The Temple at Karnak

Imagine yourself awakening in ancient Egypt. You walk to the temple complex at Karnak along a processional way lined with ram-headed sphinxes. Soon you enter a hall that is a forest of stone, with 134 columns -- each one so huge that it takes six people with their arms stretched wide to encircle it. The immensity of this hypostyle hall is such that it eclipses Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral.

Taking its scale from the gods themselves, the Karnak temple complex was devoted to the Theban Triad: Amun, Mut, and their son Khonsu. Founded during Egypt's Middle Kingdom, roughly 2000-1800 B.C., the 53-acre temple compound was developed by successive Egyptian kings over a period of 1,700 years.

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One of Egypt's greatest sights, the Temple at Karnak is unsurpassed among ancient religious monuments.
One of Egypt's greatest sights, the Temple
at Karnak is unsurpassed among ancient
religious monuments.
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In the Temple of Amun rises Egypt's tallest obelisk, which memorializes Hatshepsut, the daughter of Thutmose I. Fashioned of rose granite, the obelisk stands more than 90 feet tall and weighs 340 tons.

Hatshepsut -- history's only female pharaoh -- had the obelisk inscribed with a greeting to the ages that begins: "O ye people who see this monument in years to come and speak of that which I have made..."

The stone pillar today is well preserved and graffiti free because of Hatshepsut's vengeful nephew, Thutmose III. In trying to wipe out every trace of his aunt at Karnak, he had a wall built in front of the obelisk to hide it. Instead, the wall ended up protecting the obelisk down through the centuries.

In another precinct loom two colossal figures of Amun and Amunet. Not coincidentally, the faces bear a resemblance to the king who had them erected, Tutankhamen, who ascended the throne in 1361 B.C. The Karnak complex also includes a sanctuary decorated by Alexander the Great, not to mention a courtyard where archaeologists unearthed an astounding cache of 17,000 bronze statues from the Temple of Amun.

Karnak even has a Sacred Lake, its waters once used by the temple priests for ritual cleansing. On one shore stands a large granite scarab -- a symbol of Amun, the sun god, at his rebirth each morning after his journey through night. At Karnak, the gods of ancient Egypt still live.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico

To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:


Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.