The Karnak Temple is the largest spiritual complex ever constructed in ancient Egypt, built adjacent its early capital of Thebes. Although its architecture and design is comparable to many other monuments throughout Egypt, the scale of its component parts is monumental, greatly overshadowing anything else ever built throughout the long history of Pharoanic Egypt. More than 30 pharaohs over a period as long as a thousand years contributed to the construction. The vast conglomeration of temples, chapels, pylons and other buildings is found near the village of Karnak (from which it gets its name) just outside Luxor.
The complex is a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. With such a mammoth structure, it’s hard to speak of any central deity to which the temples were dedicated, but the largest single area open to the public is dedicated to Amun-Re, the Sun God. This area is composed of 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. More than a hundred of these columns are 10 meters tall, and 12 are 21 meters tall, all with a diameter of more than three meters. The architraves on top of these columns weigh an estimated 70 tons each. It remains exciting speculation as to how these were lifted so high. Also found in the complex are several colossal statues including the figure of Panejem which is 10.5 meters tall. One of the largest obelisks found in Egypt is central to the complex: it weighs 328 tonnes and is 29 meters high. It’s been determined that most of the building materials for these structures and the rest of the complex was transported 100 miles from a quarry further south on the Nile.
The history of the Karnak complex is largely the history of Thebes. The city does not appear to have been of any significance before the Eleventh Dynasty, but it was not until the Eighteenth dynasty that construction began in earnest and continued for nearly 1000 years. When Constantine the Great defeated Egypt in 323 AD, Karnak had already been abandoned and much of it was covered by sand, although Coptic inscriptions can be found on certain monoliths.
Rediscovery of the important site was first described by an unknown Venetian in 1589, but it was not until several centuries later that explorers — mostly from France — detailed the complex and cited its importance.