Off the Deep End, Part 14

12 Feb

By Eric Shipley

Before I get to the Karnak Temple, I want to comment on recent events in Egypt. I’m hardly an expert in Middle Eastern politics, but as I wrote in an earlier blog, the abject poverty we saw in Egypt was stunning, both in extent and severity. It was all the more shocking when compared to the obscene opulence and luxury of Hosni Mubarak’s sprawling compound. I remember thinking that it was a revolution waiting to happen. It appears to have stopped waiting. I’m not going to delve into political commentary, but I will say that for me, the seminal moment of this movement was when I saw news footage of protesters forming a human cordon to protect the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities from looters—a courageous and noble act by true patriots.

Now, on to the Karnak Temple. (And no, it has nothing to do with Johnny Carson’s prognosticator.) Karnak lies on the Nile River about 1.5 miles North of the Luxor Temple. The two complexes were once connected by the Avenue of the Sphinxes. Karnak, however, is much larger—in fact, it is the world’s largest ancient religious site covering 247 acres. It comprises a vast array of temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings and is second only to the pyramids for being the most visited site in Egypt. It also holds the record for being developed and used for the longest period of time, from the Middle Kingdom (approximately 2055 BC) to the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

Unlike our visit to the Luxor Temple, we decided to do a guided tour of Karnak. In fact, it was a sound and light show that was well worth the money. The site is much too large to navigate and take in without guidance. The show/tour began around twilight and started with the approach to complex, which is the Avenue of the Sphinxes. This leads to the actual entrance, a massive pylon much like Luxor (but without any obelisks). The scale of Karnak is also much like Luxor—massive walls and papyrus columns towered over us at every turn. Once night had fallen, the show used strategically placed spotlights combined with music and a booming narration that covered the history of Karnak. The surrounding darkness and echoes combined with the looming architecture and the interplay of light and shadow really was quite impressive, a delightful conclusion to the day.

Next: The end of the trip—the the Sphinx and the Pyramids!

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