The Temples of Karnak are famous the world over – and it is billed as a highlight of our cruise. It is therefore natural to be excited about being here, and soaking in thousands of years of history in one glimpse. The temple complex is said to be the most visited tourist spot after the pyramids at Giza.
At about 4:30PM all our fellow passengers assemble in the mail lobby area – and are rather quickly and efficiently divided up into groups of 10-14 people and armed with a local guide. Our guide is named Tariq – he is a young guy, touching his 30s, recently married and lives in Cairo. He is about 5’5″, athletic, well attired, sports black sunglasses and fluent in English. He takes command and we follow his lead into a small bus. It is 38C outside and we are glad that the bus has a functioning AC .
The temples are about 10kms from our dock – and it is about a 20 minute drive. Along the way we encounter some VIP movement, which prolongs our journey. At the temple, we are greeted by throngs of tourists – it feels like a country fair – I estimate that there are about 5000 people at the site.Nevertheless, we are enchanted by the ambiance, and by the exemplary architecture in front of us – It is an imposing structure – like a fort, the external wall is perhaps more than 300 feet wide and there is only one entrance. It is flanked by a statue of Cleopatra on the left and two huge guards on either side. A large obelisk in the front completes the entire picture – this is one of the largest obelisks ever constructed and stands almost 30 meters tall (about a 100 ft.). What immediately strikkes us is the straightness of the structure. as if a plumb bob was hanging out of the sky. It is a pretty picture under the artificial lights at night.
The outer facade belies the huge inner courtyard and even larger structures hidden inside. The scale of the architecture is simply mesmerizing. What is again apparent is that the ancient Egyptians spent their lives building huge temples for their Gods in the belief of an afterlife – while spending their lives in almost complete penury. This is in direct contrast to modern day consumption dictated by capitalist ideas – present day consumption (with accumulated debt) is rewarded today.It is estimated that almost 30 pharoahs contributed to the building of this great temple.
The temple is dedicated to Amon-Ra, who was the most powerful of the Gods – imbibing virtues from the sun god and other natural elements. The word “Tutankhamun” literally means “the living form of Amun”. Inside the temple, there are innumerable columns richly decorated on the top ends. Unlike the monuments in lower Egypt that are made up of limestone, the temples of Karnak are made up entirely of sandstone. the sandstone was transported from Silsila about 100 miles south of Luxor. The main hall inside the temple is known as the Great Hypostyle hall – it has 134 columns that represent the papyrus flower. The columns are linked through architraves – each weighing more than a 100 tonnes – it is still a mystery how these were lifted to such great heights and how they were arranged in perfect symmetry. The pillars themselves are richly carved and decorated with Hieroglyphs. Each pharoah added his own set, according to his beliefs, and recorded his own history of the era.
There is an unfinished obelisk in the compound – it lies flat on the ground and provides a good photo opportunity for innumerable tourists to touch its tip.
Outside the temple, there are several avenues of gods and goddesses – the main avenue is lined with rows of ram headed sphinxes. It links the precinct of Amun with the main temple.