Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Karnak is one of those places that takes your breath away.  At first glance it seems like a hodge podge of obelisk, statues, sphinx and other nik naks.  But when you move through the temps which date back our favourite Pharoah Ramses II there is something calming and magnificent about it.

Karnak was an important place of worship during the mid 1300’s.  Karnak is the largest ancient religious preservation in the world, mainly because much of the history of the area is displayed in the complex.  The walls are covered with battle stories between pharaoh’s and their enemies. The temple complex is made from sandstone which was brought from the far away Nile River. The walls are cool to the touch and I have a feeling if they could talk they would have unbelievable stories to tell.

Karnak used to be connected to the Luxor temple via an “pathway” of sphinxes most of which have been destroyed but fortunately for there are some which still line this pathway. There are four main temples in the Karnak complex and out of the four the Precinct of Amun-Re is the largest.  The people came here to worship the god Amun-Re.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately there are areas which are not accessible to tourists like me because they are being restored. But there is an open air area, a “forecourt” which visitors have full access to.  This is also where the temples of Opet and Khons are found. It is here where those interested can see how the construction of the temple took place all those years ago.  There are six pylons and the first is made of mud bricks and although unfinished the mud “ramp” and columns which were left behind tell the tale of how they were constructed. The third pylon has portions which are gold-plated!!

The forecourt contains a triple shire dedicated to the triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu and of course our favourite pharaoh needing to flex his muscles had a huge granite state of himself made with his favourite wife Nefertari snuggled between his feet.

Just beyond the second pylon lies arguable one of the highlights of Karnak, the grand hypostyle hall.  Construction was started by Seti I but was completed by his some Ramses II.  The hall has 134 gigantic columns.  The biggest being 23 meters tall and 15 meters in diameter.  I tried to get my arms around it but it was impossible.  Our guide told us that it would take at least 10 adults standing with their arms stretched out to cover the circumference of the columns.  The hall is huge at 6000 square meters which for reference is roughly twice as big as St Paul’s in London. Beyond the hall there are obelisks effected by Tuthmosis II and his daughter ( the female pharaoh of Egypt) Hatshepsut. One of the obelisks of Hatshepsut has fallen over and can be seen on the grounds at Karnak.  The one standing is amazing to see.  You kind of feel like it reaches up to touch heaven because it goes on and on.  It is very impressive and makes me proud of this might lady.  Of course the reason her obelisk is so well preserved is because her step son ordered her work hidden from the world and thankfully instead of destroying the obelisk they built a wall around it which means that the elements nor man could damage this relic. Hatshepsut liked commissioning obelisks (wonder if she had a bit of a fascination with the phallic shape???) and several of the works she had made can be seen throughout the world. Have you heard of Cleopatra’s needle in New York, Paris and London…all original Egyptian obelisks.  London and New York are a pair but Paris’ partner is found in Karnak.

On the walls beyond the next pylon are depictions of the conquests of Tuthmosis III who is popularly known as the Alexander of the East and was considered Egypt’s greatest conqueror. I would agree if he had not destroyed so much of his step mother (Hatshepsut) legacy.  There are names of conquered cities….their original names.  One of the most beautiful sights is Hatshepsut’s wall which has most of its original carvings and colours (yay!!!).  Of course step son did destroy the figure of her!!! Some of the most amazing colours however can be seen at the back of the temple inside Tuthmosis III’s victory chamber.  Coptic Christians had drawn figures of Mary and Jesus over the ancient Egyptian paintings but which time church drawings of the Coptics has faded revealing the beautiful bright colours of the Egyptian walls.

As you make your way past the fallen obelisk you come to stand in front of what could questionably be the first outdoor swimming pool. Ramses II built it for his wife Nefertari.  I can just imagine on a hot summers day as the sun started to set Nefertari and her handmaidens would wonder down to the water.  The handmaidens would help Ramses’ queen in and giggle as she waded further and further into the cool water. Ramses would quietly stand some distance away and watch as his favourite wife swam.  Finally as the sun turned a fiery orange he would walk to the water’s edge, the handmaidens would quieten down and discretely withdraw.  Ramses would sit down on the grass and wait for his queen to make her way to him.  Then she would join him on the “bank” of the swimming pool and they would spend time watching the setting sun, enjoying each other’s company  as the world started to quieten down. I know I may be projecting an image from my childhood (watching my parents) but it’s what popped into my head as we sat watching the sun set. But being there at sunset as most of tourists left it felt romantic, it felt right and it felt like I was getting a view through my mind’s eye of a little sliver of history!

History of course, in this country is pretty well documented so we know that this scared lake was where the priests came to bath before worshiping.

Of course the peace was soon destroyed by my Megan and our tour guide ganging up on me.  See just off from the pool is a pedestal and on the pedestal rests the largest bug you can imagine. It’s a huge scarab!!!  Megan made me kindly requested that I circle the statue anticlockwise but neither one of them would tell me why.  First they told me to round it three times and then five times although Meg kept on encouraging seven times.  Being that it was late in the day and I was eager to move onto our final stop I indulged them.  I giggled like a school girl because it was all a little absurd to me but then……a very handsome Korean gentleman joined me.  He spoke wonderful English and once he established that I was from south Africa he joined me in going round and round the scarab.  Turns out he had visited SA several times and we had a good old chat.  It did not seem to go down well with our tour guide….especially a Mr Korea was flirting like crazy and I am not sure if I was tired or had sun stroke but I found him hilarious which seemed to upset Mohammed even more.  He kept on saying I had gone round enough times while Megan encouraged me to continue.

After going around seven times Mr Korea and I parted ways and finally Megan and Mohammed explained that rounding the scarab a number of times could bring a spouse or children into your life.  I sadly looked at Mr Korea’s retreating back and thought perhaps my luck had been changed by a scarab…a good luck charm.  But, alas no bug no matter how big is gonna change my luck!!

So with the setting sun at our backs we made our way back to reality, back to the car for our last stop of the day. Karnak with its story telling walls and amazing statues is visited more than any other area in the world, with the exception of course of the pyramids of Giza. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss it!!

Watching this older couple just made me happy!!

The crown of upper Egypt - the champagne bottle

The crown of lower Egypt...the champagne bottle holder

Meg on the alter

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