Locations & History

Karnak and Luxor Temples [Travel Guide]

Initial thoughts on Karnak and Luxor Temples

Another stop on our cruise down the Nile River was Karnak and Luxor Temples… and boy were they worth it! Ever wondered what makes Karnak and Luxor temples so special? Read on to find out more!

Karnak Temple

Karnak is an ancient Egyptian temple complex. Located on the east bank of the Nile River in Thebes, now known as Luxor. Karnak Temple dates from 2055 BC to 100 AD. This means they built it over 2,000 years. This makes Karnak Temple one of the oldest temples in Egypt. Additionally, it has architectural structures dating back to 4,000 years ago. 

Hatshepsut & Thutmose III at Karnak Temple

 

Karnak and Luxor Temples
Statues of Ramses II in Karnak Temple.

Hatshepsut reigned from 1470 to 1458 BC and renovated the main sanctuary at Karnak, creating in its place a palace of Ma’at. However, when Thutmose III came to the throne, he ordered the destruction of all artwork depicting this female pharaoh. The artwork depicting Thutmose III as Amun-Ra speaks of his royal authority. In addition, his actions here and later when he ordered the construction of the contra temple with a statue of the King with Amun-Ra shows his own belief that he represents the gods.

The Architecture of Karnak Temple

Despite being derelict, Karnak Temple, for me, overshadowed many other wonders of the world. Its size, structure, and detail left me breathless and feeling about 10 inches tall. According to my travel guide, Karnak is the largest religious building ever to be constructed, covering around a 100-200 hectares. Within this, the central sector of the site is 61 acres and is occupied with sacred temples dedicated to Amun-Ra.

In the New Kingdom, Egyptian rulers created a series of 10 pylons at Karnak. These pylons function as a gateway, a gateway that is connected through a network of walls. Hypostyle hall is probably the most striking feature of this. It comprises 54,000 square feet and featuring 134 columns that occupy a space between the second and third pylons. The Egyptians often decorated these pylons with scenes depicting the ruler who built them. Whilst also highlighting the prestige of Amun-Ra and the wealth of the Egyptians.

The magnitude of space revealed the importance of the site. This is because its grandeur is befitting of a Pharaoh. Additionally, it is also because they littered the enormous space with detailed and unique depictions and carvings of Amun-Ra. Everywhere I looked there was art of Amun-Ra and of the temples Pharaoh symbolically representing Amun-Ra. Also, there were depictions of the Pharaoh embodying the power and qualities of this god. These artworks are made more impressive by the memory that they illuminated the halls with an array of rich colours. They would have captured the attention of all who walked the temple. Consequently, the temple reminds visitors that the most important thing in Egyptian culture was religion. And here it was the worship of Amun-Ra.

Karnak and Luxor Temples
The Entrance to Karnak Temple!

The God Amun-Ra

In Egyptian mythology, Amun-Ra was the ram with curved horns. He was also the male god associated with Thebes, the god of all gods after the 12th dynasty. His name means ‘Hidden Light’, as Amun means ‘hidden’ whilst Ra means ‘light’.

This is significant as the Egyptians, especially the Pharaohs believed rams signified fertility. Even more importantly, Amun-Ra is understood to have personified the Sun God. Significantly, the Sun God symbolised birth and energy. With this knowledge, the scale of the temple and the function of the religious depictions become clear. It functions as an ancient form of propaganda. The temples Pharaoh is blatantly telling those who come here to worship the ‘beloved of Amun’. He is also telling everyone that as the Pharoah he represents the god of fertility. As a result, Amun became known as the father of the Monarch. He was also given prominent space at this Thebal capital as the supreme god of the kingdom. 

Moreover, it is believed that Karnak Temple is where Amun-Ra lived on earth with his wife Mut and his son Khonsu. As you walk further to the south, you will see a smaller section dedicated to the goddess Mut. Whilst to the north there is an area dedicated to Montu, the falcon-headed god of war. I believe that this significantly highlights the three pillars of Egyptian society. The worship of Amun-Ra and his royal representative; the essential role women played as wives and mothers and their nurturing qualities; and the need for strength and protection from hostile enemies.

Luxor Temple 

The temple at Luxor dates from around 1392 BC and is situated close to the Nile, paralleling the riverbank. Being at the heart of Luxor makes Luxor Temple a site easily accessed even when it is not open to visitors. This is because it can be seen from the road. Luxor and Karnak both add to the attraction and beauty of Luxor, especially the juxtaposition between the new city with the old temples. This really makes one experience, visualise and appreciate the depth of Egypt’s long and complex history.

Luxor was first built to celebrate Egypt’s Opet Festival by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but was completed by Tutankhamen (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then later added to by Ramses II (1279-131 BC). Despite Amenhotep III initially constructing the temple a lot of the carvings and statues have been repurposed by Ramses to feature and praise mainly himself. 

Karnak and Luxor Temples
Luxor Temple!

The Rejuvenation of Kingship

Unlike Karnak Temple, Luxor is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the king in death. Instead, Luxor is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship. It is believed that this temple is where many of the Kings of Egypt were crowned and where Alexander the Great conceptually crowned himself. We can see this in the temple’s sanctuary and chapel as there is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great.

Karnak and Luxor Temples
Statue of Ramses II!

An Egyptian Celebration of Kingship

This rejuvenation of kingship can be seen in the ancient annual celebrations. According to history, these temples are connected through the Egyptians’ belief that at the end of an annual agricultural cycle, the gods and the earth would become exhausted. As a result, the Egyptians thought both the gods and earth required a fresh input of energy from the cosmos’s energy. To achieve this, the Opet festival, held yearly at Karnak and Luxor, lasted 27 days and was a celebration of the link between the Pharaoh and the god Amun. This celebration was a procession that began at Karnak and ended at the Luxor Temple.

During this time, the statues of the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu and the kings were carried between the two temples. Amun was bathed in holy water, adorned with gold and silver jewellery and dressed in linen. Then the priest placed the gold into the ceremonial barque and the Pharaoh emerged from the temple with his priests carrying the barque on their shoulders into the crowded streets. 

Luxor Temple
Pillars at Luxor Temple depicting pharaoh’s making offerings to the gods!

When they arrived at Luxor, the Pharaoh and his priests entered the temple and performed ceremonies to regenerate Amun, transfer his powers to the Pharaoh, and recreate the cosmos. When next the crowds saw the Pharaoh re-emerge from the temple, they believed in the earth’s fertility, of abundant harvests to come and the power of the Pharaohs. Because of these religious devotions and the link between Amun and the Pharaoh, Luxor temple became a place for royal burials. It also became a place that continued the royal propaganda on its masses. It told them that kingship is divine, right and that each Pharaoh had absolute power.

Do I think Karnak and Luxor Temples are worth visiting? 

Whether you are interested in the history that binds these two temples together or you’re impressed by the magnificent architectural detail accomplished by the ancient Egyptians, then Karnak and Luxor Temples will definitely be for you. It will leave you awe-inspired and questioning everything you think you know about the earth, religion and the possibilities of construction. Karnak and Luxor Temples are definitely worth seeing if only to visit the charming little cafes that allow you to rest your feet while marvelling at your surroundings.

If you enjoyed reading…

Finally, if you enjoyed this post about Karnak and Luxor Temples, then you might like to check out some of my articles on Egypt’s Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings or Edfu Temple. And be sure to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on another inspiring travel article!

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