The temple of Karnak
was known as Ipet-isut (Most select of places) by the ancient
Egyptians. It is a city of temples built over 2000 years and
dedicated to the Theben triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu.
This derelict place is still capable of overshadowing many of the
wonders of the modern world and in its day must have been awe
For the largely uneducated ancient Egyptian population this could
only have been the place of the gods. It is the mother of all
religious buildings, the largest ever made and a place of pilgrimage
for nearly 4,000 years. Although today's pilgrims are mainly
tourists. It covers about 200 acres 1.5km by 0.8km The area of the
sacred enclosure of Amon alone is 61 acres and would hold ten
average European cathedrals. The great temple at the heart of
Karnak is so big, St Peter's, Milan and Notre Dame Cathedrals
could be lost within its walls. The Hypostyle hall at 54,000 square
feet with its 134 columns is still the largest room of any religious
building in the world. In addition to the main sanctuary there are
several smaller temples and a vast sacred lake.
The Temple of Luxor
The modern town of Luxor is
the site of the famous city of Thebes, (Waset in ancient
Egyptian) the city of a hundred gates. It was the capital of Egypt
from the 12th dynasty (1991 BC) and reached its zenith during the
New Kingdom. It was from here that Thutmose III planned his
campaigns, Akenaten first contemplated the nature of
god and Rameses II set out his ambitious building program.
Only Memphis could compare in size and wealth, but Memphis was
pillaged of its masonry to build new cities and little remains.
Although the mud brick palaces of Thebes have disappeared the stone
built temples have survived.
The temple of
is close to the Nile and parallel with the riverbank. King Amenhotep
III who reigned 1390-53 BC built this beautiful temple and dedicated
it to Amon-Re, king of the gods, his consort Mut, and
their son Khons.
This temple has been in almost continuos use as a place of
worship right up to the present day. It was completed by
Tutankhamun and Horemheb and added to by Ramses II.
Towards the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the
During the Christian era the temple's hypostyle hall was converted
into a Christian church, and the remains of another Coptic church
can be seen to the west.
Then for thousands of years, the temple was buried beneath the
streets and houses of the town of Luxor. Eventually the mosque of
Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it.
This mosque was preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an
integral part of the site today.
Temple of Dendara
The Temple of Dendara was
known as the 'Castle of the Sistrum' or 'Pr Hathor' -
House of Hathor. Hathor was the goddess of love, joy
With the exception of its
supporting pillars, which had capitals sculpted in the image of
Hathor and were defaced by the Christians, the walls, rooms and
roof are complete and extraordinarily well preserved. The stone
steps of the spiral staircase are time worn but still used to ascend
to the roof, where there is a small chapel decorated with Hathor-headed
columns - the Christians seemed to have missed these.
What really grabbed my artistic attention among
all this magnificence was a small detail. The place sings with the
music of birds. Hundreds of them roost in small cracks and hollows
in the walls seeming to contemplate their carved likeness in the
There is one other thing that stirs the imagination, the building
bares the name of the famous Cleopatra and her son, whose father was
It is possible that these celebrated, personalities climbed the same
stairs and contemplated, on high, the same landscape which stretches
for miles below.
Temple of Isis at Philae
Philae in Greek or Pilak
in ancient Egyptian, meaning 'the end,' defined the southern most
limit of Egypt. It was begun by Ptolemy II and completed by the
The Temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis, the wife of Osiris and
mother of Horus. These three characters dominate ancient Egyptian
culture and their story possesses all the drama of a Shakespearian
tragedy. The god Osiris is murdered and dismembered by his brother
Seth. Isis searches for the fragments, collects them together and
with her magic powers brings Osiris back to life. They then conceive
the god Horus. Osiris becomes god of the under world and judge of
the dead - who must answer to him for their deeds on Earth.
Meanwhile Isis gives birth to Horus and protects the young god.
Later when Horus is grown he avenges his father by defeating Seth in
Isis is a very important figure in the ancient world. She is
associated with funeral rites but as the enchantress who resurrected
Osiris and gave birth to Horus she is also the giver of life, a
healer and protector of kings. She was known as 'Mother of God' and
was represented with a throne on her head. During the Roman period
her cult spread throughout Greece and the Roman Empire. There was
even a temple dedicated to her in London.
The temple at Philae was
nearly lost under water when the high Aswan dam was built in the
1960s. Fortunately the temple was rescued by a joint operation
between the Egyptian government and UNESCO. In an engineering feat
to rival the ancients the whole island was surrounded with a dam and
the inside pumped dry. Then every stone block of the temple complex
was labelled and removed later to be assembled, like a giant
jigsaw puzzle, on the higher ground of Agilka island. The
whole project took ten years and has saved one of Egypt's most
beautiful temples from certain destruction.