The Central Courtyard and the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III in the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Luxor, Egypt

The "Central Courtyard" and the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

by Jimmy Dunn

A view of the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Beyond the 6th Pylon and past the peristyle courtyard of Tuthmosis III, the Chapels of Hatshepsut and the Naos of Philip Arrhidaeus in the Temple of Amun at Karnak in ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), is the sanctuaries of the Middle Kingdom and beyond those, the sed festival buildings of Tuthmosis III. To the north of the Middle Kingdom sanctuaries, which are at the heart of the temple, are the continuation of Tuthmosis III's north chapels.

Unfortunately, the Middle Kingdom chapels, sometimes called the central court, is now an open area upon which the very earliest temple at this site probably once stood. This was where the primary image of the god Amun was kept. However these buildings were plundered during antiquity for their stone, and now the area contains little more than the large calcite or "alabaster" slab on which a shrine once stood. The North Chapels of Tuthmosis III, consisting of a series of long chambers, are more interesting, for here the king recorded the ritual of laying the foundation. On a stela he provides specific details on the monuments he constructed on the site of an older one, which he spoke of in his "Text of the Youth":

My majesty desired to make a monument to my father Amun Ra in Karnak [Ipet-sut], erecting a dwelling [sanctuary], beautifying the horizon, adorning for him Khaftet-hir-nebes, the favorite place of my father from the beginning...I made it for him upon this block of enduring stone, exalting and magnifying greatly [what was already at this site?] to the shrine [naos] of Nun [the primordial waters]..."

Ground Plan of this section of the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Ground Plan of this section of the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Tuthmosis III with a hoe and in the act of forming bricks fro the Temple Foundation

Within one of the chapels on its southern wall is recorded the temple foundation ceremony and the consecration of the temple with natron (salt). Here, the king buries a stake in the earth with a mallet. This scene depicts "stretching the cord between the two stakes", but unfortunately it is now missing. In the second scene, the king, wearing the atef crown, digs out a furrow using a hoe and then refills it with the contents of a bushel basket. The king also molds a brick and then offers a series of briquettes, which were often made of precious material, for the four corners of the temple. We are informed by a stela that: "My majesty ordered that the foundation ceremony should be prepared at the approach of the day of the Feast of the New Moon...In the year 24, second month of the second season, the last day (of the month), on the day of the tenth feast of Amun..."

There is a scene of the king consecrating the temple just to the east of the foundation ceremony.

Here, the king stands with a cane in his hand, encircling the temple with natron, which is stylized here in the form of a long ribbon. A small vessel contains the natron.

Depiction of the Festival of the White Hippopotamus

In the next chapel to the east, on the northern wall beginning to the west, we first find a scene depicting the Feast of the White Hippopotamus", which is very rare. Only one other example of this ceremony is known, from a fragment of a Saite period artifact now in the Brussels Museum. Here, the king wears the red crown and holds a baton and the white club in his hands. He wears a long ribbon hanging from his left shoulder.

In back of the king are the two half-heavens that accompany the scene of the "great stride". Before him are two small dancing figures surmounted by the name of a city, and above that is a hammered-out hippopotamus with a brief caption recording the "Feast of the White [Hippopotamus]. It should be noted that the red, male Sethien hippopotamus, who was an enemy of Horus, must be distinguished from the white, female hippopotamus that here is a symbol of Apet.

To the east of this scene is one depicting the erection of Min's Mast. In these scenes, the king wears the white crown and holds a long cane and the once again the white club in one hand, while in the other he carries the nehbit scepter, with which he makes a gesture of consecration.


In front of the king are two rows of men stretching ropes around a raised mast which is supported by four poles. Little figures, each with a feather on its head, climb the poles. All of these scenes are related to the temple foundation

Beyond the open court of the ruined Middle Kingdom sanctuaries lies the last section of the Temple of Amun on the main axis, the relatively complete Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III. Tuthmosis III is said to have built this structure on the site of the brick enclosure of an older sanctuary for Nun. It is one of the more interesting, as well as one of the more unusual features at Karnak. He built it as a sort of memorial to himself and his ancestral cult and named it the "Most Splendid of Monuments". The entrance was originally flanked by two statues of the king wearing a festival costume. It is at the building's southwest corner and leads into an antechamber with magazines and other rooms to the right and left of the temple's great columned hall. The roof of this hall is supported around its perimeter by thirty-two square pillars, while the central portion contains his famous tent pole style columns. There were originally twenty of these. They may recall ancient religious booths, but more likely symbolize the military tent that was so familiar to the great warrior pharaoh. Irregardless, these columns with cylindrical shafts, painted bright red that thicken slightly going from bottom to top and then abruptly flare out above five bands painted yellow and blue, to support a king of capital in the form of a flower adorned with large triangular leaflets, but reversed, are unique. During the Christian era, the hall was reused as a church and here and there, atop several of the columns, can be seen haloed icons.

There are several ruined statues to the north of the hall, in an area which was used as a church in the Coptic era.

The king makes the

On the northeast end of the festival hall is a stairway that leads to a room sometimes referred to as the "Chamber of the Clepsydras". Clepsydras were water clocks and they no longer exist, but there remains a libation table with a drain.

At the back of the hall is a room that gives access to three tiered chapels where the ceremonies of the sed festival are represented. It contains eight, sixteen-sided polygonal columns.

Another interesting chamber in the rear of the festival hall is the sanctuary of Alexander. Here, Tuthmosis III's work was entirely worked over with thicker reliefs of Alexander the Great, who inscribed his cartouches on its walls. On the lintel we find the king wearing the white crown and another depiction of Hathor embracing him. On the back wall of this sanctuary are very curious reused blocks set in such as way that they completely lack continuity.

Other chambers in the building include a "chamber of Ancestors" and suites of rooms dedicated to the god Sokar, the sun god in his morning manifestation (to the north) and to Amun.

Depictions of kings in the

The "chamber of Ancestors", sometimes referred to as the "chamber of the kings", is located at the southwest corner of the main hall. Here, a royal list of 62 kings of Upper and Lower Egypt once existed, but was taken to Paris in 1843 where it now resides in the Louvre Museum.

In the Chapel of Amun is a massive quartzite pedestal which once supported the shrine of the god, and the vestibule of this temple is the famous "Botanical Room", with its representations of exotic flora and fauna encountered during Tuthmosis III's foreign military campaigns. This room is located to the rear of the festival hall off center to the north. It contains four fasciculate columns. The room measures about six meters in width and almost fifteen meters in length. Its columns are about 7.5 meters tall. On the south wall of the room we find birds going toward the west. Two of the birds include the lapwing (Vanellus cristatus) and the red casarca (Asarka rutila). Another bird is almost certainly an ibis, while two others are not identified. Pomegranates surmount the depictions of the birds.

Botanical Chamber, West Wall

On the northern corner of the east wall is an inscription that states:

"Year 25, under the majesty of the king of Upper and Lowwer Egypt, Menkheperre, forever living, plants that His Majesty has found in the land of Retenu (Syria).

Here, various plants are depicted in various stages. They include Dracunculus vulg (Arum dracunculus), a type of calenchoe, probably Calenchoe deficiens Forsk or Calenchoe aegyptiaca, probably a chrysanthemum, an Arum italicum, a Dipsacus, a flower from an iris, fruites of the Punica granatum (pomegranates), Vitis vinifera (grapevines), a female gazelle, a goose, a migrating grasshopper and a raven or crow among others.

On the west wall, various birds have been identified as probably the jackdaw (Monedula turrium), the ash-colored crane (Grus cinera), an anhinga (Plotus levaillantii), a Rock dove (colomba livia), a turtledove (turtur), a Frigate eagle or "sea-eagle" (Tachypetes aquilus), a Greek partridge (Perdrix graeca), a spiny hoplopterous or "lapwing" (Hoplopterus), a gull, and Egyptian cuckoo (Centropus aegyptus), a wild good, an ordinary plover and a white egret (Herodias alba).

Botanical Chamber, East Wall

Various calves and a few plants are depicted on the south wall, while on the western section of the north wall, we find Blue lotus (Nymphea caerulea), sycamore seedpods, pomegranates and perhaps a desert raven. On the right are the last lines of the text concerning the plants brought back from the "Divine Land", which reads:

"All plants that grow, all flowers that are in God's Land (which were found by) his majesty when his majesty proceeded to Upper Retenu, to subdue (all) the countrie(s), according to the command of his father, Amun, who put them beneath his sandals from (the year 1) to myriads of years.

His majesty said; 'I swear, as Ra (loves me) as my father, Amun, favors me, all these things happened in truth - I have not written fiction as that which really ahppened to my majesty. [The spirits of my majesty have caused their birth and growth to glorify his foods].

My majesty hath done this from desire to put them before my father Amun, in this great temple of Amun [Akhmenu], (as) a memorial forever and ever'."

The back walls of this part of the complex are ruined, and it is possible to exit the main temple here and examine the niche shrines that were built against the temple's rear walls. This is where the common Egyptians brought their petitions. This was known as a temple of the hearing ear.

See Also:






Reference Number

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C.

Badawy, Alexander


University of California Press

LCCC A5-4746

Luxor, Karnak and the Theban Temples

Siliotti, Alberto


American University In Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 641 1

Temples of Karnak, The

de Lubicz, R. A. Schwaller


Inner Tradition

ISBN 0-89281-712-7

Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor

Strudwick, Nigel & Helen


Cornell University Press

ISBN 0 8014 8616 5

There are several ruined statues to