The Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak (from Arabic Khurnak meaning "fortified village"), comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings near Luxor, in Egypt. Construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom (around 2000-1700 BC) and continued into the Ptolemaic period (305 - 30 BC), although most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom. The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut ("The Most Selected of Places") and the main place of worship of the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad with the god Amun as its head. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes. The Karnak complex gives its name to the nearby, and partly surrounded, modern village of El-Karnak, 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) north of Luxor.
The complex is a vast open site and includes the Karnak Open Air Museum. It is believed to be the second most visited historical site in Egypt; only the Giza Pyramids near Cairo receive more visits. It consists of four main parts, of which only the largest is currently open to the general public. The term Karnak often is understood as being the Precinct of Amun-Ra only, because this is the only part most visitors see. The three other parts, the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV, are closed to the public. There also are a few smaller temples and sanctuaries connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amun-Re, and the Luxor Temple.
Karnak is the modern-day name for the ancient site of the Temple of Amun at Thebes, Egypt. The Egyptians called the site Nesut-Towi, "Throne of the Two Lands", Ipet-Iset, "The Finest of Seats" as well as Ipt-Swt, "Selected Spot" (also given as Ipetsut, "The Most Select of Places"). The original name has to do with the ancient Egyptian belief that Thebes was the first city founded on the primordial mound which rose from the waters of chaos at the beginning of the world. At that time, the creator-god Atum (sometimes Ptah) stood on the mound to begin the work of creation. The site of the temple was thought to be this original ground and the temple was raised at this spot for that reason. Karnak is believed to have been an ancient observatory as well as a place of worship where the god Amun would interact directly with the people of earth.
The Precinct of Mut is very ancient, being dedicated to an Earth and creation deity, but not yet restored. The original temple was destroyed and partially restored by Hatshepsut, although another pharaoh built around it in order to change the focus or orientation of the sacred area. Many portions of it may have been carried away for use in other buildings.
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued into Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming. The deities represented range from some of the earliest worshiped to those worshiped much later in the history of the Ancient Egyptian culture. Although destroyed, it also contained an early temple built by Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), the pharaoh who later would celebrate a near monotheistic religion he established that prompted him to move his court and religious center away from Thebes. It also contains evidence of adaptations, where the buildings of the Ancient Egyptians were used by later cultures for their own religious purposes.
One famous aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re, a hall area of 50,000 sq ft (5,000 m2) with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.
The architraves on top of these columns are estimated to weigh 70 tons. These architraves may have been lifted to these heights using levers. This would be an extremely time-consuming process and also would require great balance to get to such great heights. A common alternative theory regarding how they were moved is that large ramps were constructed of sand, mud, brick or stone and that the stones were then towed up the ramps. If stone had been used for the ramps, they would have been able to use much less material. The top of the ramps presumably would have employed either wooden tracks or cobblestones for towing the megaliths.
The Temple of Amun (Karnak) is the largest religious building in the world (though some claim Angkor Wat in Cambodia is larger) and honors not only Amun but other gods such as Osiris, Montu, Isis, Ptah and the Egyptian rulers who wished to be remembered for their contributions to the site. It was built gradually over the centuries, with each new ruler adding to it, from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (2040 - 1782 BCE) through the New Kingdom (1570 - 1069 BCE) and throughout the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323 - 30 BCE). It has even been suggested that the rulers of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613 - c. 2181 BCE) first built there owing to the style of some of the ruins and the king's list of Old Kingdom monarchs inscribed by Tuthmose III (1458 - 1425 BCE) of the New Kingdom in his Festival Hall there. His choice of kings suggests that he may have removed their monuments to build his hall but still wanted them to be remembered. Structures were regularly removed, renovated, or expanded during the temple's long history. The complex continued to grow with each succeeding ruler and the ruins today cover over 200 acres of land. It has been estimated that one could fit three structures the size of Notre Dame Cathedral in the main temple alone.
The Temple of Amun (Karnak) was in constant use with perpetual growth for over 2,000 years and considered one of the most sacred sites in Egypt. The priests of Amun who oversaw the administration of the temple became increasingly wealthy and powerful to the point that they were able to take control of the government of Thebes toward the end of the New Kingdom when rule of the country became divided between theirs at Thebes in Upper Egypt and that of the pharaoh in the city of Per-Ramesses in Lower Egypt. The rise of the power of the priests, and the resulting weakness of the position of the pharaoh, is considered the major contributing factor in the decline of the New Kingdom and the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (1069 - 525 BCE). The temple complex was damaged in the Assyrian invasion of 666 BCE and again by the Persian invasion of 525 BCE but, both times, was repaired and renovated.
It has been estimated that one could fit three structures the size of Notre Dame Cathedral in the main temple alone.
By the 4th century CE Egypt was a part of the Roman Empire and Christianity was being promoted as the one true faith. The emperor Constantius II (337 - 361 CE) ordered pagan temples to be closed in 336 CE and the Temple of Amun was deserted. Coptic Christians made use of the building for church services, as evidenced by Christian art and inscriptions on the walls, but then the site was abandoned. It was rediscovered during the 7th century CE Arab Invasion of Egypt at which time it was called "Ka-ranak" which means 'fortified village' because of the enormous amount of architecture amassed in one area. When European explorers first began traveling in Egypt in the 17th century CE they were told the grand ruins at Thebes were those of Karnak and the name has been in use for the site since then.
Karnak Temple Complex comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings. Its construction began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom and continued into the Ptolemaic period, although most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom. Complex consists of four main parts: the Precinct of Amun-Re, the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the dismantled Temple of Amenhotep IV, of which only the Precinct of Amun-Re and the Precinct of Mut are open to the general public. The term Karnak often is understood as being the Precinct of Amun-Ra only, because this is the only part most visitors see. There are also a few smaller temples and sanctuaries connecting the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Amun-Re, and the Luxor Temple.
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