Hidden Karnak – The temple of Khonsu

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.

If you exit the first court yard of the Amun temple you come to another part of my Hidden Karnak the Khonsu temple. Now there were three principle Egyptian Gods worshiped at Thebes. Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The Amun temple is the one the tour groups go to, Mut is currently closed but is expected to reopen soon and the Khonsu temple is open to the public but rarely visited.
It is actually quite a good temple as it shows a typical temple layout being built by only a couple of pharaohs. As you walk past go to the front of the temple for our virtual visit. First look out of the Ptolemaic gateway south to Luxor temple and you will see the Avenue of Sphinxes. This is still being excavated (Jan 2011) but us expected to open soon. It links Khonsu, Mut and Luxor temples in a scared highway that was used for processional purposes. It started at the Ptolemaic gateway in front the temple. Decorated in the typical style of that period with Egyptian Goddesses whose breasts defy gravity, scarcely an inch of space left undecorated and cartouches crammed with glyphs because the foreign names had to be translated letter by letter or left empty as the craftsman weren’t exactly sure who was on the throne this month. This gateway then leads to a very short avenue with sphinxes. Note the markings on the beasts, these rams were the type that had wool that went into dread locks and you can actually see the depiction of this. The first pylon is undecorated and fronts an open courtyard. If you are lucky you will see a field school going on. American Research Council in Egypt ARCE is training up eager young Egyptians in modern scientific techniques of conservation, recording and documentation. This courtyard has quite a bit of colour which is being revealed by this keen young Egyptian Egyptologists. A set of steps lead to the hypostyle hall, which is lit by celestory windows and contains examples of open papyrus capitals. The columns support a higher central roof with closed bud capitals which support the side roof. The celestory windows are built in to the side wall between the high central roof and the side roofs. The temple further ascends until the area of the barque shrine and ambulatory around it. As the temple floor ascends the roof level descends. Leading off, in the south east corner, is a stairway leading to the roof which has a chapel. There are side rooms and at the back in the smallest, darkest place, the sanctuary.
The interior decoration is of the king making offerings to a selection of gods and barques of the gods, not just to Khonsu. Only the ambulatory and inner chapels were decorated by kings of the New Kingdom, principally Ramses III and Ramses IV. The Theban triad dominate but the other moon god, Thoth is also present. Khonsu is shown both as a falcon headed god with a moon crescent and a young boy with a forelock of youth and moon insignia.

The guardians will sometimes let you on the roof to take some fantastic photos of the Amun temple and it is lovely to wander around in peace and quiet. Hardly anyone comes here, certainly not the large groups.

Jane Akshar