Page images
[graphic][merged small]

puissant of Pharaohs during the empire's proudest period.

We rode up to its western gate through the broad avenue of ram-sphinxes — an avenue gleaming white under the pitiless glare of the sun. Before us loomed the huge frontal pylon, two massive sloping towers inclosing a lower gateway, bare and tawny and as grim as a fortress. It was the first of five great pylons like unto it, ranged at wide successive intervals within, itself the youngest of the five and Ptolemaic in date. The others beyond increase in antiquity as you penetrate to the temple's inner shrine.

I find it difficult to convey any adequate idea of the tremendous size of the temple alone, not to mention the vast district of which it was the soul and centre. Raschid told us something about "ten thousand acres of ground” being devoted to the worship of Ammon,- an amazing statement, which, if even approximately true, must refer to the entire circuit of many-gated Thebes. The great temple of Ammon, even as it now stands in semi-ruin, is somewhat over twelve hundred feet long and about three hundred feet wide, - a grand and composite structure representing in sum the successive additions of a long series of Pharaohs.

The best way to understand the temple is unquestionably to make a first uncritical inspection of it as we have done to-day, and then return without the dragoman, after having pored over the ground plan of it which every guidebook gives. The first visit is mainly important as enabling one to visualize as one studies the map. In the light of the latter I begin to have a clearer conception of it than I had before.

Seemingly complex at first view, the great temple at Karnak is made much more simple by recognizing that it is virtually a temple of two parts, the first, or innermost one, dating back to the Eighteenth Dynasty, and the second, or outermost one, to the Ramessids. Each grand division is not far from six hundred feet in length. The first mentioned is the temple proper. The second is in the nature of a gigantic forecourt- or rather a succession of courts — including the world-famous hypostyle hall.

One should remember that the use of this site for the purposes of Ammon-worship goes very far back into history, however, — much further than the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty monarchs, to whose hands we owe the older visible portions of the surviving building. The first mention of a temple on the spot appears to be in the time of the Amenemhets and Sesostrises who made up the Twelfth Dynasty, and who ruled, roughly, about 1900 B.C. They built a temple, a few fragments of which still remain to us from the remote age of the Middle Kingdom.

Four hundred years later, when the Eighteenth Dynasty arose in Thebes, the first Thutmosis appears to have felt that the old shrine needed embellishment. Wherefore he erected in front of it, toward the west, two huge pylons with the customary intervening court, to serve as a new vestibule for the ancient fane. And in so doing he inaugurated a scheme of building which endured for many centuries. His children added to his achievement by building a huge inclosing structure all about the original nucleus, and the resulting temple became a monument partly to Queen Hatasu and partly to her great husband - brother, Thutmosis III. The old temple of the Middle Kingdom times was thus swallowed up in a huge inclosing mass, much as the church in the valley below Assisi has surrounded the Portiuncula. In the time of the great Thutmosis, 1501-1447 B.C., this was the entire extent of the temple — almost exactly half what we see now.

When Amenhôtep III came to the throne and began that notable reign which placed him also among the great monarchs of Egyptian history, he added still another pylon, standing a short distance west of the existing temple, and presumably designed to be its most imposing portal. What it actually became, however, was the rear wall of the forward half of the temple which the Ramessid Dynasty was to build in

« PreviousContinue »