The Great Hypostyle Hall at the Temple of Amun, Karnak, Part 2: The Columns

The Great Hypostyle Hall at the Temple of Amun, Karnak, Part 2:

The Columns

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Jim Fox

Closed monostyle columns in the Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak

See also: Part 1: Overview and exterior walls

Within the Great Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in what was ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), there are four groups of columns, separated by the central aisle which is oriented to the longitudinal axis of the temple, and by a transverse path perpendicular to this axis with access by the doors in the northern and southern walls.

As we peer through the second, western pylon of the temple we see an aisle bordered by twelve huge columns with open papyrus capitals. These columns measure 18.5 meters, from the top of their base to the top of their capitals and twenty-one meters including their bases and abacuses. The architrave above the abacus measures another two meters. The circumference of the capitals reach about 21 meters so that they are equal to the height of the columns, including the base and abacus.

One common denominator of these columns is that there is a ring, high up, on which the hieroglyphs of the Horus name of Ramesses II converge toward this king's vertically elevated double cartouche, which is than surmounted by a register depicting the two forms of Amun alternating with one another. Above these images, the enormous campaniform capitals imitate the tuft of the blossoming papyrus above stems encased, or constricted by five concentric grooves just below the capital. In between these plants on the capital are again the cartouches of Ramesses II

East end of the Grand North Colonnade showing the upper sections of the shafts and capitals. The arris is visible to the right

East end of the Grand North Colonnade showing the upper sections of the shafts and capitals

The arris is visible to the right.

The arris is visible to the right.

The shaft of these largest columns, which resemble a papyrus stalk in the Hypostyle Hall, actually have three moldings that divide their cross section into three parts spanning 120 degrees. The arris (seam) where these moldings meet runs the entire length of shafts. While the axis of the temple itself is aligned bout 27 degrees north of the true east-west line, the eastern arris of the northern colossi columns alights almost exactly to the east, while the western arris of the southern columns aligns almost true west. One arris on both the northern and southern center columns points across the aisle to the other.

The north central window and open bud columns clearly showing cartouches

The central "nave": the principal aisle with the Obelisk of Tuthmosis I in the background

The central

The north central window and open bud columns clearly showing cartouches

Diagram showing the molding and direction of the central open bud columns

Below the king's vertically elevated double cartouches are scenes depicting the king and various gods. This register of reliefs is divided into three tableaux scenes by the three arrises. In each tableaux, the center of focus is the center of the tableaux, so that the gods or the king on the edge of the molding face away from those on the other side of the arris. Amun is of course depicted in these tableaux, but others include Khonsu, Mut and Ma'at. Champollion tells us that:

"Each large column is decorated by three tableaux that continue around the shaft to.... The largest portion represents worship and offerings made to the Theban triad... But it is not always the same pharaoh presenting the offerings... The worshiper in the two tableaux that are visible when walking between the two rows of large columns is always the pharaoh Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II). The third tableau, which covers the back part of the shaft on the side of the small columns, belongs to the reign of [Ramesses IV]."

The larger columns of the central avenue are first surmounted by an abacus, and then architraves running own the longitudinal axes of the temple. The architrave of the campaniform columns of the row south of the nave bear two lines of inscriptions in relief dating from Seti I, who's cartouche was, however, usurped by Ramesses II. On the lower line he had inscribed the dedication of this part of the temple, "He has made a splendid sanctuary [akh] Ramesses Meryamun in the house of Amun before Ipet-sut". Underneath these architrives, ankh symbols are often found intermixed with royal cartouches.

Columns and the window of the transverse north-south way.

Flanking the central avenue of huge columns is one row of seven smaller monostyle closed bud columns to either side. These two rows of columns are cut short by the antechamber of the third pylon, while the six additional rows of monostyle columns to either side of these have nine columns each. All of these monostyle columns are aligned with each other, but not with the central open bud columns. These columns are split at the fourth row from the second pylon by a transverse aisle, followed by five additional rows prior to the third pylon. At this split, recorded on the underside of the architrive on the first and second rows of columns out from the central open bud columns, is the ankh symbol flanked on both sides by a bulrush of the south and a bee of the north. This marks the axis of the transverse way.

The ankh symbol flanked on both sides by a bulrush of the south and a bee of the north

The ankh symbol flanked on both sides by a bulrush of the south and a bee of the north

The ankh symbol flanked on both sides by a bulrush of the south and a bee of the north

The columns of the first bay have the cartouches of Ramesses II in sunk relief carved upon their abacus and the architrave is also carved in this fashion. However, the upper section of the capitals appear to have been somewhat reworked. They also have the cartouches of Ramesses II carved in horizontal sunk relief on a ring about the base of their shafts.

The first two north bays of the northwest group of monostyle columns. Note the cartouch of Ramesses II.

On the second row of these monostyle columns, the inscriptions on the architrave, the abacus and the top of the capital, in light relief, are in the name of Seti I, and his legend continues to be engraved on the remaining rows of monostyle columns.

However, it is easy to see that all the capitals and the tops of the shafts of the eastern columns have received additional cartouches, while those on the west have retained their original decorations, at least in the first bay.

Champollion tells us that:

"The decorations of the little columns on the right are of two kinds. Those of the first four rows (going across) seen on entering the hypostyle hall have retained their original decorations, which was that given to them under Ramesses the Great. The colors have in large part survived. With these we have an example of the first stage of all the little columns on the right and left of the hypostyle hall before the additions of Ramesses (IV)".

The first northern lateral avenue looking out on Hatshepsut's Obelisk

The first northern lateral avenue looking out on Hatshepsut's Obelisk

High up on the monostyle columns, with a vew of their abacus, architrave, torus and cornice.

Two bands of inscriptions surround the shaft above the tableaux and under the base of the capital. These are the cartouches of Ramesses IV. On the bottom of these shafts, the original decoration included only eight leaves, among which, above the the three flowers of the south, is the plover resting on the basket who worships "Ramesses beloved of Amun [Ramesses II] in the morning [dwa]". Ramesses IV added his cartouches, surmounted by a disk and feathers and flanked by crowned uraei, over the leaves.

The tableaux, like those of the larger open bud columns flanking the center isle, depict gods who's orientation is dictated by a vertical line. These gods also include Mut, Isis and the ithyphallic Amun. In addition, the king is portrayed on each column.

A group of monostyle columns on the souteast side showing some rework

Surmounting the architrave of the first bay of monostyle columns is a torus (a rounded protrusion) and cornice. Along the cornice appear triglyphs separated by cartouches of Ramesses II. Above this, running along the axis of the lower architrave but recessed from thecornice are great pillars joined by an upper architrave, which rises to the height of the architrave over the central open bud columns. This arrangement allowed the central section of the hall between the large columns a higher ceiling then in the remainder of the hall. Between these upper pillars above the monostyle columns were set two enormous stone slabs which were cut with twelve bars to allow light into the hall. Only the central windows has kept it's grill of recessed stone between the square pillars, which correspond to each column of the first bay.

On the interior side of these pillars between these windows are carved depictions of Ramesses II welcoming and receiving life and other gifts from Amun-Re. On the exterior side are recorded the Horus name of Seti I, which faces Amun-Re. On the exterior of the architrave above the window are carved falcons that overshadow the two cartouches of Menmaatre Seti Meryenptah crowned by a disk and feathers placed above the nub necklace which is symbolic of gold.

The ankh symbol flanked on both sides by a bulrush of the south and a bee of the north

The ankh of the axis of the north-south transverse way
with a clear view of the abacus, architrave, torus, cornice,
surmounted by an upper pillar and architrave framing a window.

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Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011






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