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Uncover the Temple of Karnak in the Shifting Sands of Luxor

Published by Jason Hussong, Writer

Country: Egypt

The Experience

Perhaps overshadowed by the mainstream popularity of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, a visit to the vast Karnak Temple in Luxor brings you deep into the abode of the Gods. Known as Ipet-isut (the most selected of places), this conglomeration of ruined temples and chapels pays homage to the Theben triad of Gods: Amun, Mut and Khonsu. At 447 miles (721 km) downstream along the Nile River lies the Temple of Karnak, believed to be the second most visited site in Egypt. It’s easy to see why immediately as the temple imposes a grand and stately first impression. The massive open-air complex is filled with huge statues, sphinxes, temples, pylons and impressive hieroglyphics that are sure to wow. For a country that already has such an extensive collection of archaeological sites and artifacts—this is certainly saying something.

Sitting on almost 70 acres, the Temple of Karnak is split into four different parts. Three of the areas are closed to the public while excavation and restoration work still continues; but the precinct of Amun-Re remains open. Thankfully, the highlight of the complex—the 50,000 square foot (5,000 m²) Hypostyle Hall—lies within this area. It is here where, on 134 enormous columns, scenes can be found describing the battles and accomplishments of Seti I and his son Ramesses II. Many of the hieroglyphs on the 3 meter diameter columns, some of which are 21 meters tall, even retain their original colouring.

Construction began on the Karnak Temple complex in the 18th Dynasty under the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Over 2,000 years, approximately 30 pharaohs contributed to its design to make it the wonder it is today. The true work, though, as would be expected for the time period, was done by the estimated 80,000 labourers, guards, priests and servants over several generations. Its enormity can be hard to comprehend, if you imagine that some 2,000 sphinx statues once lined a 3 km long avenue between the Temple of Karnak and the nearby Luxor Temple; or that some of the beams on top of the columns in the Hypostyle Hall weigh an estimated 70 tons. It’s so gargantuan that that it must be experienced in person to truly appreciate the ancient craftsmanship.

Over time, Karnak was abandoned and forgotten to the sand. It wasn’t until the rediscovery in the mid-19th century, buried in the desert for over 1,000 years, that the Temple of Karnak began to be appreciated in the modern era. In the excavation, remains of Christian churches were found in the ruins. These churches were supposedly built after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and ordered the closing of pagan temples throughout the empire in 356 A.D. While some of this behaviour may be explained as period vandalism, it is worth a look as it does add to the historical nature of the Temple.




When to Go to Karnak Temple

To avoid the heavy summer heat in Egypt, a trip to Karnak Temple is best planned for the winter months. This is also high tourist season, so prices will be at a premium. If you have a higher threshold for exceptionally hot temperatures, the months that shoulder summer (June through August) might be a good bet.

It's best to plan a full day for a Karnak Temple experience, although it can be combined with Luxor Temple. At night there is a light show at different times and in various languages explaining the history of Egypt and the complex. Try to catch it as it's a great experience.

Odds n' Ends

Look for the large scarab beetle on the pedestal on the Karnak grounds, which reportedly adds a bit of "luck" to your experience. The scarab or dung beetle of Ancient Egypt was identified with Khepri, the god of the rising sun, and also different funerary practices. At the Karnack Temple it is said that wishes will be granted if you walk around it counter clockwise seven times.

Take note too of the statues. It is believed that the statues depicted with their arms crossed resemble burial and the afterlife, while the ones depicted with left foot forward show how the pharaohs wanted to lead with their heart.

Finally, make sure to have plenty of small bills easily accessible in your pockets for baksheesh, or tips. Many Egyptians work off tips by showing tourists different things at such sites, like the Karnak Temple. It's considered socially unacceptable and rude if you don't tip them for their efforts.

Carpe Diem! Book to do this experience now!

Start your day with a visit to the Temples of Karnak. Walk along the Avenue of Sphinx to enter the complex as your guide explains ...
Starting from $45.00 per person.


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