How glorious was ancient Thebes when the great kings of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties ruled in Upper Egypt, when the greatest temples the world has ever seen the temples of Karnak and of Luxorhad been erected upon the eastern bank of the Nile, and when processions of priests wended their way through the city and between rows of silent sphinxes to the temple gates !
The gigantic temple of Karnak has been called the wonder of the ages. Its fame became known to the ancient Persians and to the Greeks. More than thirty centuries divide the past of Karnak from the life of today; yet still delicate are the carvings, brilliant is the coloring of ornament, wonderful are the cuttings of the hieroglyphic language, which tell us how man has lived and worshiped and how the web of life has been woven during this long period of time.
About a mile and a half from Luxor are the ruins of Karnak. Not one temple, but many temples; not one pylon, or gateway, but many pylons, mark the site of monuments the very ruins of which are the grandest in the world. One travels across the fields along an embankment of earth until he reaches the ancient processional roadway, which is still beautiful with its arching palm trees and its fragments of sculptured sphinxes.
The temple of Chunsu is the one usually spoken of as ” the temple of Karnak,” though it is only one of many. This temple was erected by Rameses III in honor of Chunsu, the son of Ammon, the Theban god. In an inscription found on a papyrus roll Rameses is represented as saying, ” I built a house in Thebes for thy son Chunsu, of good hewn stone, its doors covered with gold adorned with electrum like the celestial horizon.”
The largest of the Karnak temples is the temple of Ammon. The immense portal three hundred and seventy-two feet wide, one hundred and forty-two feet high, and six-teen feet thick faces the Nile. The remains of an avenue of sphinxes stretch from the temple to the river. In imagination we go back to the time of ancient pageantries, when the king and priests and devout men paid tribute to their gods. We picture the gayety of the scene, the state barges, with decorations in gold and brilliant color, sailing slowly up the Nile, greeted by choirs upon the river bank singing praise songs to the great Ammon. We can see the boats draw up one by one at the landing place, from them passing priests and dignitaries, whose jeweled gowns sparkle in the bright sun. Finally the procession, led by the king and the high priest, is formed. Slowly it wends its way toward the temple, spreading itself like a gay oriental carpet at the feet of the couchant sphinxes, while above the pylon float the colors of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The first great court of the temple measured three hundred and thirty-eight feet in width by two hundred and seventy-five feet in depth. The great pylon formed its portal, while at the other end of the court a second pylon framed the entrance to that wonderful Hall of Columns, the marvel of the ages. The broad central passageway is formed by a double row of columns measuring seventy feet in height. The shafts of the columns are nearly twelve feet in diameter and thirty-six feet in circumference. The capitals are eleven feet in height, and their enormous corolla-shaped tops spread out as if to support the very dome of heaven.
Who can describe this forest of columnstheir prodigious size and the power displayed in their construction? Their shafts still chronicle deeds of men of princely power. Why built they on a scale so vast? Was it to fulfill their conceptions of a spiritual life?
The mystery of worship that caused the erection of these temples still pervades the pillared halls. The great stones seem cemented with the lifeblood of a bonded people, who, though unknown to the world today, have left the imprints of human life upon these colossal, time-defying monuments.