sights / Religious

Karnak information

Luxor , Egypt
Sharia Maabad al-Karnak
+20 95 238 0270
adult/student E£65/40
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Karnak is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, dedicated to the Theban triad but also to the greater glory of pharaohs. Constructed over more than 1500 years, it has at its heart the temple of Amun, 'home' of the local god who became the most powerful deity in Egypt and the wider region. Be sure to allow enough time: wandering through this gigantic complex is one of the highlights of any visit to Egypt.

Everything is on a gigantic scale: the site covers over 2 sq km, large enough to contain about 10 cathedrals, while its main structure, the Temple of Amun, is one of the world’s largest religious complexes. This was where the god lived on earth, surrounded by the houses of his wife Mut and their son Khonsu, two other huge temple complexes on this site. Built, added to, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated over nearly 1500 years, Karnak was the most important place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom, when it was called Ipet-Sut, meaning ‘The Most Esteemed of Places'.

The complex is dominated by the great Temple of Amun-Ra , with its famous hypostyle hall, a spectacular forest of giant papyrus-shaped columns. On its southern side is the Mut Temple Enclosure , once linked to the main temple by an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. To the north is the Montu Temple Enclosure , which honoured the local Theban war god. The 3km paved avenue of human-headed sphinxes that once linked the great Temple of Amun at Karnak with Luxor Temple is now again being cleared. Most of what you can see was built by the powerful pharaohs of the 18th to 20th dynasties (1570–1090 BC), who spent fortunes on making their mark in this most sacred of places. Later pharaohs extended and rebuilt the complex, as did the Ptolemies and early Christians. The further into the complex you venture, the older the structures.

The light is most beautiful in the early morning or later afternoon, and the temple is quieter then, as later in the morning tour buses bring day trippers from Hurghada. It pays to visit more than once, to make sense of the overwhelming jumble of ancient remains.