The Temple

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The temple

The Ancient Egyptians regarded their temples as the "homes" of their respective god or deity.
Temples could be single buildings or great complexes, but the most essential component for any temple was the innermost "cult chamber" or shrine, where the image of the god or deity was kept. The activities of the temple revolved around the worship and celebration of the god or deity's "cult" via the image or statue of that god which was placed in the temple's shrine. Temples were also used for religious festivals, which usually involved priestly processions with the god or deity transported on a barque (a scale model of a boat carried aloft on poles).
Aerial view of the Ramesseum
Temples were also considered to be architectural metaphors for the universe and the process of creation itself. The floor of the temple would gradually rise, passing through "forests" of plant-form columns and roofed by images of the constellations or the body of Nut. This would allow priests to ascend from the outermost edge of the universe, in towards the sanctuary, which symbolised creation and the "Primeval Mound" upon which the creator-god first brought the world into being.
Abu Simbel
Temples were also important elements of Egyptian economic infrastructure, employing large workforces and earning income from agricultural land and gold mines. Temples were surrounded by ancillary buildings such as granaries and slaughter-houses, in which daily offerings were stored and processed. Temple administration is documented both in temple reliefs and in certain surviving archives of papyri - the best discovered so far is from the Old Kingdom mortuary temples of Neferirkara and Raneferef at the pyramid complex of Abusir.
Featured temples: Abu Simbel

The facade of the great temple of Abu Simbel as it was in 1838.
Abu Simbel in 1838. David Roberts' captivating lithograph of the facade of the great temple at Abu Simbel, half buried by the shifting deserts sands.
What is it?
Re-discovered by Johann Ludwig Burkhardt in 1813, enveloped by the shifting sands, Abu Simbel is now a UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site. The site consists of of two massive rock temples located close to the town of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt (Nubia).
Where is it?
The temples are on the western bank of Lake Nasser, around 290km southwest of Aswan. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire complex was relocated 65m higher up and 200m further back from the river bank. This was to avoid the temples being totally submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan dam on the river Nile.
Ground plans of the temples at Abu Simbel
The Great Temple The Smaller Temple
Who built the temples?
The twin temples were carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II, as both a lasting monument to himself and his principal queen Nefertari, and to commemorate the so-called victory at the Battle of Kadesh. As such, the sheer size and scale of the temples were also designed to intimidate his Nubian neighbours.
Who are they dedicated to?
The great temple is dedicated to Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Amun, Egypt's three state deities of the time, and features four large statues of Ramesses II in the facade. The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, personified by Nefertari.
The great temple
The Great temple at Abu Simbel
The great temple at Abu Simbel is generally considered to be the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Ramesses II.

The facade:
The rock cut facade of the great temple represents the front of a pylon and is 33m high and 38m wide, guarded by four statues, each of which are 20m high. They were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved in the 1960's. All of the statues represent Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an ancient earthquake, leaving only its lower section still intact. Several smaller figures are situated at the feet of the four statues, depicting members of the pharaoh's family. They include his mother Tuya, wife Nefertari, and some of his sons and daughters. Above the entrance there is a statue of a falcon-headed Ra-Harakhte, with the pharaoh shown worshipping on both sides of him. Below the statue there is an ancient rebus, showing the prenomen or throne name of Ramesses II: "Waser-ma'at".

This fantastic facade is topped off by a row of 22 baboons, their arms raised in the air, worshipping the rising sun. Another notable feature of the facade is a stele that records the marriage of Ramesses II with a daughter of the Hittite King, Hattusili III, a triumphant diplomatic act that would seal the peace between Egypt and the Hittites.
The eight statues of Ramesses in the form of Osiris, from the first hall.
The four seated statues in the sanctuary.
The interior:
The first hall of the temple features eight statues of Rameses II in the form of the god Osiris, serving as pillars. Those on the north side are shown wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, whilst those on the south wear are wearing the double crown. The walls depict scenes of Egyptian victories in Libya, Syria and Nubia, including images from the Battle of Kadesh. At the western end of the main hall are three doors, the side ones leading into lateral chambers, and the central one opening into a room with four square pillars. From this room a doorway leads to the vestibule, and beyond that is located the innermost shrine with seated statues of the gods.
The sanctuary contains four seated statues of Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, Amun and Ramesses (see above). One of the most remarkable features of this temple is that it is so precisely oriented that twice every year, the first rays of the morning sun shine down the entire length of the temple-cave to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the four gods seated there. These dates were allegedly the king's birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no evidence to support this. Due to the displacement of the temple when it was moved, it is widely believed that this event now occurs one or two days later than it was originally intended.

The smaller temple
The smaller temple at Abu Simbel
The smaller temple has a much simpler interior design than the great temple, having just one hypostyle hall and the sanctuary.
The smaller temple at Abu Simbel is located just north of the great temple. It was carved into the rock by Ramesses II and dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, and also to his principal wife, Nefertari. The facade is adorned by six statues, four of Ramesses II and two of Nefertari. Most unusually, the six are the same height, which indicates the esteem in which Nefertari was held. The entrance leads to a single hall, containing six pillars that bear the head of the goddess Hathor. On the sides facing the centre of the hypostyle hall, Ramesses is shown smiting his enemies and making offerings before various gods, whilst a graceful and slender Nefertari is shown with hands raised. Three doors lead to a vestibule with ancillary rooms at either end.
The holiest area of the temple, the sanctuary, has two spaces that were left on its side walls for doors to rooms which were never actually cut. The inner chamber contains a number of images interrelating the royal couple and the gods. On the back wall is a relief of the goddess Hathor, shown in the form of a cow emerging from the western mountain, with the king standing beneath her chin. Above the doorway is the cartouche of Nefertari. Ramesses II is also shown standing before seated figures of himself and Nefertari.
When Greek mercenaries passed by the smaller temple in the 6th century BC, sand already reached the knees of the facade statues. These ancient sightseers left an inscription which read "When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was written by those who sailed with Psammetichus the son of Theolces, and they came beyond Kerkis as far as the river permits."
David Roberts' lithograph of the sand swathed Osiris statues from the first hall of the great temple at Abu Simbel in 1838.
David Roberts' lithograph of the sand swathed Osiris statues from the first hall of the great temple at Abu Simbel in 1838.
 Featured temples: Karnak

David Roberts' "General view of the ruins of Karnak from the west."
David Roberts' "General view of the ruins of Karnak from the west." The first pylon is clearly visible in the upper left hand side of the lithograph, with the hypostyle hall in the centre. The ruins on the north-south axis can be seen in the foreground, on the right hand side.
Ipet-isut - "the most sacred of places"
One of the largest and most impressive of all the temple sites in Egypt, Karnak is the culmination of three main temples, several smaller enclosed temples, and a number of outer temples - the combined achievements of a great many generations of ancient builders. The vast complex was built and enlarged over a period of 1300 years and stands on a site covering 247 acres of land.
Although badly ruined, probably no site in Egypt is more impressive than Karnak. It is the largest ancient temple complex ever built by man, and represents the combined achievement of many generations of early builders. Only one of the main areas is currently accessible for tourists and the general public - this is the "main" temple which is by far the largest part and is known as the Temple of Amun.
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. Around thirty different 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 is quite overwhelming.

The layout of the temples
Plan of the temple of Karnak
The three main temples of Mut, Montu and Amun are enclosed by enormous brick walls. The main area, The Temple of Amun, is situated in the centre of the entire complex.
Precinct of Montu: dedicated to the Theban god Montu, this square northern enclosure is the smallest of the three precincts. Most of the monuments today are in a poor state of preservation, and include the main temple of Montu, several smaller structures, particularly the temples of Harpre and Ma’at, and a sacred lake. A structure thought to be a treasury built by Tuthmosis I was discovered outside of the east enclosure wall. The treasury consisted of a barque station of Amun, storerooms and workshops, and may well be the oldest building on the site.
The most significant architectural complex north of the Temple of Amun, the Precinct of Montu was first built by Amenhotep III using masonry blocks belonging to discarded monuments from Amenhotep I, Hatshepsut, Tutmosis III, Amenhotep II and Tutmosis IV.
Remains of the Precinct of Montu
Remains of the Precinct of Montu
The sacred lake on the west side may have been dug by Amenhotep III and later restored by Montuemhat. The eastern part of the temple collapsed at the end of the New Kingdom, and reconstruction was probably undertook by Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty Nubian ruler who also built a great portico on the main facade. This was later dismantled and then rebuilt by the first Ptolemies.
Precinct of Mut: dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Mut, the mother goddess. This area of the temple was used from the 18th Dynasty onwards, although by the 1st century AD, its use had steadily declined, and when the worship of Mut discontinued, effectively so did the function of the complex. Unfortunately the site is in such a poor state of preservation today that practically nothing over one metre high is still standing. Hundreds of statues are scattered all over the central part of the site.
Remains of the Precinct of Mut
Remains of the Precinct of Mut
The main features of the Precinct of Mut include the crescent-shaped sacred lake known as "Isheru", the temple of Ramesses III, the temple of Mut and the temple of Khonspekhrod. In addition there are a number of smaller buildings and shrines, as well as the temple of Nectanebo II, the barque shrine of Thutmose III and Hatshepsut and the Sanctuary of Amun-Kamutef, located just outside the enclosing wall.
From the main entrance, a long avenue of ram-headed sphinxes currently under restoration, lead north, directly up to the tenth pylon of the Precinct of Amun.
The precinct of Amun: This precinct is by far the largest of the temples at Karnak and the only one that is open to the general public. This temple complex is dedicated to the principal god of the Theban Triad, Amun, in the form of Amun-Re. Rather unusually, is built along two axis running both east-west and north-south.
Aerial view of the Precinct of Amun
Aerial view of the Precinct of Amun, showing the Avenue of Sphinxes leading up to the first pylon, then through to the first courtyard, the second pylon and through to the hypostyle hall. The sacred lake is clearly visible in the top left hand corner.
The original core of the temple was located near the centre of the east-west axis on a mound which was itself almost certainly a very ancient sacred site. This original core was then expanded both towards the Nile in normal Egyptian fashion, but also in the direction of the outlying Mut temple to the south.
Visitors today normally approach the temple from the west by a quay built by Ramesses II. During ancient times, this quay would have given access to the temple from a canal that would have been linked to the Nile. Just to the right stands a small barque chapel of Hakoris that would have been used as a resting station during the ceremonial processions of the gods to and from the Nile. A short avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leads from the quay to the temple's first pylon. These sphinxes have ram's heads symbolising the great state god, Amun, and each holds a statue of the king protectively between their paws.
The impressive avenue of sphinxes dates from the period of Ramesses II and leads up to the great first pylon of the temple of Karnak. Ironically, this pylon was actually the last to be built (in the Nubian period) and was never actually completed. The small obelisk on the right was erected by Seti II.
The Avenue of Sphinxes dates from the period of Ramesses II and leads up to the great first pylon at the western entrance of the Precinct of Amun. Ironically, this pylon was actually the last to be built and was never actually completed. The small obelisk on the right was erected by Seti II.
The impressive first entrance pylon is actually unfinished. We know this because of the unequal height of its upper regions, with uncut blocks that project from its undecorated surfaces, and because of the remains of a mud-brick construction ramp that is still present on the pylon's interior side. It may have been built during the reign of the 30th Dynasty Nubian pharaoh Nectanebo I, although it is possible that an earlier pylon may have stood on the same position. Although it is known as the "first pylon" today, rather ironically it was actually the last of the pylons to have been built on the site.
First Courtyard
Just beyond the first pylon, the first courtyard now encloses an area that would have originally been outside of the temple. The Avenue of Ram-headed sphinxes would have continued within this area, now bordered on two sides by a colonnaded portico with closed bud capitals, attributed to the 22nd Dynasty ruler Shoshenq I. To the left of the first courtyard stands a barque chapel with a small sphinx opposite, and in the centre of the first courtyard stand the remains of the Kiosk of Tarharqa. On the right-hand side of the forecourt, in front of the second pylon, stands a small temple built by Ramesses III. Just in front of the second pylon would have stood two colossal statues of Ramesses II.
Bubastis Portal
This portal gate is located between the temple of Ramesses III and the second pylon. It records the conquests and military campaigns in Syria-Palestine of the 22nd Dynasty pharaoh Shoshenq I.
Hypostyle Hall
Through the second pylon stands probably the most famous area of the temple - the hypostyle hall. Symbolising the primeval papyrus swamp, a total number of 134 columns stand in the hall, including 12 taller central ones. Standing at a height of 21m (69 ft), they dwarf their counterparts that stand at a mere 15m high (49 ft)! The larger columns have open papyrus capitals, whilst the smaller ones have closed papyrus capitals. Once supporting a roof with small clerestory windows, now only remnants of these windows remain. Work on the hypostyle hall was originally started by Amenhotep III, although the actual decorations were initiated by Seti I, and completed by his son Ramesses II.
The closed bud papyrus capital is on the left, and the open papyrus capital on the taller column on the right.
Close up view of the capitals of the columns in the hypostyle hall in the temple of Amun at Karnak. The closed bud papyrus capital is on the left, and the open papyrus capital on the taller column on the right.
Beyond the hypostyle hall
Passing through the third pylon lies the Obelisk Court. Four obelisks, erected by Tuthmosis I and Tuthmosis III  stood in this court, standing before what would have been the original entrance to the inner temple, but now only one remains. It is also in the obelisk court that the temple's second axis, now leads off to the south. Continuing in an easterly direction however brings you to the fourth and fifth pylons, and the oldest part of the temple that still remains. These pylons were constructed during the reign of Tuthmosis I. Later additions to this area included four obelisks raised by Hatshepsut, although only two now remain.
Very little remains of the sixth pylon, built by Tuthmosis III, however, the walls still retain the lists of conquered peoples of the south and north. This pylon fronts a court with two magnificent granite pillars bearing the floral emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt. A granite barque shrine, attributed to Philip Arrhidaeus, the successor of Alexander the Great, leads from the court, surrounded by chambers and walls built by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III respectively. These walls precede the  Central Court - an open area where the earliest temple probably once stood and that would subsequently go on to become the sanctuary of the later, much extended temple. Unfortunately, the building was plundered for its stone during antiquity, and there is now little left other than the large calcite slab on which a shrine once stood. Beyond the central court stands the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III, including the unusual feature of tent shaped columns, possibly modelled on those used by Tuthmosis in his actual military tents.
The sacred lake
Originally dug during the reign of Tuthmosis III, the sacred lake of the temple of Amun is one of the largest of its kind. Lined in stone, the lake has steps leading down into the water, from where the priests of the temple could have collected the water that was used for ritual ablutions. The lake's rough-hewn stone edging is punctuated on the southern side by the opening of a stone tunnel through which the domestic "geese of Amun" were released into the lake from their enclosures. A variety of ducks were also included within the temple's aviary.
The sacred lake at the temple of Amun, Karnak
The sacred lake at the temple of Amun, Karnak
On the eastern side of the lake stand the ruins of buildings that would have once been the homes of the priests of the temple. The subject of archaeological excavation since the 1970's, they now lie beneath the seating erected for the sound and light show. A number of ceramic fragments, seal imprints and coins dating from the 22nd Dynasty, as well as clay pots from the 26th and 27th Dynasties have been discovered in this area. Silver ingots and two silver coins, originally from northern Greece and dating from around the 27th Dynasty, were found amongst the ruins of house number five. Various titles of priests have also been found - amongst them that of the priest in charge of the opening of the golden naos of Amun.
On the northwestern side of the lake, is a small chapel with underground chambers. Known as the Chapel of Taharqa, its chambers contain descriptions of the sun god's nightly journey through the underworld, and his rebirth each morning as the scarab beetle. Close by rests the pyramidion from Hatshepsut's second obelisk.
North-south axis of the temple of Amun
Beyond Hatshepsut's pyramidion is the first court of the temple's north-south axis. The seventh pylon was constructed during the reign of Tuthmosis III, although the side walls are the work of Merenptah, Ramesses II's son. It was in the southern end of this courtyard, known as the Cachette Court, that some 20,000 statues and stelae were discovered by the French Egyptologist Georges Legrain in 1904.
The remaining pylons on this axis consist of the eighth, built by Hatshepsut, and the ninth and tenth, raised by Horemheb, who made considerable use of stone quarried from the earlier temples of Akhenaten. Recently reconstructed is a small sed-festival temple of Amenhotep II that was built into the southern wall of the court between the ninth and tenth pylons.
The southern entrance to the precinct of Amun was by a gateway through the tenth pylon. This led past two colossal limestone statues and onto a processional way lined by sphinxes that would have connected the temple of Amun to the precinct of Mut. Within the walls of the precinct of Amun lie a number of smaller temples, including the Temple of Khonsu, the Opet Temple and the Temple of Ptah.
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