Karnak and Luxor Temple Complexes Egypt

Karnak Temple

My tour of Karnak and Luxor Temples was fantastic. These magnificent Egyptian temples are located in Luxor along the east bank of the Nile River. The city was known as Waset to the Ancient Egyptians and Thebes to the Ancient Greeks. The two temples are “physically and ritually linked“. Unlike Luxor’s west bank, many different pharaohs are represented throughout the temples, sanctuaries, and pylons of the complexes. As ancient structures, they’re “unparalleled throughout Egypt“.

Luxor Temple


Karnak is considered one of the largest temple complexes ever constructed. It’s currently the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 


Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple Complex

The height of Karnak’s importance was during the New Kingdom and the reign of pharaohs Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III, Seti I, and Ramesses II. After Thebes became the capital of a unified upper and lower Egypt, generations of pharaohs participated in construction and enhancement of the Karnak Complex.

Columns Hypostyle Hall Karnak Temple

Thebes was capital at the height of the pharaohs’ power, and almost every king of that dynasty added something significant to the temple site. Construction continued in the Greco-Roman Period, when “Macedonian Ptolemies, early Christians, and Romans all left their mark”.

Statues of Ramses II as Osiris Karnak Temple – Bill McKelvie Shutterstock


Known as “the Temple of Temples,” Karnak is the “largest place of worship ever built”.



Construction began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom (2,050-1,800 B.C.E.) and continued into the Ptolemaic Period (332 BCE). Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in Egypt. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his generals divided the empire. Ptolemy took Egypt, proclaiming himself king in 305 BCE.

Ptolemy XII Macedonian King of Egypt Making Offer to Hathor


“Within the Karnak Complex, the great Hypostyle Hall is an incredible forest of giant pillars covering an area larger than the whole of Notre Dame Cathedral.”


Karnak Temple Obelisks and Columns

Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to construction of buildings in the Karnak complex, “enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere”. The features of Karnak aren’t unique, but “their size and number are overwhelming”. Deities represented in the temples range from those earliest worshipped to gods and goddesses appearing later in the history of Ancient Egyptian culture.

The name Karnak derived from the Arabic word “Khurnaq,” meaning “fortified village”. The complex contains “decayed temples, pylons, chapels, and other buildings”. Most of the surviving structures date from the New Kingdom (1,550-1,100 B.C.E.).

Amun The Creator God – Egypt Tours Portal


“The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut (The Most Selected of Places), and the main place of worship of the 18th Dynastic Theban Triad, with the god Amun as its head.”


God Amun – Cairo Top Tours

Karnak is part of the monumental city of Thebes, and since 1979, has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Archaeologists are continuously working to “unscramble thousands of stone blocks and determine how many lost structures are hidden in the history of the Karnak Temple Complex”.

Ram-Headed Lion Statues Karnak – egypttoday

Karnak is the second most visited historical site in Egypt, after the Giza pyramid complex. It consists of four main parts, but only the largest – Precinct of Amun-Ra – is open for public viewing:

Composing detailed descriptions of the different elements that make up the Karnak Complex would be a heady, never-ending project that could make you mad. My Egyptologist guide tried to do that, but at a certain point, I had to turn off the detail and observe my surroundings in complete awe. Most of my photos are uncaptioned. I was fascinated with the massive Hypostyle Hall columns and took many photos.

Hypostyle Hall Columns Karnak – World History Encyclopedia
Hypostyle Hall

Hypostyle Hall is a well-known part of Karnak. The massive, dizzying hall covers 50,000 sq. ft. with 134 columns arranged in 16 rows. As you walk the area, you can’t help but continually gaze upward at the gigantic, mesmerizing columns overhead. One hundred and twenty-two of the columns are 33 ft. tall, and the other 12 are 69 ft. tall, with a diameter of over 9.8 ft. The architraves atop the columns weigh 70 tons.


Hieroglyphs on the columns tell unique stories studied by Egyptologists searching for “clues about their age and the number of pharaohs who left their mark on them”. You can use the controls in the video link below, to get a 3D view of the columns.


“Evidence suggests pharaohs hid their predecessors’ cartouches, or markings, by smoothing over them and carving their own symbols into the granite columns — effectively rewriting history to promote their own reigns.”


The outside walls contain scenes “showing Seti I with his son / successor, Ramesses II, smiting their enemies from Libya, Syria, and the Levant“. Hypostyle Hall was the setting for pharaoh coronations and the heb-sed festival, celebrating 30 years of rule by a king, and repeated every 3 years thereafter.

Queen Hatshepsut Obelisk – Vici.org

Karnak Temple had 12 obelisks. King Tuthmosis I (Hatshepsut’s father) erected two, Queen Hatshepsut built four, and her stepson, Tuthmosis III, built six. They’re made from one gigantic piece of granite. Today, there are three remaining obelisks in the Karnak Complex, and only eight in all of Egypt.

As an aside, I remember viewing obelisks throughout Rome and learning that many of them were moved there from other countries to signify Roman victory and conquest. At least one of the obelisks, the Flaminian Obelisk, came from Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut Obelisk Karnak Temple – Flickr
Luxor Temple Statue of Tutankhamun and Queen Ankhesenpaaten

In attempts to erase all signs of his stepmother, Queen Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis III tried to carve her name out of Deir el Bahri, her celebrated temple on Luxor’s west bank. However, since Hatshepsut’s obelisk at Karnak Temple was too big to tear down, Tuthmosis built a wall around it.

Pharaoh Tutankhamun – worldhistory.org

To the Egyptians, the obelisk was the symbol of a pharaoh’s right to rule and connection to the divine. Queen Hatshepsut had twin obelisks erected at the entrance to the temple. When her obelisks were built, they were the tallest in the world. The one still standing is the second-tallest ancient obelisk on Earth. The other toppled.

Thutmoses I Obelisk Karnak

Hatshepsut later ordered the construction of two more obelisks to celebrate her sixteenth year as pharaoh. One broke during construction, so a third was constructed to replace it. The broken obelisk was “left at its quarrying site in Aswan, where it remains today”. It’s known as the “unfinished obelisk” and provides evidence of how obelisks were quarried.

Hatshepsut Unfinished Obelisk – Trips in Egypt

Thutmoses I

The obelisk of Thutmoses I (1506 BC – 1493 BC) is the second tallest of the three obelisks at Karnak. It was built more than 3,500 years ago, and is approximately 23 metres (75 feet) tall, weighing 150 tons. The obelisk was dedicated to the Sun God Ra, king of the deities and the father of all creation. It’s near the main entrance, close to Queen Hatshepsut’s slightly taller obelisk.

Luxor Temple Complex

Located within a few miles of Karnak, Luxor Temple is “dedicated to the rebirth and rejuvenation of kingship”. It’s where many Egyptian pharaohs were “crowned in reality or conceptually”. The temple was built by Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty, but Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) completed it, and Rameses II (1279-13 BC) added his own unique embellishments. Its entrance has two massive seated statues of Ramses II. A granite shrine in the rear of the temple is dedicated to Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great Shrine Luxor Temple
Pylon of Ramesses II Luxor Temple – Discovering Ancient Egypt
Avenue of the Sphinxes

Avenue of the Sphinxes is a row of statues connecting Karnak and Luxor Temples. It’s known as the “path of god”. Egyptians believed sphinxes brought protection to the pharaohs, so a road lined with them was built as part of the Festival of Opet, an ancient Egyptian celebration on the second month of the lunar calendar.

Festival of Opet

Ancient Egyptian society was preoccupied with “preparing for a successful transition to the afterlife”. During the Festival of Opet, the statue of god Amun-Ra was paraded from Karnak Temple along the Avenue of the Sphinxes to Luxor Temple, where it was reunited with the statue of Amun-Ra. Pharaohs were considered the sons and daughters of the gods, and the festival was used to renew and reconfirm their power.

Churches and Abu El-Haggag Mosque

Historically, Luxor Temple was a place of worship. During the Christian era, “hypostyle hall was converted into a Christian church, and the remains of a Coptic church were found nearby”. For thousands of years, the temple was buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. The mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj (Abu Haggag Mosque) was built over it. The mosque was “carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered, and it forms an integral part of the site”.

Abu Haggag Mosque – Cairo Fun Tours

During the Roman era, Luxor Temple and its surroundings were the home of Roman government. A chapel inside the temple, originally dedicated to the goddess Mut, was transformed into a Tetrarchy cult chapel and later a church. Along with other archeological sites in Thebes, Luxor Temple is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Amenhotep III (c. 1390–1352 BC) began construction of the Luxor Temple core, and Tutankhamen, Horemheb, and Ramses II contributed to its development.”


Karnak Temple – Lindblad Expeditions
Karnak Temple

Luxor had two obelisks. One – Luxor Obelisk – is now at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The temple was built with Nubian sandstone from the Gebel el-Silsila area of South-Western Egypt. Luxor was dedicated to the Theban Triad consisting of Amun Ra Pharoah, his consort Mut, and their son Khonsu, Moon God.

Egyptian Cartouche
Opet Festival Celebration Luxor Temple
Ramesses II

Ramesses II (c.1279–1213 BC), the pharaoh who “built more monuments and sired more children than any other Egyptian king,” also made additions to Luxor. He built a “peristyle courtyard and a massive pylon gate with two towers at the entrance” in front of the Great Colonnade. The pylon was “fronted by a pair of 25-meter-high granite obelisks”.

Luxor Temple Court of Rameses II – discoveringegypt

The Romans built a fort around Luxor Temple in the late third century AD. The first room beyond the Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III became its sanctuary. The original wall reliefs were “covered with plaster, and painted in the Graeco-Roman artistic style, depicting Emperor Diocletian (284–305 AD) and his three coregents”. Efforts are under way to restore the reliefs.


From the Middle Ages, the Muslim population of Luxor settled the area around Luxor Temple, “resulting in centuries of rubble accumulation”. After 1884, Luxor Temple had begun to be excavated by Egyptologist Professor Gaston Maspero, and the excavations were “carried out sporadically until 1960”.

Avenue of the Sphinxes – CBS

Over time, “accumulated rubbish of the ages buried three quarters of the temple containing the courts and colonnades forming the nucleus of the Arab half of the modern village”. Maspero received “funds from the Egyptian Minister of Public Works to negotiate compensation for pieces of land covered by the houses”.

Divine Birth

An inner room contains a “series of scenes known as the Divine Birth”. They tell the story of how the king’s true father was the god Amun-Ra, disguised as Thutmose IV. The core of the temple is preceded with a columned hall fronted by a courtyard and columns around its perimeter. Amenhotep III also built the Great Colonnade, which consists of two rows of seven colossal columns. Its decoration includes scenes depicting the Opet Festival completed by Tutankhamun and Horemheb.

Thutmose and Hatshepsut Obelisks Karnak Temple


“The Temple of Luxor is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the world, and much of it still exists as it did centuries ago.”


Colonnada of Amenhotep Ill and Tutankhamun

The temple is distinguished by two large courtyards with tall papyrus columns. One courtyard is dedicated to Amenhotep III and another to Ramses II. Like Karnak, Luxor has its own Hypostyle Hall with 32 columns.

Amman Jordan – National Geographic
Jordan Next

Later this week I leave Egypt for Amman Jordan. The time in Egypt has been educational and interesting. I will never forget the adventures, only a tiny portion of which are described in my travel blog posts! More later…

Amman Jordan – Lonely Planet

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