The Temple of Amun at Karnak: The Obelisk Court of Amenhotep III

The Obelisk Court of Amenhotep III

In The Temple of Amun at Karnak

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Jim Fox

Looking through the Obelisk Court with the Obelisk of Tuthmosis in front and that of Hatshepsut beyond the ruins of the Fourth Pylon

The small area between the Third Pylon and the Fourth Pylon, which was during the time of Tuthmosis I the front of the the Temple of Amun at Karnak, is sometimes referred to as the Obelisk Court or the Court of Amenhotep III.

During the course of the Great Feast of Opet and the Feast of the Valley at Thebes which occurred each year, the sacred barques of Amun, Mut and Khonsu were led in a procession to the Temple of Luxor, Opet of the South, and the funerary temples of on the West Bank. Their boats departed Karnak and were towed by other boats that were propelled by oarsman.

Covering almost the entire width of the eastern face (rear) of the north wing of the third pylon are depicted the two boats of Amun and the king. This representation is described by a contemporary black granite stela erected by Amenhotep III in his western temple, behind the columns of Memnon. The Third Pylon in the Temple of Amun was built by Amenhotep III, and his stela describes the principal monuments that he had built in honor of the god Amun. Hence, we learn

"...making form him [Amun] an august temple to the west of Thebes, preceded by a a very large pylon called 'Amun has received the divine barque,' a place of repose for the lord of the neters at his 'Feast of the Valley,' from the time of Amun's voyage to the west, to see the neters of the west."

He next describes the temple of Luxor, but goes on to say:

"King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Nebmare, part of Ra, son of Ra: Amenhotep (III), ruler of Thebes. I made another mionument for him who begat me, Amun-Re, lord of Thebes, who established (me) upon his throne, making for him a great barque for the 'Beginning-of-the-River,' (named) 'Amun-Re-in-the-Sacred-Barque [Userhat],' of new cedar which His Majesty cut in the countries of God's-Land [the land of the neters]. It was dragged over the mountains of Retenu (Rtnw) by the princes of all countries. It was made very wide and large; there is no instance of doing the like. Its [hull] is adorned with silver, wrought with gold throughout. The great shrine [naos] is of electrum so that it fills the land with its (brightness).

Its bows, they repeat the (brightness). They bear great [atef] crowns, whose serpents twine along its two sides... Flag-staves are set up before it wrought with electrum, two great obelisks are between them; it is beautiful everywhere. The gods of Pe make jubilee to it; the gods of Nekhen praise it, the two Nile-gods of the South and North, they embrace its beauty, its bows make Nun to shine as when the sun rises in heaven, to make his beautiful voyage at his feast of Apet on his western voyage of a million years."

Rear of the Barque

Thus, we have a contemporary description of the image of the barque we find on the rear wall of the Temple of Amun's Third Pylon. The does not seem to exaggerate the beauty of this boat, and even omits the delicate reliefs the decorate its hull and still retain some traces of the yellow paint that was used to depict the vessel's gold coating. We know from the Harris papyrus that the barque Userhat was around 68 meters long.

We see in the center of the boat the naos which contained the sacred barque of Amun, which is placed on a pedestal preceded by a staircase holding up the masts and the obelisks. Before this pedestal are three jackal headed figures and seven Nile gods who worship Amun. In the rear behind the naos the king is navigating the boat by holding the steering oar himself. The king also appears in the front of the boat, offering gifts of vegetables and purification incense.

A human-headed sphinx with a cheetah body is perched on his roost atop the wedjat eye that is apparently always to be found on the prow of the barques. Between the sphinx and the king sits an offering table. It should be noted that all of this scene has been reworked by Amenhotep III. Originally the two royal representations were smaller and traces of these earlier scenes remain on the prow, on the offering table and toward the stern on the flabellum held by the ankh.

Oarsman in the king's Barque

There may have originally been the two smaller barques of Khonsu and Mut behind the naos, as in the barque of Seti I in the Hypostyle hall, but if so, there images have been carefully removed, whereas those of the two original kings were preserved.

The inside part of the royal boat that towed the barque of Userhat at the end of a rope is the only section of that depiction which has survived. Originally, there were sixty oarsmen that propelled it, though only those of the back section can still be seen. They are profiled on the immense cabin that is adorned with a double frieze of ovals and uraei.

Four priests are leaning with their faces turned toward the stern between the first oarsman and the standing king. Two of the priests hold censers and flabellums.

On a small kiosk situated toward the prow, the king was depicted striking down and treading upon Egypt's enemies.

On the south wing at the rear (east face) of the third pylon of Amenhotep III is inscribed a very long text of some seventy-one vertical lines, though only the lower section survives. A sample of this text reads:

"He is one who taketh thought, who maketh wise with knowledge...without his like, the good shepherd vigilant for all people...

searching bodies, knowing that which is in the heart, whose fame apprehends the (evil)...

adorning the splendid Great House of him who began him, with monuments of beauty and splendor forever"

Hence, this text apparently proclaims Amenhotep III's accomplishments and qualities.

The Obelisk of Tuthmosis I

Beyond the rear of the Third Pylon is the doorway of the Fourth Pylon which, according to an inscription on the architrave of the campaniform colonnade of the Great Hypostyle Hall, was the true entrance to the Temple of Ipet-Sut of Amun. Hence, the area between these two pylons would have been its approach. The most notable construct in this small area is the slightly leaning obelisks of Tuthmosis I, which is one of two originally erected by Tuthmosis I at this location. The pedestal of Tuthmosis I's missing obelisk does remain. There were two additional obelisks erected by Tuthmosis III, Tuthmosis I's grandson, but alas both of those are also gone. The missing obelisk of Tuthmosis I was originally left without inscription and was later inscribed under Tuthmosisi III. it was still standing in 1737, according to a report by the English traveler Pococke. The erection of these two obelisks are mentioned by the chief of all the works at Karnak, Ineni, who tells us that:

"I inspected the erection of two obelisks...built the august boat of 120 cubits in length, 40 cubits in width, in order to transport these obelisks. (They) came in peace, safety, and prosperity, and landed at Karnak."

This Obelisk stands between 19.5 and almost 22 meter in height according to various sources. Including the pedestal, which is 1.8 meters square, it stands at least 23 meters tall. Most estimates place its weight between 128 and 143 tons. The obelisk is made of red granite.

Floor plan of the Obelisk of Tuthmosis I

Floor plan of the Obelisk of Tuthmosis I

On this obelisk, each side is inscribed with three columns of text. However, only the central inscription on the east is from the reign of Tuthmosisi I. The later columns were inscribed under Ramesses IV, and added to by Ramesses VI. The central inscriptions of the north and south faces provides us with the complete list of Tuthmosis I's titles. His dedication is inscribed on the east and west sides. Below the name of Horus and the royal cartouche can be read:

"He has raised as a memorial to his father Amun-Re, chief of the Two Lands, two great obelisks at the double doorways of the temple..."

As seen from the east, in the lateral columns of the text, the cartouches in the name of of Ramesses IV have been added on to by Ramesses VI. The tableau on the base as added by Ramesses II.

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See Also

The Approach to the First Pylon (Western)

The First Courtyard in the Temple of Amun, Karnak

The Open Air Museum

The Great Hypostyle Hall

Part One, An Overview and the Exterior Walls

Part Two: The Columns

The Interior Walls

The Obelisk Courtyard (Between the Third and Fourth Pylons)

The Hypostyle Court of the Temple Proper

The Colonnade of Tuthmosis I and the Vestibule and Antechamber of Tuthmosis III Between the Fifth and Sixth Pylons

The Peristyle Court of Tuthmosis III, The Naos of Philip Arrhidaeu and the Sanctuary of Hateshpsut Beyond the Sixth Pylon

The Central Courtyard and the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III

The Temple of the "Hearing Ear", The Eastern Temple of Ramesses II, the Colonnade of Taharka and the Gate of Nectanebo I at Temple of Amun at Karnak

The Courtyard of the Cachette

The Courtyard of the Cachette, Part I

The Courtyard of the Cachette, Part II

The Courtyard Between the Seventh and Eighth Southern Pylons

The Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Pylons and the Courtyards Between them

The Osirian Temple of Taharqa at Karnak

The Sacred Lake and the Scarab

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011






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