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Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part V: The Sun Court and Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III


Luxor Temple of Thebes in Egypt, Part V:

The Sun Court and Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep

>>Temple Index

A view down into the Sun Court and Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III in the Temple of Luxor


Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to, and is more commonly known as Akhenaten, is also sometimes referred to nowadays as the Heretic King. He attempted to dispose of the traditional ancient Egyptian religion in favor of a new one focused on the Sun Disk, called the Aten, and in the process rejected the traditional state god, Amun. After his death, his probable son, Tutankhamun, almost certainly under the direction of elder advisors (Horemheb and Ay), reinstated the old religion and in turn attempted to erase both the memory of Akhenaten and his religion. However, Akhenaten, the son of Amenhotep III, was not without earlier influences. His father had already begun during his reign to elevate the status of sun worship. Indeed, Amenhotep III is sometimes referred to as the Sun King.

An older view of the Sun Court of Amenhotep III

However, that has nothing to do with the courtyard beyond the Colonnade of Amenhotep III, so named the "Sun Court". This is really a modern name for this court, due to its being an open court to the sky. There was apparently no sun worship aspect of this courtyard, and in fact, many modern authors have dropped the term, "Sun Court" in favor of more generic terms.

The Great Sun Court of Amenhotep IIIs Luxor Temple, located in Luxor, Egypt, measures about 45.11 by 56.08 meters (148 by 184 feet). It was the first expansion northward from the core temple. It was not a part of the original core temple. This is a peristyle court with a double row of sixty columns with papyrus bundle capitals on three sides. Today, they are the best preserved and most elegant columns in the temple.

The Sun Court of Amenhotep III at night

The sun court is almost identical to the court in front of the inner part of Amenhotep IIIs funerary temple in West Thebes. Both are slightly wider at the front than at the rear. This would have enhanced the depth of the perspective of the court by an optical illusion and added to its impact. It received decoration from the time of Amenhotep himself to that of Alexander the Great. The side walls retain some of their original coloring, but are poorly preserved. They show traces of scenes showing Amenhotep III, Amun and others, including Alexander the Great.

A view of the Oars Festival in the Sun Court

In recent decades, ceremonies have continued to be performed in this court. They have included a "crossed-oar ceremony" that preceded Nile races between rowing crews from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Cairo. Children from Luxor dressed in pharaonic costumes scattered flower petals before the oarsmen. Rock concerts were held here too, until officials began to worry about the effects of vibrations on the columns.

It was here in Luxor in 1989, that workers found a deep pit containing a large quantity of statuary, buried probably in the 4th century AD during the installation of a cult of the deified Roman emperor. The cache, similar to one found in Karnak in 1903, included statues of gods, goddesses, queens, kings and kings as gods, as well as triads of divinities and royal groupings. Some of these statues are among the finest examples known of Egyptian sculpture. The most amazing statue in this cache was a larger than life sized statue of Amenhotep III, carved from red-gold quartzite. Many of these pieces are now in the Luxor Museum of Art.

This red-quartzite statue of Amenhotep III is by far the finest one found in the cache of statues in the Sun Court

In 1978, it was noticed for the first time that twenty columns on the east side of the Sun Court, and two more on the west side were tilting. They were braced with wooden beams for some years, which many visitors may remember. In 1994, a plan was devised to renovate these columns, a massive program that would take a number of years to complete. Indeed, the project was not completed until 1997. During this conservation effort, foundation deposits were discovered, along with twelve hieratic texts, inscribed on the temple's foundation, that appear to discuss the original planning and construction of the temple.

Beyond the Sun Court lie the rooms of the original Opet Temple. This section of the temple has a complicated plan and contains twenty-three chambers and twenty-seven small chapels. All of them were built atop a socle, a low stone platform that served as an architectural model of the primeval mound of creation. It is easily visible from outside the temple.

Looking throgh the Sun Court of Amenhotep III towards the Hypostyle Hall

At the back of the Great Sun Court, at its southern end, a hypostyle hall is blended in almost imperceptibly with the sun court. It is described as a hall of appearance (wsekhet kha'it). Though incorporated into the Sun Court, it was originally a sort of vestibule for the oldest part of the temple, being the first inner room of the temple proper. This type of plan is similar to the much earlier two-step plan of a vestibule connected by a pillared court found in Old Kingdom funerary temples, such as that of Khufu. It consists of four rows of eight bundle papyrus columns (32 total columns) that once supported a now non-existent roof. Some of the columns are inscribed with the names of various usurpers, including Ramesses II, IV and VI.

The Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III at the Temple of Luxor

Through the center of these columns runs an aisle. On the walls of this chamber Amenhotep III is depicted before the gods of Thebes ceding the temple above a plinth of figures personifying the Egyptian nomes. The east wall of the hall is decorated with scenes of the king offering milk, ointments, birds and fish to Amun and Amenet, and other scenes of the king and his ka driving calves and consecrating boxes of cloth.

Another View of the Hypostyle Hall of Amenhotep III

In the southeast, or left rear corner of the Hypostyle Hall stand two small, rectangular chapels for Khonsu (far left) and Mut, and in the southwest, or right rear corner there is a second chapel for Khonsu and a staircase leading to the temple roof.

Between the last two columns on the left of its central aisle is a Roman altar dedicated to Emperor Constantine, before his conversion to Christianity.

The effect of light and the balance of the columns in this hall can be regarded as a most successful achievement of architectural beauty.


See also:


References:

Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Art of Ancient Egypt, The

Robins, Gay

1997

Harvard University Press

ISBN 0-674-00376-4

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir

1980

Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.

2000

Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul

1995

Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

Egypt in Late Antiquity

Bagnall, Roger S.

1993

Princeton University Press

ISBN 0-691-1096-x

History of Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas

1988

Blackwell

None Stated

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian

2000

Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Sacred Sites of Ancient Egypt

Oakes, Lorna

2001

Lorenz Books

ISBN (non stated)

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Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011

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