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Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part IV: The Great Colonnade of Amenhotep III


Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part IV:

The Great Colonnade of Amenhotep III

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

>>Temple Index

An older view of the colonnade of Amenhotep III at the Temple of Luxor


The colonnade in the Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt, built by Amenhotep III of the New Kingdom's 18th Dynasty to be the grand entrance to the Temple of Amen of the Opet, is one of the most impressive elements in any Egyptian monument. It represents the third stage in that king's elaborate building plans at Luxor Temple, and though it chronologically precedes the Great Court, it follows that element geographically. Indeed, this one hundred meter long colonnade is a part of the oldest segment of this temple.

These fourteen great columns in two rows erected during Amenhotep III's reign, though only completed after his death, may have originally been intended as the main axis of what was to become a great hypostyle hall, similar to the one at Karnak. However, if that is true, it was never finished. The colonnade was finished during the reign of Tutankhamun, Ay and Horemheb.

The axis of this colonnade, as well as the chambers south of it, is clearly different than the later Ramesside additions that precede it in the temple. We believe that the change was made after Ramesses II decided to physically connect Luxor Temple by a causeway with the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak, which had a different axial alignment.

A view up the columns of the colonnade

The columns, which stand 19 meters high, have open papyrus capitals that support a roof 21 meters above the ground. They are surmounted by abacus, which in turn support architrave blocks. The space is narrow, being only ten meters wide. Originally, it had walls that rose to the full height of the roof, with only small clerestory windows cut at the ceiling level to allow in sunlight. However, it is difficult today to appreciate just how impressive this chamber must have been, because the walls now only rise some a few meters high. Yet, to have walked into this dark and forbidding colonnade during ancient times, passing from the open, brightly lit courtyard must have been awe inspiring.

A colossal statue of Amenhotep III and his wife

Two seated double statues of Amun and Mut are on the south side, and there is also a grand statue of Amehotep III with his wife within the colonnade.

Here, the figure of Amenhotep III alternates with those of his successors on door-jambs and columns. Actually, Horemheb usurped many of the decorations that were completed during the reign of Tutankhamun, so that the latter's name shows up only intermittently under that of Horemheb. However, the scenes within the colonnade on the walls are some of the best sources available for the study of the Opet Festival, one of the most important religious ceremonies during the New Kingdom.

Tutankhamun makes offerings during the Opet Festival on the walls of Amenhotep III's colonnade

Here, details of the procession from Karnak to Luxor and the return are presented in a carefully sequenced order indicating that they had been laid out according to a single, comprehensive master plan originated prior to the actual work on these scenes. The decorative theme was perpetuated by artisans of Amenhotep III such as Hor and Suty, "Overseer of Works of Amun in the Southern Open," working with senior priests responsible for the Opet Festival.

Looking down the colonnade back towards the front of the Temple and the First Pylon

Their design survived Amenhotep III, who died only shortly after the decorative program was begun, and then the Amarna Period of Akhenaten, and was later completed by artisans of Tutankhamen and Ay. Therefore, the depictions present a decorative theme that was originated and developed before the Amarna Period, but only realized two decades later when the post Amarna artists successfully attempted to restore earlier traditions. Later still, during the reign of Seti I, additions were made to the decorations, mostly at the south end of the hall. They are easy to distinguish from the earlier work by the greater depth of the raised relief and the more meticulous modeling of the figures.

The scenes depicting the Opet Festival can be segmented into twelve parts. Five scenes on the west wall represent the procession from Karnak to Luxor and the initial ceremonies in the Luxor Temple. Five more scenes on the east wall record other ceremonies in Luxor Temple and the return of the procession to Karnak. There are additional scenes on the northern and southern end walls.

An evening view of Amenhotep III's colonnade

It is from these inscriptions that we learn of the six way stations for barques between Karnak and Luxor, each possibly having a repository chapel (men wahet, "way station"). This hall predates that of Karnak, and served as its architectural prototype.

In the northwest (right front) corner of the colonnade, the procession begins with the king, Tutankhamun in this case, greeting the gods at Karnak. Afterwards, he makes offerings to the barques of the Theban Triad, consisting of Amun, Mut and Khonsu, and then joins the procession of those boats from their shrines to the Nile. Flags fly from staffs in front of the third pylon. From Karnak, the barques are towed south against the Nile's current by men on shore and by rowboats. Then it is carried by priests from the quay and placed in barque shrines in the first court. On the south end wall, the king greets Amen, Mut and Amenet in Luxor Temple.

Tutankhamun participates in the Opet Festival on the walls of Amenhotep III's colonnade

Unfortunately, only the lower registers on the walls have been preserved, although Egyptologists have identified hundreds of stone blocks from the upper parts of the walls that now lie about the perimeter of Luxor Temple. Hence, they continue to work to reconstruct, at least on paper, the subject matter of those upper scenes. Most of this work appears to be conducted by the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute sponsored by the University of Chicago.

It should be noted that the reliefs on the walls of the colonnade are often difficult to see. They are best viewed under direct sunlight, or better still, in the evening when the floodlights at the base of the walls throws the decorations into sharp relief.

Clappers in the procession of the Opet FestivalMusicians in the procession of the Opet Festival

Musicians in the Procession of the Opet Festival from the Walls of Amenhotep III's Colonnade

See also:

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011

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