<img src="https://www.ilovemy.beer/hs-fs/hub/589323/file-3208708223.jpg">

Back to Blog

Karnac: I'm thinking of a number.... (9 of 12)

Today we are in Luxor, nearing the end of our Secrets of Egypt & the Nile tour with AmaWaterways.  Luxor is a good sized city and home to one of the largest Temples - Karnac.   This temple was built over thousands of years with over 30 pharaohs contributing to the final product.  It contains a sacred lake for priests as well.  This post is part of a series chronically our time AmaWaterways Secrets of Egypt and the Nile.  Here's the start of the series.


Karnac Great Hypostyle Hall.

Sometimes not so Secret Service

It's a short 10 minute transfer from the ship to the Temple. Still we have a full police escort of our bus. Throughout our trip there is always some form of security.  It might be armed security forces that meet us at our destination - always dressed in suits and always very discreet.  Or it may be police escort like today - complete with sirens blaring.  We're told the Egyptian government has been requiring tourist police presence for the last decade.  So important is the tourist business that the government doesn't ever want anything negative to  happen to foreign nationals.  We never felt any unsafe on any of our days in Egypt, even during free time.  In fact, all the locals we came across were friendly and helpful.  Even the shop keepers hawking their wares were relatively respectful - typically (though not always) all it took was a "no thank you" or shake of the head to send them off to their next victims screaming "one dolla, one dolla". (one dollar - US dollars are gladfully accepted).

Karnac Temple

Karnac Temple is a huge complex and overwhelming to fully comprehend in the few very hot hours we had there.  It stands at one end of the Avenue of Sphinxes.  The Temple was originally built to honor Amon, the god of air and sun.  Each pharaoh built their own tribute to various gods, sometimes trying to out do their predecessor.  The most impressive area is the Great Hypostyle Hall.  It consists of over 130 massive columns, most over 40 ft tall while those in the middle about 70 feet tall.     Each column was filled with hieroglyphics telling the stories of the gods and also detailing how each god was to be blessed.  It took literally thousands of priests working all day and night to bless all these columns and it's estimated over 80,000 servants and slaves were needed to maintain the entire Temple complex. Their quarters surround the Temple proper.

The temple contains many separate rooms and chambers and also includes a Sacred Lake where priests purified themselves periodically. A beautifully carved giant scarab beetle stands guard by the Lake, promising good luck to those that walk around it three times in each direction.  The beetle represents the god Khepri a sun god bringing a renewal of life with each sunrise. There's obelisks, ram headed sphinxes, and the usual massive statues of pharaohs.

  PXL_20220402_131217771       PXL_20220402_124944468

 Images of Obelisks and statues from Karnac

Papyrus Institute

After our visit to Karnac, we went to the Papyrus Institute to learn the art of making papyrus. The plant is found around the world, though the Egyptian version is unique in that the stems are three sided.  The process is straightforward. First, the outer layer of the stalk is trimmed off and the inner stalk is cut into thin strands. The strands are rolled then soaked in water for about a day.  The soaked strips are then laid side by side as well as perpendicular to each other and pounded (like pounding a chicken breast before cooking) and then placed under some weight. The pressure forces the strips together.  The nascent paper is then soaked another three days before burnishing with a smooth stone.  It's the sugars in the papyrus plant that binds the strands together.

PXL_20220402_153720366Egyptian Temple, Christian church and Moslem Mosque occupying the same area.

Luxor Temple

At the opposite end of the avenue of the Sphinxes from Karnac lay the Luxor Temple about 1.7 miles away.  .  Although the temple appears dedicated to  the triad gods of Amun, Khnosu and Mut it is thought instead to be dedicated to the Pharaoh himself.   As always huge statues of Rameses dominate the scene.  Here's a few of the more interesting aspects of this temple:

  • One obelisk guards the main entrance - it's partner can be seen at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. 
  • The density of columns is meant to represent the Pharaohs strength. Indeed it's a muscular feeling temple
  • The inner sanctuary of the Temple was later dedicated to Alexander the Great, who assumed the role (or at least the image) of the Pharaoh.  This was to help the Egyptians accept an outside ruler.  It worked!
  • The Temple was also used by early Christians and there's an intriguing painting still showing on the wall. It's an interesting juxtaposition with the Egyptian iconolatry
  • Standing on the ancient Egyptian columns is an active mosque originally built in 640.  On the site, there's also a Christian church. The Temple thus represents  over 3400 years of continuous religious worship of some kind or another.




  • It's very hot!  Even though it's early April, this was our fourth consecutive day that temperatures exceed 100 F.  It's also dry and dusty.
  • The thought of the two temples we saw today, connected by the Avenue of the Sphinxes  brings the scale of the Egyptian operation into perspective. The Egyptians loved massive scale and size to make a point.  Many cathedrals and churches use the same concept today, though at much smaller scale, as a representation of divine inspiration.
  • The idea that each pharaoh wanted to out do the other and even to deify themselves was brought to life in our visit to the two Luxor Temples.    The afterlife was important to Egyptians to be sure, but so was exemplifying power during their time on earth.

Next up:  Dendera Temple

Related Posts

Nubians and Crocodiles (8 of 12)

Susan Wolfson

What do Nubians and Crocodiles have to do with each other?  Today we find out!  We continue our...

Read more

One last Egyptian Temple (10 of 12)

Susan Wolfson

It's hard to believe but we have one last Egyptian Temple to see on AmaWaterways' Secrets of Egypt...

Read more