Great Courtyard at the Karnak Temple
Imposing statue of Ramses II flanking the entrance to the Second Pylon.

The Great Courtyard at the Karnak Temple
At the feet of Ramses II is a small figure of one of his daughters.

 

On the right side of the Great Court is the entrance to the Chapel of Ramses III.

 

The Great Courtyard at the Karnak Temple
Entrance to the Chapel of Ramses III.

 

 

NUMBER 4

The Second Pylon

 

The Second Pylon was built by Horemheb. However, Horemheb left it unfinished. 

Later on, Ramses I continued the work on the Second Pylon and replaced Horemheb’s cartouches with his own. 

Finally, Ramses II added to the Second Pylon and added his cartouches as well.

 

The Second Pylon at the Karnak Temple.

 

The Second Pylon at the Karnak Temple.

 

 

NUMBER 5

The Great Hypostyle Hall

 

For me, the highlight of the entire tour of the Temple of Karnak, was the Great Hypostyle Hall. It was built by Seti I and completed by Ramses II. The hall covers an area of about 50,000 sq ft. It contains 134 gigantic stone columns with beautiful capitals.

Specifically, the center aisle consists of six columns with open papyrus capitals on each side. These columns are 21 meter tall with a diameter of over three meters. 

 

 

Also, the center aisle columns support huge roofing slabs.  These slabs called architraves are estimated to weigh 70 tons. There is still a lot of speculation of how these architraves were positioned on top of the columns.

 

 

Moreover, the center aisle is flanked by seven rows with nine columns in each row on either side. These columns stand at 10 meters high. 

 

 

Each column is beautifully decorated with carvings depicting Seti I as well as Ramses II and commemorating their military campaigns. Many other pharaohs added to the carvings on the columns.

On October 3rd, 1899, a dozen columns toppled over the northern part of the hall. Huge reconstruction project got them back to their original position and height.

 

 

 

NUMBER 6

The Obelisks

 

After the Hypostyle Hall, the Third Pylon leads to the court where the Obelisk of Thutmose I stands. It is 22 meters tall.

As my tour guide told me, it is the only obelisk remaining out of the four that used to be in this court.

 

Karnak Temple Guide
The obelisk of Thutmose I.

 

The Fourth Pylon leads to the remaining area of the temple. It is a court that contains Egypt’s tallest obelisk. It is almost 29 meters tall and it was commissioned by Hatshepsut.

 

Karnak Temple Guide
The obelisks of Thutmose I and Hatshepsut.

 

NUMBER 6

Who Was Hatshepsut

  • Hatshepsut (born c. 1507 BC – died 1458 BC) was the daughter of Thutmose I. She became the queen of Egypt when she married her half-brother Thutmose II. Upon the death of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut began acing as regent for her stepson Thutmose III
  • Hatshepsut was supposed to control the affairs of state until Thutmose III was to come of age. However, around 1473 BC, Hatshepsut broke with the tradition and had herself crowned as the pharaoh of Egypt becoming a co-ruler of Egypt with Thutmose III.
  • Hatshepsut ruled for almost 20 years. She died about 1458 BC. How and why she died is still a mystery. What we know, is that Thutmose III had her name and image almost completely erased. She remained forgotten for centuries.
  • Now, find out how Hatshepsut was re-discovered. Read about Hatshepsut’s accomplishments as a Pharaoh. Do not miss my post: The Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor – Top Tips for Visiting. Plus, it has a ton of useful information to help you plan your visit to the Temple of Hatshepsut.
  •  

Hatshepsut was succeeded by Tuthmosis III who had her name and image almost completely erased. When he came to power, he built a high wall around her obelisk. It is a mystery why he built the wall, he could have destroyed the obelisk. Yet, it remained and is still standing today.

 

Karnak Temple Guide
The obelisk commissioned by Hatshepsut.

Karnak Temple Guide
Hatshepsut’s obelisk at the Karnak Temple.

 

 

NUMBER 7

The Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

 

Once you pass through the fourth and fifth pylons, you will get to the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III.

 

The Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

 

The parameter of the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III is supported by 32 square pillars.

 

Karnak Temple – Guide to Egypt’s Most Epic Temple

 

However, the inside of the structure is supported by tent pole style columns.

 

The Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

The Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

 

 

NUMBER 8

The Seventh Pylon – Thutmose III

 

The Seventh Pylon must have been quite a structure judging from what remains of it today.

Today, we can still see the relief depicting Thutmose III defeating his enemies. Moreover, the two damaged statues flank the entrance of the Seventh Pylon.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

 

Beyond the Seventh Pylon, you will find a courtyard called the Cachette.

During the excavations, large number of statues and stelae were found in this area. It is believed that these could have been the offerings of the worshipers. 

 

 

NUMBER 9

The Sacred Lake

 

The Sacred Lake is located in the south-eastern part of the temple complex. The lake was constructed during the reign of Tuthmosis III. It was used by the priests for purification ceremonies.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

 

Right next to the Sacred Lake, you will be able to see the popular statue of scarab.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

 

NUMBER 9

The Egyptian Scarab

Through modern cinema and film, Western society has come to perceive the Egyptian scarab as a destructive and evil entity, but the ancient Egyptian understanding of the beetle was very different.

The Egyptians saw the Egyptian scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) as a symbol of renewal and rebirth.

The beetle was associated closely with the sun god because scarabs roll large balls of dung in which to lay their eggs, a behavior that the Egyptians thought resembled the progression of the sun through the sky from east to west. Its young were hatched from this ball, and this event was seen as an act of spontaneous self-creation, giving the beetle an even stronger association with the sun god’s creative force.

Source: John Hopkins Archaeological Museum

 

 

What Are the Opening Hours of the Temple of Karnak

 

The Karnak Temple is open daily from 6:30 am until 5:30 pm in winter and from 6 am to 6 pm during summer.

 

 

How Much Is the Entrance Ticket to the Karnak Temple

 

The all-inclusive entrance ticket to the Karnak Temple costs 200 EGP and it covers the open-air museum and the temple complex. By the way, the open air museum is located to the left of the Second Pylon and contains a collection of statues excavated within the temple area.

You can purchase the ticket at the entrance to the Temple of Karnak.

 

Karnak Temple Guide

 

 

How Long Does It Take to Visit the Karnak Temple

 

I would definitely recommend reserving at least three to four hours for your visit to the Karnak Temple. The grounds of the temple complex are vast and it takes time to walk from one section to the next.

If you are visiting in the late spring, summer, or fall, make sure to carry plenty of water with you. Also, wear a hat and apply a ton of sunblock.

 

 

Do You Need a Guide to Visit the Temple of Karnak

 

You do not need a guide to visit the Karnak Temple. However, there is so much to see at the temple complex, that having a knowledgeable guide by your side is priceless!

My guide gave me a thorough tour of the Karnak Temple that took about about two hours, then he gave me another two hours to leisurely wonder through all the areas by myself and take a ton of pictures. 

 

 

The Sound and Light Show at the Karnak Temple – 

Ticket Prices and Schedule

 

I have to be honest and say that the Sound and Light Show at the Karnak Temple is rather unexciting. It goes on for about an hour and a half and recounts the history of Thebes (Luxor) and covers the lives of several pharaohs who contributed to the construction of the temple complex.

However, the entrance ticket allows you to see the temple complex beautifully illuminated. And, that is why you should go! You will be amazed how incredible the temple complex looks at night with the structures and statues lit up.

 

 

You can purchase the entrance tickets online. The price for the adult ticket is $19.61 and the child ticket (up to the age of 6) is $9.80.

Also, make sure to double check the schedule, since shows are done in different languages at different times.

 



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Karnak Temple Guide

 

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Karnak Temple – Guide to Egypt’s Most Epic Temple

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Now, I would like to hear back from you!

Are you planning your trip to Egypt? Is Luxor in your Egypt itinerary?

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Above all, check out my post: Perfect 2-Day Itinerary in Luxor.

Also, click on any of the images below to get inspired and to help you with the planning process with your trip to Egypt!

 

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