In the ancient city of Thebes, the sprawling Temple of Karnak covers more than 200 acres. Often referred to as a temple, don't misunderstand this term to mean anything in the singular. The Temple of Karnak is actually a complex of temples as well as other monumental and religious buildings situated near the Nile River close to the modern city of Luxor, which was built on the site of the ancient Thebes.
The Karnak Temple is unique not only among Egyptian temples, but also among religious sites throughout the world as it is the largest ancient religious site in the world, also often considered the largest open-air museum in the world. Unlike many Egyptian temples, Karnak was not constructed by a single pharaoh or even during a single time period. Construction began in the sixteenth century BC and continued for over 1,300 years. Approximately thirty different pharaohs contributed to the complex, adding temples, pylons, chapels, or obelisks all devoted to the gods of Thebes. Among the contributing pharaohs were Thutmosis I, Seti I and Ramses II, whose tombs are located in the Valley of the Kings and all of whom now rest at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Today, the site of the Temple of Karnak has several
precincts or parts, including the precinct of Amun-Re,
the only section open to the public. Even though the site
lies in ruins, it is second only to the Giza
pyramids as most visited of Egypt tourist attractions. Much of the site is open air, including
an outdoor museum, exposing visitors to the elements so
be prepared for lots of sun, wear sunscreen, and bring
water or money to buy water.
Like the Sphinx and pyramids, the Temple of Karnak features a light and sound show every evening, which reviews the history of Thebes, the religious center of Egypt during a large portion of Egyptian history, as well as facts about the Egyptian temples at Karnak and the pharaohs who built them. The show runs in several languages; check a schedule for times and what language the show will be in.
As with many Egypt tourist attractions, there are many ways to get to the Temple of Karnak. If you are staying in Luxor, taxis are always an option, but in this case you can also walk from Luxor - Karnak is just over a mile away - or take a horse-drawn carriage. Many Nile River cruises visit this spectacular site, too, arriving from Cairo or other locations along the Nile.
When considering where to visit on your trip to Egypt, of course don't miss the pyramids of Giza, but also don't miss the Temple of Karnak. A walkway lined with ram-headed sphinxes will take you back to the regal glory of ancient Egypt, while the towering columns of the Hypostyle Hall will take your breath away. Even if you are not a history buff or have not heard of this site, its sheer size makes it one of the best Egypt tourist attractions.