Karnak is the contemporary name for the ancient site the the temple of Amun in ~ Thebes, Egypt. The Egyptians referred to as the site Nesut-Towi, "Throne of the 2 Lands", Ipet-Iset, "The best of Seats" and Ipt-Swt, "Selected Spot" likewise given together Ipetsut, "The Most choose of Places".

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The initial name has to do with the ancient Egyptian belief that Thebes to be the very first city established on the primordial mound which rose from the waters that chaos in ~ the beginning of the world. At the time, the creator-god Atum (sometimes Ptah or Ra) stand on the mound to begin the job-related of creation. The site of the temple was believed to it is in this initial ground and the holy place was elevated at this point out for that reason. Karnak is thought to have actually been an old observatory and also a place of worship wherein the god Amun would communicate directly v the civilization of earth.

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Historical Overview

The holy place of Amun is the largest religious building in the world (though some case Angkor Wat in Cambodia is larger) and also honors not just Amun but other god such together Osiris, Montu, Isis, Ptah and also the Egyptian rulers that wished to it is in remembered for their contributions come the site. The was built gradually over the centuries, with each new ruler adding to it, native the start of the center Kingdom (2040 - 1782 BCE) v the new Kingdom (1570 - 1069 BCE) and also throughout the Ptolemaic dynasty (323 - 30 BCE).

It has also been suggested that the rulers that the Old Kingdom (c. 2613 - c. 2181 BCE) an initial built there owing to the style of few of the ruins and the king"s perform of Old Kingdom queens inscribed through Tuthmose III (1458 - 1425 BCE) the the new Kingdom in his Festival hall there. His choice of kings suggests that that may have actually removed your monuments to develop his hall yet still want them to it is in remembered. Structures were routinely removed, renovated, or expanded throughout the temple"s lengthy history. The facility continued to flourish with each doing well ruler and also the damages today cover end 200 acres of land. It has been approximated that one can fit three frameworks the dimension of Notre Dame Cathedral in the main temple alone.

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The holy place of Amun to be in continuous use through perpetual growth for end 2,000 years and also considered one of the most sacred website in Egypt. The priests of Amun who oversaw the administration of the temple ended up being increasingly rich and powerful to the point that they to be able come take manage of the government of Thebes toward the end of the brand-new Kingdom when ascendancy of the country ended up being divided in between theirs in ~ Thebes in top Egypt and that that the pharaoh in the city that Per-Ramesses in reduced Egypt.

The rise of the strength of the priests, and the result weakness the the position of the pharaoh, is thought about the significant contributing factor in the decline of the brand-new Kingdom and also the start of the third Intermediate duration (1069 - 525 BCE). The temple complex was damaged in the Assyrian intrusion of 666 BCE and again by the Persian intrusion of 525 BCE but, both times, to be repaired and also renovated.

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By the 4th century CE Egypt to be a part of the roman inn Empire and also Christianity to be being advocated as the one true faith. The emperor Constantius II (r. 337 - 361 CE) notified pagan temples to it is in closed in 336 CE and the holy place of Amun was deserted. Coptic believer made usage of the structure for church services, as shown by Christian art and also inscriptions on the walls, however then the website was abandoned.

It to be rediscovered throughout the 7th century CE Arab intrusion of Egypt at which time it was referred to as "Ka-ranak" which method "fortified village" since of the substantial amount of design amassed in one area. When European explorers an initial began travel in Egypt in the 17th century CE they to be told the grand ruins at Thebes to be those the Karnak and also the surname has been in use because that the site because then.

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Amun & the early Temple

Amun (also known as Amun-Ra) to be a minor Theban divine being who, after Mentuhotep II combined Egypt in c. 2040 BCE, rose in prominence. The strength of 2 older gods, Atum and also Ra (the creator god and sun god, respectively) were merged in Amun, making him the can be fried king the the gods, both creator and also preserver the life. The area of Karnak might have already been spiritual to Amun before any structures were built there or might have been spiritual to Atum or Osiris, both of whom were additionally worshipped at Thebes.

The website was already set apart as divine ground in the no proof of residential homes or of markets has been found there, only religiously-themed structures or royal apartments created long after ~ the first temple to be constructed. Together there was no separation of one"s religious beliefs indigenous one"s day-to-day life in old Egypt one could think the it would certainly be difficult to tell a purely secular building from a religious site but this is no so, or not constantly so. In ~ Karnak the engravings left on the columns and walls, and the artwork, clearly identify the website as spiritual in nature native the more quickly times.


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The first monument believed to be raised at the site is the of Wahankh Intef II (c. 2112 - 2063 BCE) who erected a shaft to the respect of Amun-Ra. This insurance claim has been challenged by those scholar who allude to the king"s list of Thutmose III in his Festival hall who case the site was an initial developed for spiritual purposes in the Old Kingdom. They additionally sometimes suggest out Old Kingdom formats in some of the design of the ruins.

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The architectural link has no bearing ~ above the claim, however, because the format of the Old Kingdom (the period of the an excellent pyramid builders) was frequently emulated by later ages to invoke the grandeur of the past. If any type of Old Kingdom rulers built there then their monuments were removed by later on kings and also this is what some scholars case Thutmose III"s king perform points to.

Wahankh Intef II was one of the Theban rulers who waged war against the ineffectual main government in ~ Herakleopolis and also paved the way for Mentuhotep II (c. 2061-2010 BCE) to overthrow the kings of the north and also reunite Egypt under Theban rule. Once Mentuhotep II concerned power he developed his mortuary facility directly across the river from Karnak at Deir el-Bahri and also this has said to part scholars the a significant temple come Amun already existed over there at this time; not just the monument that Wahankh Intef II.

Mentuhotep II may have built a temple at the site to respect Amun for helping him attain victory, and then constructed his complicated across native it, however this insurance claim is speculative and no evidence argues it. Most most likely he determined the website of his mortuary complicated because of its proximity come the divine site throughout the river; there would certainly not have had actually to be a holy place on the spot at the moment to motivate him.

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The very first known builder in ~ Karnak is the king Senusret i (r. C. 1971-1926 BCE) that the middle Kingdom who developed a holy place to Amun v a courtyard i m sorry may have actually been intended to honor, and mirror, Mentuhotep II"s mortuary facility across the river. Senusret I, then, would have been the initial architect that Karnak in solution to the good hero Mentuhotep II"s tomb. Any claims along these lines remain speculative, however, and all that is plainly known is the the area was taken into consideration sacred before any temple was created there.

The center Kingdom rulers who adhered to Senusret i all added their very own touches come the temple and expanded ~ above the site however the rulers the the new Kingdom would certainly transform the modest holy place grounds and buildings into a colossal complicated of immense scope and also detail. Nothing prefer Karnak had been attempted since the 4th Dynasty king Khufu (r. C. 2589-2566 BCE) developed his great Pyramid at Giza.


Temple of Amun, Karnak
Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA)

The brand-new Kingdom Developments

The pharaohs the the new Kingdom lavished attention on the temple of Amun. Seti ns (r. 1290-1279 BCE) and, especially, his successor Ramesses II (The Great, r. 1279-1213 BCE), added decorations and columns come the Hypostyle room which had been constructed to substantial proportions previously in the new Kingdom. This was done to honor the god and ensure the pharaoh"s place in the eternal remembrance that the people. Scholar Corinna Rossi, citing Egyptologist Elizabeth Blyth"s work, writes:

The prestige of Karnak stayed in its being the contact suggest between Amun, the supreme leader of the universe, and the pharaoh, the supreme ruler on earth who represented all Egyptian people. Thus, specifically from the brand-new Kingdom onwards, every king that wished to be remembered forever was virtually compelled to contribute to the splendor of this most essential temple. (41)

All that the pharaohs that the brand-new Kingdom, before and after Seti I and Ramesses II, contributed to Karnak. Actual job on the site was accomplished by compelled labor that inmates from the great Prison in ~ Thebes, people performing ar service, or payment workers, masons, and artists. The brand-new Kingdom began with the reign of Ahmose i (r. C. 1570 - 1544 BCE) who joined Egypt after ~ expelling the international rulers well-known as the Hyksos. Ahmose I, a Theban prince, thanked the god Amun for his win by contributing come the temple at Karnak. Amenhotep III (r. 1386 - 1353 BCE), who had actually one that the many luxuriant reigns in Egyptian history and who many building projects guaranteed he would certainly be remembered, tho made certain to contribute to the holy place of Amun in ~ Thebes.

His successor, Akhenaten (r. 1353 - 1336 BCE), banned the praise of Amun and also the other gods of Egypt, closed every the temples, and also elevated his personal god, Aten, come the level of the one can be fried god that the universe. Also so, that still added to Karnak despite his donation was a temple to Aten, no Amun, i beg your pardon was ruined by the later on pharaoh Horemheb (r. 1320 - 1295 BCE) once he revitalized the god of Egypt and tried to wipe the memory of Akhenaten"s regime from history. The an outcome of these additions, renovations, and breakthroughs throughout the new Kingdom to be an ever-increasing facility of enormous size and also scope. Chronicler Margaret Bunson writes:

Karnak continues to be the many remarkable religious complex ever constructed on earth. That is 250 acre of temples and also chapels, obelisks, columns and also statues constructed over 2,000 year incorporate the finest elements of Egyptian art and also architecture into a great historical monument that stone. It was designed in three sections. The first one prolonged from the northwest come the southwest, v the second component at best angles come the original shrine. The third section was added by later kings. The setup of the holy place of Amun, apparent even in its ruined state, consisted of a series of well-coordinated structures and architectural innovations, all designed come maximize the strength of the rock and the monumental elements of the complex. Karnak, similar to all other major temples of Egypt, to be graced through a ramp and also a canal causing the Nile and also this shrine also boasted rows of ram-headed sphinxes at its entrance. At one time the sphinxes joined Karnak and also another holy place of the god in ~ Luxor, to the south. (133)

This huge complex, devoted to Amun and a number of honorary gods and goddesses, had actually at its facility the inside sanctum of the god"s house which to be perfectly aligned through sunset at the summer solstice. All of Karnak, in fact, is aligned through celestial occasions which would have actually been construed by the priests there to understand the will of the god and his wishes because that humanity.


The framework & operation of the Site

Karnak is consisted of of a collection of pylons (monumental gateways i beg your pardon taper in the direction of the optimal to cornices), leading right into courtyards, halls, and also temples. The first pylon opens onto a large court i beg your pardon invites the visitor further. The second pylon opens onto the Hypostyle Court which actions 337 feet (103 m) by 170 feet (52 m). The hall is supported by 134 columns 72 feet (22 m) tall and 11 feet (3.5 m) approximately in diameter.

The god to whom the ground was originally devoted may have been Montu, a Theban war god, and also there was a precinct devoted to him also after the climb of the cult the Amun. As the holy place grew, however, it became divided into the three sections Bunson mentions above and committed to Amun, his consort Mut who symbolized the life-giving light ray of the sun, and also their son Khonsu, the moon god. These three gods came to be known together the Theban Triad and would it is in the most popular gods until the cult the Osiris with its triad of Osiris, Isis, and also Horus overtook it (eventually becoming the Cult the Isis, the most famous in Egyptian history).

The temple complex grew native the initial temple come Amun of the middle Kingdom come an honorary site for numerous gods including Osiris, Ptah, Horus, Hathor, Isis and any other divine being of note to who the pharaohs that the new Kingdom feeling they owed a debt of gratitude. The clergymans of the gods administered the site, built up tithes and gifts, dispensed food and counsel, and also interpreted the gods" will certainly for the people. Over there were end 80,000 priests employed at Karnak through the finish of the new Kingdom and the high priests there were more wealthy than the pharaoh.


The cult the Amun caused difficulties for the kings of the new Kingdom native the power of Amenhotep III onwards, more than likely earlier. Other than for the half-hearted attempts of Amenhotep III and the dramatic reformation of Akhenaten, however, no ruler ever before tried to carry out anything to substantially curb the priest"s strength and, together noted, every king contributed to Amun"s temple and also the riches of the Theban priests without pause.

Even during the disunity the the 3rd Intermediate duration (c. 1069 - 525 BCE), Karnak quiet commanded respect and the rulers the Egypt ongoing to add to that what castle could. Towards the finish of the 3rd Intermediate period Egypt to be invaded first by the Assyrians in 671 BCE under Esarhaddon and also then in 666 BCE by Ashurbanipal and Thebes was destroyed, but not the holy place of Amun in ~ Karnak. This exact same paradigm repeated itself in 525 BCE once the Persians got into the country. The Assyrians, in fact, to be so impressed by Thebes and its great temple castle ordered the Egyptians come rebuild the city after they had ruined it.

The Persians were driven from Egypt by the pharaoh Amyrtaeus (r. 404 - 398 BCE) and also Egyptian preeminence resumed; as did building and construction at Karnak. The pharaoh Nectanebo ns (r. 380 - 362 BCE) added an obelisk and also a pylon (unfinished) to the temple and built a wall surface around the site, perhaps to defend it from any future invasions. Nectanebo i was one of the great monument building contractors of ancient Egypt that was also responsible for the temple of Isis in ~ Philae. That was among the last aboriginal Egyptian emperors of the country. When the Persians went back in 343 BCE Egypt lost its autonomy.


The Ptolemies & the coming of Rome

In 331 BCE Alexander the an excellent took Egypt native the Persians and, after his death, his basic Ptolemy claimed the nation as his share of Alexander"s empire. Ptolemy ns (r. 323 - 283 BCE) tried to blend Egyptian and also Greek society to create a harmonious, multi-national state but focused many of his fist on Alexandria. His later successor Ptolemy IV (r. 221 - 204 BCE), however, turn his fist to Karnak and built a hypogeum there, an underground burial chamber, devoted to the god Osiris. The Ptolemaic Dynasty began to clearly under his reign and no other rulers of this period made additions to the Karnak site. The empire ended through the death of Cleopatra VII (l. 69 - 30 BCE) after i beg your pardon Egypt to be taken through Rome.

The Romans also focused their fist on Alexandria and also ignored Thebes and its temple. They sacked Thebes in the 1st century CE throughout or after ~ a fight with the Nubians come the south and left the city in ruins. ~ this date, fewer and also fewer world visited one of two people the city or the temple.

In the 4th century CE, Christianity was embraced by the Roman empire under Constantine the an excellent (r. 306 - 337 CE) and also the new faith, no much longer persecuted, began to gain more power and wider acceptance. The emperor Constantius II (r. 337 - 361 CE) closed all pagan holy places in the realm which the course consisted of Karnak but, by this time, Thebes to be a ghost town v some couple of inhabitants life in the ruins. The Coptic believer of the area provided the holy place of Amun as a church in the fourth century CE yet then abandoned it. The city and the temple facility were climate left come decay.


In the 7th century CE the Arabs invaded Egypt and were the first to call the great structure "Karnak" since they thought it to it is in a fortified town ("el-Ka-ranak"). This to be the surname the neighborhood inhabitants provided to the at an early stage European explorers of the 17th century CE and the name the site has actually been recognized by since. This particular day Karnak is a an excellent open waiting museum illustration thousands of travellers from around the world. It is among the most renowned tourist attractions in Egypt and among the many impressive ruins in the world.

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As with old sites prefer Baalbek, Stonehenge, the good Pyramid, Nemrut Dag, Angkor Wat, and also others, Karnak proceeds to fascinate tourists by the size, scope, and also the possibilities of just how the temple was constructed in a time there is no cranes, there is no trucks, without any of the modern-day technology i beg your pardon one considers so essential in the modern-day day. The background of Egypt from the middle Kingdom with the fourth century CE is called on the walls and columns that Karnak and, as human being today visit the site and also see the inscriptions, they fulfill the expect of the kings of ancient Egypt the they would certainly live forever v their good deeds recorded through your contributions to the holy place of Amun at Thebes.