Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Temple Complex at Karnak

By Shane Healey

The 200 acre Temples of Karnak, Egypt is the largest group of temples and the largest ancient religious site in the world. This complex includes the Giant Temple of Amen Ra and the Temple of the God Osiris. The Temple of Karnak is located 500 miles from Cairo, Egypt. This complex takes its name from the village el-Karnak, 2.5 meters north of Luxor. These temples, which have witnessed 1,500 years of construction, have been designed, re-designed, laid out and/or constructed by more than thirty different pharaohs in an East/ West axis. Only behind the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Temples at Karnak are the second most visited place in all of Egypt. The Temples at Karnak is divided into four main sections: the Great Temple of Amen Ra, the Temple of Montu, the Temple of the goddess Mut, and the Temple to Aten.

Buildings in Karnak are designed and constructed using a grid system based on the measurement of a cubit. One cubit is equal to 20.7 inches. This made the construction of any item within Karnak very easy when the width, length, and height ended on a grid line. Today, traces of the lines can still be founds on some of the temple sites. Another way buildings were designed was using proportions. In addition, Karnak’s pylons were designed with the proportions of 1:4, 1:5, and 1:6. The brick shrines used the proportions of 1:3 and 1:5. The three main stones used in the temples were sandstone, limestone, and red granite. Some stones, such as black granite and travertine, were used in smaller quantities for details around the temples. Two types of quarrying techniques were used to get soft and hard stone for the temples. Soft stone (limestone and sandstone) were extracted from open quarries located in natural cliff sides. On the other hand, larder stone (granite and quartzite) were much harder to quarry. In the 1,500 years of construction at Karnak, many materials and building styles have changed over time. In the 18th dynasty, limestone was the material of choice; however, in the time of Thutmose III, sandstone was becoming the most popular. In the 18th and 19th dynasty, the building used mainly rectangular stones that had different shapes and sizes. This created layers of varying heights. In the 25th dynasty, standard sizes of stones were becoming the norm through Egypt, thus creating a new style of architecture. In the 30th dynasty, Roman builders introduced a new way of building that incorporated a layer of plaster in between the stones to secure the stones together; giving them added strength and durability. The majority of the floors within Karnak are paved stone floors. However, the temples of the gods were made of red or black granite that was finished with decorations and hieroglyphic symbols. One major challenge that had to be overcome was bringing the massive obelisks to the temples without modern techniques or machines. These obelisks range in sizes from 143 tons to 455 tones. Once these massive stones were extracted from the quarry, they were dragged to the river on 30 meter wooden sledges. To reduce the friction between the ground and the wooden sledges, the path was lined with mud and lime. To drag these massive stones to the river, hundreds of animals and people were used. The exact way they would have been raised is not know; however, there are a number of ways that have been discovered.

They most popular “theory suggests that the obelisk was dragged up a high ramp [that was] constructed next to and over the desired location of the obelisk. A large funnel-shaped hole was left in the ramp directly above the pedestal, and the obelisk’s base was lowered into position as sand was removed from this funnel. The obelisk’s edge was carefully maneuvered to align with a groove carved into the pedestal as it was eased down. Ropes could have been used to then pull the monument vertical, while the pedestal’s groves stabilize the stone as it was slowly raised” (Arnold).

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