Hidden Karnak – Excavations in front of the temple

Karnak is part of the world largest open air museum, Luxor or Ancient Thebes, home of many Egyptian Gods and Goddesses and built by various Egyptian Pharaohs like Ramses II and Tutankhamen and in my opinion better than the Egyptian pyramids. For many visitors, it’s one of the essential things to do in Luxor.

The Ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt is the largest religious site in the world and yet most tour groups go round in about an hour. A standard family holiday package or Nile cruise often includes a visit. They go down the central axis to the holy of holy’s and then to the cafe at the sacred lake but there is so much more to this site than that brief glimpse can give you. Let me show you round Hidden Karnak.

That is inside but on the outside there is a huge excavation going on which most people just don’t notice. You actually walk over it as you exit the temple. There is a small wooden bridge that is part of the exit and most people just walk over it. But it is actually over a huge embankment, this is changing our view of the temple. In later times the Nile has moved leaving this embankment and the area in front of Karnak free for building. It seems to have been considered special in some way and baths for cleansing/healing or similar were built. Discoveries are still being made, (2011).

The first discovery was some Ptolemaic baths. With 16 seats there are two circles where the user would have sat in the cubicle with his feet on a granite stopper. Behind him was a shelf with his towel. In the centre is a lovely mosaic of fish and at the edge of the seats there are dolphins. The mosaics are actually outlined in lead. This is just in front of the first pylon to the left as you face it.

The latest thinking that the small lake shown in the tomb of Neferhotep, TT49 was actually under the hyperstyle hall and that this embankment shows how far the Nile has shifted. So the pylon shown in that tomb is actually the third pylon.

Further north there is another set of baths, this time Roman, at a much higher level and, built centuries later. There have been several finds in this area, including a hoard of rare coins. Also the Useramun stele,. He is the uncle of Rekhmire and what on earth his stele is doing on the East bank is anyone’s guess. This has been published on the website of Dr Zahi Hawass.

The embankment is being traced along its route towards Luxor temple, there is still lots of excavation to be done and it is unknown how far this extends. It could be it goes all the way and could be used as part of the Opet festival celebrations. For many visitors, it’s one of the essential things to do in Luxor.

Jane Akshar is an Egyptologist and lives in Luxor, Egypt. If you want to see any of the sites mentioned in article and enhance your holiday in Egypt, please contact us.