National Geographic : 1941 Oct
The Largest Temple Ever Erected by Man-2,000 Years Building FEW of the great Egyptian temples of dynastic times were planned and executed as single units, most of them hav ing been built, rebuilt, and added to at irregular intervals over long periods of years. Yet, nearly all of them conform to the same basic plan, which is that of the more elaborate Egyptian dwelling house or palace. The central, or inner, portion of the temple-always the first part built-contains the sanctuary and the adjoining private chambers, in other words, the living quarters of the god. In front of this is the columned audience chamber, or hypostyle hall, corresponding to the semi-public reception room in the ordinary Egyptian house. This, in turn, opens on to a walled and usually colon naded forecourt, approached from the front of the temple through a monumental gateway, flanked by two great rectan gular towers, supporting tall flag-staffs. The whole of the last named element, the pylon, is repeated again and again before the earlier parts of the temple, each of these parts having at one time been the front of the building. Far and away the largest building of this type-indeed, the largest columnar structure ever erected by man-is the temple of Amin at El Karnak, situated in the midst of a 200 acre sacred precinct, a mile and a half north of the modern town of Luxor. Founded at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, this gigantic shrine was 2,000 years building, its latest architectural addition having been made under the Ptolemies, shortly before the dawn of the Christian Era. More than four hundred yards in length, the temple, with the exception of the now ruined Middle Kingdom struc- tures, was built almost entirely ofsandstone, surfaced with white stucco and covered with miles ofpainted reliefs. The forecourt, fronted by thecolossal first pylon, covers 93,000 square feet. Bothcourt and pylon were built under the Libyan pharaohsofthe XXIInd Dynasty. Behind the court and screened bythesecond pylon is one of the wonders of the ancient world, thegreat hypostyle hall, erected, together withthe pylon, bythefirst three kings of the XIXth Dynasty: Ramesses I,Setby I,and Ramesses II. The roof of this hall, into which theentire cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris couldbefitted, with room tospare, is supported by 134 tremendous columns. Those ofthecentral aisle tower 69 feet to the 7-ton stone roof beams. Sixacres of painted relief sculpture decorate theinterior (page 479). Back of the hypostyle hall and surrounding theremains of the original limestone temple oftheMiddle Kingdom is a series of obelisks, pylons, courts, halls, and inner cham bers, built by the great kings oftheXVIIIth Dynasty, from Th1ut-mose I to Amen-hotpe III, inclusive. Oftheextant obelisks-granite monoliths,ranging inheight from seventy one to ninety-seven feet-one ofThut-mose Iand oneof his daughter, Hat-shepsfit,are still standing. The "Most Select of Places," asthetemple was called, is now a huge, dingy brown ruin; butinitsheyday itsparkled with color and reflected light, itsbrightly painted cornices standing out vividly aboveitspure white walls, itsgigantic bronze doors, its tall pennant-tipped flag-staves, encased in electrum, and the electrum caps ofitstowering obelisks gleaming in the fierce Egyptian sun.