Egypt Tour 3: Karnak, Luxor, and Thebes
Thebes began as a city of relatively little importance. When the Old Kingdom gradually fell apart, the city grew as did the aspirations of the rulers. Eventually, the Theban princes conquered all of Egypt. In typical Egyptian fashion, Thebes consisted of two cities. On the east bank, they built a city of the living. On the west, they built their City of the Dead, the burial place for pharoahs. Meanwhile, a place of some ceremonial significance, Karnak, emerged as the foremost religious site in Egypt. It started out this way. The Egyptians worshipped a trilogy of gods, a father, a mother, and a son. Karnak formed the central shrine for Amun, the father. Each year, about the time of spring, a largest festival would take place in which workers sailed and manhandled a figure of the god to Luxor, a shrine for his godwife. Their "divine meeting" (having godly sex) signaled the beginning of spring and the fathering of the pharoah himself.
The Middle Kingdom emerged when the local princes of Thebes suceeded in reuniting the country. Pretensions aside, their rule only lasted through two dynasties, or a little over 200 years. The foreign invaders, the Hyksos, overwhelmed the country and ruled as pharoahs. The New Kingdom spawned a thousand novels. The long-lived 18th dynasty spawned a veritable cast of characters. These included Hatshepsut, who ruled as "regent" for her stepson but actually ruled as pharoah, Amenhotep, the religious heretic, and Tutankhamun, "King Tut," who died as a teenager through assassination. Perhaps because they lived so long, the 19th dynasty became genetically defective and had elongated heads. Their sucessors, the 19th dynasy, included the Ramses line and built a world empire, fought with the Hittites, and "Let Moses's people go." Under Ramses II, the pharoahs built another capital closer to the center of their truly Middle Eastern empire in the Delta. Thebes declined, yet still Herodotus called it "The City of 1000 Gates," and Karnak remained a major temple almost until the Christian era.
The key to understanding the construction of Karnak lies in forgetting all logic. Each pharoah added a new addition to the temple, each designed to distact visitors from previous contributions. At least once, a pharoah totally changed the orientation of the entire complex. As a result, the complex emerges as an architectural accumulation, not a single, planned work, rather like some cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Still, Karnak doe hold three basic temples, that of Amun, the father, Monthu, the mother, and Khonsu, the child. Since the father has the prominence, almost all of the additional building adds to that cental temple.
Related Eyptian Tours: Back to Tour 2: Southern (Upper) Egypt