While the Temple of Karnak might be the largest temple in the world, the site is actually host to a group of temples, including the Great Temple of Amon Ra, The Temple of Khonso, The Ipt Temple, The Temple of Ptah, the Temple of Montho and the Temple of the God Osiris. A 20m high, mud brick enclosure wall surrounds all of these buildings. It is as if you are walking through a city built of temples and it is quite an amazing feeling to stroll through them. You can feel the ancient history. It is alive, as it swirls around you.
This great Temple of Amon Ra was known during the Middle Kingdom period as Ipt-Swt, which means the Selected Spot. It was also called Pr-Imn, or the House of Amon. The name Al-Karnak in Arabic was derived from Karnak, which means fortified village, probably because the Arabs found many temples and buildings in the area when they entered it for the first time.
On your way towards the entrance, you will find a ram-headed avenue of Sphinxes, which was built to protect the Temple. There are 20 rams on each side, extending from the small harbor to the 1st Pylon, which was built during the time of King Nektanebo I (30th Dynasty). They still look down upon those who traverse the space they guard. As you cross this pylon, it takes you into an open court, of about 100m by 80m, built during the 22nd Dynasty, and containing rows of bud papyrus columns.
In the middle of the 1st open court is a huge column, 21m high, with a bud papyrus capital. This part is known as the kiosk of Taharqa, who ruled during the 25th Dynasty. This is the only column left from a colonnade that once had 10 columns.
On the left side of the court are 3 chapels built by King Seti II for the "Triad of Thebes". On the right side is the Temple of Ramses III, consisting of a small pylon, an open court, and Hypostyle hall, leading to the sanctuary.
Horemheb built the 2nd Pylon during the 18th Dynasty, though it is now badly damaged. Ramses I, the founder of the 19th Dynasty, later completed it. Passing the 2nd Pylon, we enter the Great Hypostyle Hall, which measures 103m in length and 52m in width. It contains 134 papyrus columns; each column is about 22m in height and 3.5m in diameter. Amenhotep III built it and Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II decorated it, while King Seti I erected the other 122 columns in 14 rows.
The ceiling in the center is higher than the laterals, and it allows light into this spot, which was why it was used as the processional avenue of the triad during the festival of the Opet. The scenes of the Hypostyle Hall represent King Seti I, in front of different deities, making offerings, while the southern wall is decorated with scenes of Ramses II, making offerings to the different deities or worshipping the Triad of Thebes.
The Hypostyle Hall leads to The 3rd Pylon, built by Amenhotep III. It is truly remarkable that stones from previous periods, such as the marble alabaster of Amenhotep I, were found encrusted in the pylon!
Crossing the 3rd Pylon, you come to an open, rectangular court, which is known as the Court of Tuthmosis I. In this court, Tuthmosis I erected 2 obelisks, this is thought to be the area that was used as the main entrance of the Temple during his reign. Unfortunately, only one obelisk has survived: it is currently 19m high and around 310 tons in weight.
From the Court of Tuthmosis, we reach the 4th Pylon, which Tuthmosis I also built; beyond this is a rectangular colonnade, which he built as well. When Hatshepsut ascended to the throne she built 2 obelisks in that colonnade, the left one is still in its original position: 29.5m in height, 322 tons in weight and made of red granite! Red granite, have you ever seen such a thing?
After the death of Queen Hatshepsut, King Tuthmosis III built a high, long wall around these 2 obelisks to hide them. However, some wonder, why hide them and not tear them down?
The 5th Pylon, yet again built by Tuthmosis I, is damaged and on both sides of the entrance, although Tuthmosis III built two small rooms when it was his turn.
The 6th Pylon, was built by Tuthmosis III. Beyond this pylon, Tuthmosis III built his stunning, famous hall, the Ancestral Room. The original Sanctuary was built by Tuthmosis III, but Philip Arrhidaeus, the half-brother of Alexander the Great, later rebuilt it.
The granite sanctuary was dedicated to the sacred boat of Amon Ra. Behind the sanctuary, you will see a court, dating back to the time of the Middle Kingdom. It is a wide-open courtyard that is badly damaged now. It is believed that, this spot was the site of an old Temple, dating back to the time of the Middle Kingdom: the origin of the Karnak Temple.