View of Central Colonnade, Karnak 1864

Karnak consists of three precincts dedicated respectively to Amun, Mut and Montu (an ancient god of war, who later became regarded as an aspect of Amun). The precincts were walled to exclude the sacrilegious from the sanctuaries of the divinities. Within these walls are the remains of temples, obelisks, colossi, shrines, lakes, shops and priests’ dwellings. The Temple of Amun was built on a mound that symbolized the first land to emerge from the primordial swamp. The Amun complex incorporated a Sacred lake, which was supposed to represent the swamp in which the sun-god Re first manifested himself. It is unclear when Karnak was first occupied. The part of the temple known as the ‘Middle Kingdom Court’ is now an empty space, but it once contained the sacred shrine to which Amun was thought to retire each night with royal ceremony. Its limestone walls were lined with gold, the value of which led to their destruction. The Temple of Amun grew in two perpendicular directions, its east–west and north–south axes meeting at the front of the Ipet-sut. Between the Nile and the west side of the temple are a platform and the quay of a basin, where processional barges moored. An avenue of sphinxes leads from the quay to Pylon I, which is the highest and most recent gateway at Karnak. This is the entrance to the ‘Great Court’, at the centre of which are the pillars of a 25th Dynasty kiosk built by Taharqa. At the rear of the ‘Great Court’, Pylon II leads to the ‘Great Hypostyle Hall’, which extends as far as Pylon III. The sacred shrine of the Middle Kingdom was originally situated in the ‘Middle Kingdom Court’ behind an earlier version of the bark shrine. The extensions along the north–south axis comprise a succession of four pylons (VII-X) and triumphal gates, which separate four courts, including the ‘Cachette Court’. The jubilee temple of Amenophis II straddled the east wall of the fourth court (between pylons IX and X). After these is a sacred avenue bordered by sphinxes that connects the precinct of Mut, within which is the Temple of Mut, dominating a crescent-shaped sacred lake, and works by Tuthmosis II and III and Horemheb. The avenue then leads to Luxor, 3 km further south. To the north of the Temple of Amun is the precinct of Montu, an area in which there are also small temples dedicated to Osiris and Ptah. To the east of the Temple of Amun, Amenophis IV built an enormous temple to Aten, the god of the sun-disc, which was destroyed in the early New Kingdom. A sanctuary of the hippopotamus-goddess , Opet, the place where Osiris was born, was built by Ptolemy II near the Temple of Khons in the south-west corner of the precinct of Amun.

Object Details

View of Central Colonnade, Karnak 1864

Antonio Beato



Albumen print

26.5 x 38.5 cm

The New York Public Library