At about three kilometres from Temple of Luxor stands the vast monumental area of Karnak, which the Greeks called Hermonthis: the archaeological site includes three divided areas separated by a rough brick boundary.
The largest is the central area covering thirty hectares, which Diodorus of Sicily handed down to us as the most ancient one.
enclosing the dominion of Amon; to the south, still unexplored for about half its extension (almost nine hectares) and connected to the previous one by a drome of cryosphinxes, is the domin-ion of the goddess Mut, wife of Amon and symbolically portrayed in the form of a vulture; lastly, to the north, the dominion of Montu, God of War, stretches across about two and a half hectares.
In time, the dimensions of each complex changed and the Pharaohs who succeeded to the throne left their mark by extending the temple or adding halls and chapels. The structure of the three holy complexes remains the same: in the center of each enclosure stands the main temple dedicated to the god and along-side lies the sacred lake for ceremonies usually in a quadrangular shape. Of the three complexes, the one dedicated to Amon is astounding of it dimensions.
It is the largest temple with columns in the world and according to distinguished historians, it could contain Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in its entirety; Leonard Cottrell affirmed that it was such a vast monument that "it could cover almost half of the Manhattan area "! Not only, but on account of its architectural .
Complexity, it could serve as a base to study the styles-tic evolution from the XVIII Dynasty to the end of the Ramses.
A short avenue of cryosphinxes leads to the first and largest pylon 113 meters wide and 15 meters thick, constituting the monumental entrance to the temple; it is unadorned and dates back to the Ptolemy dynasty. The sphinxes with the heads of rams, sacred to Amon, represent the god that protected the Pharaoh portrayed by animals' paws.
The first courtyard that we encounter, known as the Ethiopian courtyard, dates back to the IX Dynasty and is closed on the north side by a portico of strong columns with closed papyrus capitals, at the feet of which stand the sphinxes commissioned by Ramses II to flank the entrance to the hypostyle hall. The couryard is dominated in the center by a tall column featuring an open papyrus column; it is the remains of the gigantic pavilion of the Ethiopian king Taharka, 21 meters high and with a wooden ceiling destined to protect the sacred boats. In front of the column to the right, one enters the Temple of Ramses III, with its courtyard surrounded on three sides by Osiris pillars, where the Pharaoh is portrayed in Jubilee dress.
Leaning against the second pylon, a huge, fallen statue in granite represents Ramses II and another 15-meter high statue portrays King Pinedjem. The 29.5 meter high portal leads to what is considered one of the greatest pieces of ancient Egyptian art: the hypostyle hall, one hundred and two meters by fifty-three meters, featuring – eternally challenging time – 134 columns 23 meters high. The open papyrus – shaped capitals head, at their tops, a circumpherence of about 15 meters, which could take 50 people standing. It is a real forest of columns, whose dimensions and plays on light and shade create incredible emotions. The central nave, commenced towards 1375 B.C under Amon-Ofis III who designed it as a simple colonnade towards the sanctuary of Amon, has a different height from the lateral columns which were started under Horemheb, continued by Seti I and Ramses II and finally completed under Ramses IV. This very difference in height allowed the introduction of the "claustra" large open-work windows in sandstone that provide an unreal sort of light. Beyond the hypostyle hall, there used to the obelisks of Thot-Mosis I, 23 meters high and 143tons in weight; unfortunately only one of them is still standing. It is surpassed in height by the obelisk of Hatshep-sut, which is 30 metres high and weighs 200 tons. In order to build it, the Queen spared no expense, seeing that according to news chronicles at the time, she poured in "as many bushels of gold as sacks of wheat".
Having passed the fifth and seventh pylons (respec-tively of Thot-Mosis I and Thot-Mosis III), one reaches that unusual environment which is the Akh-Menu of Thot-Mosis III, the Festival Hall also called the "temple of millions of years". It is a beautiful hypo-style hall with two rows of ten columns with their shafts painted dark red to imitate wood and a row of thirty-two square pillars decorated with scenes. A few traces of painting of the VI century that have been brought to light on certain pillars tell us that this hall was transformed into a church by Christians monks.
The sacred lake of the dominion of Amon was 120 meters by 77 meters and surrounded by buildings: storehouses, priests' homes and even an aviary for aquatic birds. In these waters, the priests used to purify themselves every morning before starting their daily holy rituals.
It is amazing that man could have built such a large, imposing building complex; on the other hand, we know that under the XIX Dynasty, 81.322 people worked on the temple of Amon considering priests, guards, workmen and peasants. Moreover the temple benefited from income and a large number of plots, markets and yards, enhanced by all the wealth and booty that the Pharaoh brought back from his military victories.