Karnak, January 2002

The temple of Karnak, about 1.5 km north of Luxor, built more than 3000 years ago, is thought to be the largest temple ever built. Only a small fraction of it still stands, but that small fraction includes the hall of columns. It's one of those places where the impression one gets comes from being in the midst of it, so no picture can do justice to it.
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This unusual statue of an insect (a scarab beetle) is nearly a metre long.
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The walls of Pharaonic temples and tombs are covered with hieroglyphic text, much of it illustrated by pictures cut into the stone. In view of the enormous amount of illustrated material, I find it surprising that the decipherment of the script in the 1820s was seen as so difficult. With such a vast quantity of text so prominently visible, it's also surprising that knowledge of the script was ever lost. These samples are also from Karnak.

The temple of Luxor dates from about the same period as the Karnak temple, but is much smaller. Both temples have an avenue of sphinxes outside the entrance; this is the avenue at Luxor, which is in better condition than Karnak's.

In front of the entrance structure were originally two obelisks; only one is left, the other having been stolen by the French in 1833.

Incidentally, the entrance structure of a Pharaonic temple is called a "pylon", and until the twentieth century this was the main meaning of the word.

The temple at Luxor is not as impressive as the ruins of Karnak. However, it is on the whole better preserved, despite the Romans (who added a temple of their own at the southern end of the site), the Muslims (who built a mosque inside the temple), and the French (see above).

In sheltered places there are carvings which retain their original detail - and in this case, elegance.

This overall view, at sunset, shows most of the temple except the entrance pylon (which is off to the left). The tops of the pillars represent the papyrus plant - at the right the unopened buds, at the left the opened papyrus flower.