|Ramses II guards Karnak's court|
Sunday 30 December: Walking a couple of miles along the Corniche to Karnak is a delight in itself, but soon the massive bulk of Karnak's twin pylons, twice the size of those at Luxor temple, come into view. From the riverside a short avenue of ram-headed sphinxes line the route to the temple gateway between the two mighty pylons. Everything here is on a grand scale, it's a great place to wander. Guarded by a pair of Ramses the Great's statues the expanse of the Great Court leads to the Great Hypostyle Hall enclosure where a huge regiment of 134 sturdy papyrus-shaped columns tower above. Once brightly painted and supporting a vented roof it must have been a dizzying spectacle to ancient visitors. Looking up, it's pretty spectacular today. Emerging into the sunlight, two tall obelisks and a single standing column tower above, reaching for the heavens. They were erected by the female pharaoh Hatshetsup, here in the oldest surviving part of the temple, around 3,450 years ago. At 96 feet, the larger of the two obelisks is the tallest in all Egypt and would have been brightly painted and capped with a sun-catching veneer of electrum, a glistening alloy of gold and silver.
A mud brick wall surrounds the whole temple complex and I walk to the southwest corner to climb it and take some photos. There are great views back over the sacred lake, where Pied Kingfishers hover and dive for fish, to the multiple columns beyond. Returning to the entrance I take a wide loop to the western gateway. It's missed by most visitors but I'm so impressed that I skirt the outside perimeter of the temple to view it from the southern, recently excavated, sphinx lined approach. Following the remains of the sacred sphinx-flanked avenue leads me right back into Luxor town.
Slideshow of Karnak Temple.