Karnak Temple is actually a city of temples built over a 2,000-year span from roughly 2055 BC to 100 AD although recent research dates it to 3200 BC. It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu and it's the largest religious building ever constructed, covering 200 acres. The sphinx statues in the photo above proudly stand guard and line the entrance to the temple. It must have been something to experience at its peak!
Ramses II, the pharaoh who lived from 1303 - 1213 BC and reigned from 1279 until his death, is pictured below just inside the entrance. He is thought to be the most powerful - and certainly the most celebrated - pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. We saw statues and carvings of him and temples devoted to him everywhere in Egypt.
Ramses II had 68 wives and 203 children! His favorite wife was the fourth, Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten) who is the small statue at his feet, above. Katie gives this statue context; you can see how large it is.
These sphinx statues proudly guard the entrance to the complex.
The plan of the temple shows how large it is.
The Great Hypostyle Hall, built from about 1290 - 1224 BC covers an area of 54,000 sq. ft. making it the largest room of any religious building in the world. It was supported by 134 majestic columns.
The carvings were fascinating.
The "ankh" which was the symbol of life, is apparent in both the photos above and below. It was very important in Egyptian history and mythology and appears in carvings in temples and tombs throughout Egypt.
Glassblowing is an ancient art and was fairly common in Egypt. Our guide told us that this is a carving of a glassblower!
Ramses II and Osiris, the god of the underworld. Notice that Ramses is holding the ankh.
The beetle was associated with rebirth and regeneration in Ancient Egypt and we saw it throughout the country. Notice that it's part of an oval carving. This is a cartouche which is always oval or oblong and consists of hieroglyphics which normally contain the name of the pharaoh or other notable person. They were fascinating and made me wish I could read hieroglyphics!
Egyptian obelisks were always carved from single pieces of stone, usually pink granite from quarries at Aswan. As Aswan is over 100 miles from Luxor, it's not known how they were transported, but certainly it wasn't easy. Experts also don't know exactly what their significance was, but the obelisks at the Karnak temple were majestic and beautiful.
The top of a fallen obelisk blends in with its surroundings below.
Karnak Temple was awe-inspiring!
Located just a mile and a half south of Karnak Temple, the temple of Luxor was also built over a period of many years. Its construction was begun by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) and completed by Tutankhamun (1343-24 BC). Ramses II added to it during his reign and he figures prominently in it.
Ramses II was an expert at marketing himself - or maybe he was narcissistic - or both. The statues at the entrance are all of him. The straight beard indicates that the person/god was alive at the time. A curved beard indicates that the subject was deceased.
These are papyrus columns. Papyrus was used widely in ancient Egypt to make paper, baskets, sandals and many other items used in daily life. It's also the symbol of Lower Egypt in Egyptian mythology.
Ramses II with Nefertari at his leg.
Notice that there's only one obelisk at the entrance to the temple and that there's an empty base opposite it. The Egyptian government gave the other obelisk to France in 1833. Read about what Egypt got in return here. According to our guides, it's still somewhat of a sore subject!
The obelisk at Place de la Concorde in Paris, below.
This is the young Tutankhamun and his wife/half sister Ankhesenamun.
The Temple of Luxor is unique in that it has been almost continuously used as a place of worship since its creation. During the Christian era, at least two churches existed within the temple. For thousands of years the temple was buried under the city of Luxor and a mosque was built over it. When the temple was discovered, the mosque was carefully preserved and still offers prayers.
These sphinx statues once lined the mile and a half road between the Karnak and Luxor temples. It's believed that there were about 1,350 statues; it must have been a site to behold! We couldn't go near them because our guide told us that the Egyptian government is in the process of restoring this route. I'd love to go back when the restoration is completed.
This was taken from a bridge about halfway between the temples.
These were the first two temples we visited on our trip and they were both magnificent.
Ramses II Passport
No, this isn't a joke! Our guide in Cairo, Francis, brought this to our attention.
In the mid-1970's, a French doctor examined the mummified remains of Ramses II at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where it rests. He found it to be in bad condition and eventually Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the French president, persuaded the Egyptian government to send the remains to Paris for further examination and treatment.
In 1976 his remains arrived in Paris, complete with an Egyptian passport. Some people conjecture that the passport was issued in order to give Ramses official Egyptian citizenship in case the French decided to keep it. Whatever the reason, it's pretty interesting.
The French found that Ramses II was red-haired with light complexion. They also found a number of wounds, presumably from battles, arthritis and not surprisingly, badly decayed teeth. He lived to the ripe old age of 90 despite all his woulds and ailments. Not quite a year after being sent to France, his remains were returned to Cairo in May, 1977.
Photos of his remains aren't allowed in the Egyptian Museum, so the ones below were obtained from the internet.
➜ Top Tips
You can easily visit both temples in a half-day. I would suggest getting to Karnak as early as possible; we saw more people there than at any other temple we visited in Egypt.
There's a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and wear a hat to guard against the strong Egyptian sun.