Ancient Egypt and Us

Temples of Ancient Egypt
Karnak became the religious center of Ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom centered on the cult gods of Amen along with Mut and Montu. Today it is a vast complex of partially ruined temples, chapels, pylons and other buildings on the north east outskirts of modern Luxor. It’s ancient name was Ipet-isut meaning ‘the most selected of places’. It is the largest ancient religious site in the world. It is particularly famous for its one hundred and thirty four columns in the Hypostyle Hall some almost seventy feet tall. What differentiates Karnak, founded in c1900BC, from most of the other Ancient Egyptian temple complexes is the sixteen hundred years over which it was constructed. Its main period of growth was the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom particularly the 18th Dynasty commencing c1500BC. The last major change was the addition of the first pylon and the massive brick enclosure walls that surround the whole precinct constructed by Pharaoh Nectanebo I c370BC.

The two-hundred and fifty acre site of Karnak was mostly abandoned with the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Some of the Ancient Egyptian temples were converted into Coptic Christian churches, the most notable example was the reuse of the Festival Hall of Pharaoh Thutmosis 3 for that purpose, the decorations of saints and Coptic inscriptions can still be seen.

The older religious temple complex of Heliopolis was close to modern Cairo. At its height it was significantly larger; the temple of Re at Heliopolis, alone was twice the size of that of Amen at Karnak. Tragically the Persian conqueror Cambysis c525BC sacked Heliopolis It was never fully rebuilt, only the solitary obelisk of Pharaoh Senusret 1 c1944BC remains. Being close to Cairo its stone buildings were quarried to make more modern structures. So it is only by good fortune that the major centers of later Egyptian population were based in the north at Cairo and Alexandria, that Karnak and Luxor have survived so well.

Karnak Temple, Egypt
The most inspiring aspect of Egyptian temple architecture are the spectacular temple columns. The Great Colonnade at Luxor and the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak are unequalled in size and decoration anywhere else in the world. The columns represented nature; they alluded to prehistoric times when vast forests covered the land before the climate changed; they also symbolized the Nile reed marshes. The world’s first columns were constructed at Pharaoh Djoser’s pyramid complex c2600BC and were engaged into the walls of the structure for support. Much harder-to-work granite columns were in use in the temples of 5th Dynasty Pharaoh Sahure and free standing limestone columns were in use in the Giza plateau noble’s tombs in the 6th Dynasty. The most common types were those representing papyrus bundles, papyrus stems, lotus stems and palms. Their capitals were often of open or closed bud design and highly colored. Egyptian columns were extensively copied for the later Greek and Roman equivalents.