The Temple of Montu at Karnak in Egypt

The Temple of Montu at Karnak in Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

The cornice and lintel of the monumental gate's north facade leading into the enclosure of the Temple of Montu at Karnak

Toward the end of the Middle Kingdom, before the rise of Amun as a truly national god, Montu-Re, a falcon headed god, was the supreme deity of Upper Egypt, where his four bulls were worshiped in sanctuaries at Karnak (modern Luxor, ancient Thebes), Medamud, Tod and Armant.

Just outside of the enclosure wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak, to the north, are the remains of another quadrangular wall that enclosed the temple dedicated to the Montu triad at Karnak, which was oriented on a north-south axis. This is the smallest of Karnak's three walled compounds. Along with the temple of Montu, there are several other small chapels in this area dedicated to various deities.

For many years, there was a legend of a fabulous treasure belonging to the temple, transmitted across the ages. Legrain reported that:

"North of the temple of Montu stands the Gate of the Slave. Once I was told how in the evening a large Negro would stand there waiting for passersby to whom he would offer access to an underground domain full of fabulous treasure. The entrance was located in the west part of the gate's frame, exactly under the spot where the sculptor Castex carved his name in the year VII of the French Republic. Those invited would enter confidently and return laden with gold, but suddenly, the black slave would rise up in their path and demand, as in the tale of Ali Baba, that the secret word be spoken immediately. If this wasn't done, the wall would close back up and crush the treasure hunter, while the Negro would burst into laughter, revealing all his large white teeth."

This tale becomes all the more strange since there actually existed, during the time of Amenhotep III, a considerable quantity of gold dedicated to this temple. In the dedication, we are told:

The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebmaatre... has erected as foundation for his father from him... a restored temple, in beautiful white stone, rudjt, unshakably located in Waset with no prejudice to the previous construction... It was purified in its totality with djam gold. Its doors are in Djam maa gold, and adorned with all kinds of precious substances, by virtue of the contribution from the mountains of the South. All its paving is of sa-uy gold. The leaves of the doors are in pine and setet copper by virtue of the contribution from the mountains of the North. It resembles the eastern horizon of the sky. It is a masterpiece of silver and a golden vessel; it holds all precious stones. It is a place of peace for the Lord of the Powers, for it has been made in the image of his Sedia that is in the sky. Its perfect name established in the scriptures is "Nebmaatre, heir of Ra, Khammaat". Its total wealth in pounds is:

djam gold


2/3 dbn

(2,865.196 kg)

sa-uy gold


3/4 dbn

(2,291.630 kg)

black copper


2/3 dbn

(420.480 kg)

lapis lazuli



(582.946 kg)



2/3 dbn

(157.582 kg)



2/3 dbn

(97.886 kg)




(1,305.122 kg)

A pool is dug, favoring the development of a garden so that all manner of flowers resplendently render "

Plan of the Precinct of Montu just north of the TEmple of Amun

Leading up to the gate of the temple from a northern wharf is an avenue lined with sphinxes. Excavations have revealed, some 60 meters from the gate, the existence of what was once a small chapel that contained the remainders of two statues facing south. On the west was Seti II carved from sandstone and on the east, an alabaster statue of Horemheb. Buried 1.3 meters deep in front of them were some forty thousand fragments belonging to two statues of Amenhotep III.

Just outside of the enclosure wall are the remains of a small temple of Tuthmosis I, and an even smaller chapel dedicated to Osiris.

Like the Temple of Amun, the Temple of Montu was probably built on the site of a much older sanctuary. However, the enclosure wall appears to have been built by Ptolemy III, who mentions a large brick wall that measures 300 cubits in length by 300 cubits in width, and could probably only refer to Montu's enclosure wall. Certainly the great gate that fronts the temple contains the name of him and his son, Ptolemy IV. Their cartouches adorn its south facade. However, both the gate and the walls may have actually been built by Nectanebo I. Locally, it is known as Bab el-'Abd.

The North Doorway of the Temple of Montu at Karnak

This gate, one of the few remaining structures, is 18.75 meters high and 10.96 meters wide. Excavations have revealed that, within this gate, is the foundations of an earlier one, probably from the 18th Dynasty. The gate is very similar to the propylon at the temple of Khonsu, though here the gate is divided into only four registers, a number sacred to Montu. On the bottom register the king is wearing the white crown of the South on the east and the red crown of the North on the west. On the lintel is depicted the triad to whom this temple is dedicated, consisting of Montu, Rattawi and Harpra.

Like the southern face of the gate, the height of the jambs are divided into four scenes. On the bottom register, the king offers land to Amun-Ra. He then offers Ma'at, on a basket, to Khonsu along with a sistra to Mut. On the third register, Ptolemy III, followed by Berenice, offers water and salt to Montu, while at the top, the king transfixes a serpent and a turtle (two Sethian creatures) with his spear. Here, there are also two bays that equal the height of the two lower registers. One is in the form of an obelisk and the other that of a stela, crowned by a winged disk. According to Champollion's description, two colossi of yellowish, crystalline sandstone from the Ramesside Period, which are broken today, leaned up against these bays.

Foundation blocks at the Temple of Montu at Karnak

On the northern facade of the gate, depicted in the center of the lintel, are Amun and Mut, and Amun and Khonsu, who lean on portions of two columns of text. On the extreme eastern end, the king, wearing the white crown, offers vessels of wine to Montu.

Nothing much remains of this structure built by Amenhotep III except the foundations. However, we believe there were two periods in the construction of the temple during the reign of Amenhotep III. The plan of the temple is rectangular and symmetrical. In its first stage, it was a square structure raised on a platform fronted with a columned portico of twelve bundled columns and surrounded by an ambulatory. A pronaos preceded the sanctuary, itself flanked by two side rooms connected with smaller ones. A unique feature consisted of a door that slid horizontally between the chamber west of the noas and an adjacent room. A sandstone block kept in a recess could be slid out over a granite sill by means of a piston and chain.

Plan of the Temple Proper of Montu at Karnak

In the second phase of construction, a portico was added along the three sides of a court, preceding the original facade, and the sanctuary was transferred to a new room behind the original one, which was in turn flanked by two other rooms to either side. A stairway provided the approach from the front of the new structure, and a double ramp rising along the western side led to a lateral entrance to the portico.

Several other kings carried out modifications to the plan of the temple, including the Nubian ruler, Taharqa. The sanctuary of the temple was in the southern part of the enclosure. The main doorway was preceded by a Nubian colonnade of twenty columns erected by Tahraqa that enclosed Amenhotep III's two obelisks, and by a ramp that went down toward the northern monumental gate. Attached to the back of the sanctuary of Montu is a small temple of Ma'at that was oriented in the opposite direction but on the same axis. This temple consisted mainly of a court fronting a small pillared hall.

The gate leading from the Montu enclosure into the enclosure for the Temple of Amun

At some distance west of the temple facade was an artificial pool on a rectangular plan. It was bordered on its east and south sides by a stairway and on its west by a Nilometer.

There is also a temple of Harpra within the enclosure that was probably also added by Taharqa. Harpra was one of the Triad of Montu who was considered to be Montu's son. His sanctuary is preceded by a hypostyle hall, with Hathorian columns that date from Achoris (Hakoris). To the west of the main temple is the sacred pool, along with a structure known as the "high temple". To the north is the monumental gate. This group of structures forms a complex in and of itself, independent from the Temple of Amun.

This temple was connected to the Temple of Montu at Medamud by a canal. In fact, the axis of this temple faces that at Medamud.






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

Ramesses II

James, T. G. H



ISBN 1-58663-719-3

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


Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011