Uncover the Temple of Karnak in the Shifting Sands of Luxor
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
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
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.
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