Location: Luxor, Egypt
Built: built and enlarged over a 1300 year period
History: the Karnak Temple Complex usually called Karnak comprises a vast mix of ruined temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings, notably the Great Temple of Amun and a massive structure begun by Pharaoh Ramses II (ca. 1391-1351 BC). Sacred Lake is part of the site as well. It is located near Luxor, some 500 km south of Cairo, in Egypt. The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut ("The Most Selected of Places") and the main place of worship of the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad with the god Amun as its head. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes. The Karnak complex takes its name from the nearby and partly surrounded, modern village of el-Karnak, and some 2.5 km north of Luxor. The history of the Karnak complex is largely the history of Thebes and its changing role in the culture. Religious centers varied by region and with the establishment of the current capital of the unified culture that changed several times. The city of Thebes does not appear to have been of great significance before the Eleventh Dynasty and previous temple building here would have been relatively small, with shrines being dedicated to the early deities of Thebes, the Earth goddess Mut and Montu. Early building was destroyed by invaders. The earliest known artifact found in the area of the temple is a small, eight-sided temple from the Eleventh Dynasty, which mentions Amun-Re. Amun (sometimes called Amen) was long the local tutelary deity of Thebes. He was identified with the Ram and the Goose. The Egyptian meaning of Amen is, "hidden" or, the "hidden godâ€. Major construction work in the Precinct of Amun-Re took place during the Eighteenth dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified Ancient Egypt.Thutmose I erected an enclosure wall connecting the Fourth and Fifth pylons, which comprise the earliest part of the temple still standing in situ. Construction of the Hypostyle Hall also may have begun during the eighteenth dynasty, although most new building was undertaken under Seti I and Ramesses II.Almost every pharaoh of that dynasty has added something to the temple site. Merenptah commemorated his victories over the Sea Peoples on the walls of the Cachette Court, the start of the processional route to the Luxor Temple.Hatshepsut had monuments constructed and also restored the original Precinct of Mut, the ancient great goddess of Egypt, that had been ravaged by the foreign rulers during the Hyksos occupation. She had twin obelisks, at the time the tallest in the world, erected at the entrance to the temple. One still stands, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth; the other has broken in two and toppled. Another of her projects at the site, Karnak's Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and originally, may have stood between her two obelisks. She later ordered the construction of two more obelisks to celebrate her sixteenth year as pharaoh; one of the obelisks broke during construction, and thus, a third was constructed to replace it. The broken obelisk was left at its quarrying site in Aswan, where it still remains. Known as The Unfinished Obelisk, it demonstrates how obelisks were quarried. The last major change to Precinct of Amun-Re's layout was the addition of the first pylon and the massive enclosure walls that surround the whole Precinct, both constructed by Nectanebo I.In 323 AD, Constantine the Great recognised the Christian religion, and in 356 ordered the closing of pagan temples throughout the empire. Karnak was by this time mostly abandoned and Christian churches were founded amongst the ruins, the most famous example of this is the reuse of the Festival Hall of Thutmose III's central hall, where painted decorations of saints and Coptic inscriptions can still be seen.
Precinct of Amun-Re: This is the largest of the precincts of the temple complex, and is dedicated to Amun-Re, the chief deity of the Theban Triad. There are several colossal statues including the figure of Pinedjem I which is 10.5 meters tall. The sandstone for this temple, including all the columns, was transported from Gebel Silsila 100 miles south on the Nile river. It also has one of the largest obelisks weighing 328 tonnes and standing 29 meters tall.
Precinct of Mut: Located to the south of the newer Amen-Re complex, this precinct was dedicated to the mother goddess, Mut, who became identified as the wife of Amun-Re in the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad. It has several smaller temples associated with it and has its own sacred lake, constructed in a crescent shape. This temple has been ravaged, many portions having been used in other structures. It is not open to the public. Six hundred black granite statues were found in the courtyard to her temple. It may be the oldest portion of the site. In 2006, Betsy Bryan, an archaeologist with Johns Hopkins University excavating at the temple of Mut presented her findings about one festival that included illustrations of the priestesses being served to excess and its adverse effects being ministered to by temple attendants. Participation in the festival was great, including the priestesses and the population. Historical records of tens of thousands attending the festival exist. These findings were made in the temple of Mut because when Thebes rose to greater prominence, Mut absorbed the warrior goddesses, Sekhmet and Bast, as some of her aspects. First, Mut became Mut-Wadjet-Bast, then Mut-Sekhmet-Bast (Wadjet having merged into Bast), then Mut also assimilated Menhit, another lioness goddess, and her adopted son's wife, becoming Mut-Sekhmet-Bast-Menhit, and finally becoming Mut-Nekhbet.Temple excavations at Luxor discovered a "porch of drunkenness" built onto the temple by the pharaoh Hatshepsut, during the height of her twenty year reign. In a later myth developed around the annual drunken Sekhmet festival, Ra, by then the sun god of Upper Egypt, created her from a fiery eye gained from his mother, to destroy mortals who conspired against him (Lower Egypt). In the myth, Sekhmet's blood-lust was not quelled at the end of battle and led to her destroying almost all of humanity, so Ra had tricked her by turning the Nile as red as blood (the Nile turns red every year when filled with silt during inundation) so that Sekhmet would drink it. The trick, however, was that the red liquid was not blood, but beer mixed with pomegranate juice so that it resembled blood, making her so drunk that she gave up slaughter and became an aspect of the gentle Hathor. The complex interweaving of deities occurred over the thousands of years of the culture.
Precinct of Montu: This portion of the site is dedicated to the son of Mut and Amun-Re, Montu, the war-god of the Theban Triad. It is located to the north of the Amun-Re complex and is much smaller in size. It is not open to the public.
Temple of Amenhotep IV (deliberately dismantled): The temple that Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) constructed on the site was located to the east of the main complex, outside the walls of the Amun-Re precinct. It was destroyed immediately after the death of its builder, who attempted to overcome the powerful priesthood that had gained control over Egypt before his reign. It was so well demolished, that its full extent and lay-out currently is unknown. The priesthood of that temple regained its powerful position as soon as he died and was instrumental in destroying many records of his existence.