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Monday, March 8, 2010



We visited just one archeological site today, and that was enough to keep us thinking and reflecting for an entire day. Karnak is the largest religious complex from ancient times, period. It was dedicated to Egypt’s imperial god, Amun, his consort, Mut, and their son Khonsu, the moon god. Located in the capital of the Middle and New Kingdoms, Thebes, the complex had pride of place among all temples in Egypt. Due to this, it was used and expanded over an extraordinarily long period, stretching from about 1900 BC to just before the year 0. During that time, many incredible structures were appended onto what was once a small shrine.
The entrance to the building is flanked by a long succession of sphinxes with the heads of rams, the sacred animal of Amun. The hypostyle hall of Ramses II was a forest of columns, reminiscent of the Mesquita in Cordoba.
In the columns and walls are beautiful carvings, cut very deep so successors could not deface them. Our guide pointed out what he called “the most beautiful carving of a lotus ever,” and I am not sure I would disagree with that label.

The Festival Hall of Thutmose III translated the architecture of a simple tent shrine into elaborate stonework echoing tent poles and awnings. The same Thutmose walled up an obelisk erected by his stepmother, the pharaoh who preceeded him, Queen Hapshepsut. Inadvertently preserved, it can be seen towering over the crumbling wall. Although elsewhere he outright defaced the works of the woman who kept him off the throne for decades, the obelisk was dedicated to Amun and couldn’t be touched; he simply hid it instead.
There were also some traces of what would have once been brilliant coloring on the walls. In other temples we have visited, small fragments still possessing their original paint makes me wish I could have see these places in their full, colorful glory. Then again, we should feel fortunate for what we have; how often does any quantity of paint last 3000+ years? For that matter, how often does any structure last that long? The ancient Egyptians would be proud. Their main aim in architecture, as epitomized by the Pyramids, was permanence. By and large, they’ve succeeded in spectacular fashion…lucky us.

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