Enclosures and Gates

Related Features


The Karnak temple precinct was always delineated from the outside world by some type of surrounding wall. The enclosure wall that surrounds Karnak today, built by Nectanebo I of the Thirtieth Dynasty, is from one of the latest phases of the temple. At least two earlier enclosure walls (both of which may have been reinforced or modified numerous times) can be identified at the temple. These walls provide Egyptologists with some idea of the size of the temple in different historical periods.
Measurements: The Nectanebo I wall was 12m thick and 21m high; The Thutmose III wall was 6m thick with exterior bastioned spaced every 17m; the size of the Middle Kingdom walls are still unconfirmed.

Phases of Construction

Senusret I

Senusret I built at least one mud brick wall enclosing his new Middle Kingdom temple. Excavations at Karnak have uncovered small portions of what may have been this wall. These remains suggest the enclosure closely encircled the area known as the “Middle Kingdom court” on at least three sides.

A second, larger enclosure may have brought an even greater area of land into the sacred space of the temple. A mud brick wall with bastions, possibly 267.5m each side, may have extended as far south as the location of the later eighth pylon, and as far west as the later fourth pylon. This enclosure has not been represented on the model.

Construction materials: mud brick

About the reconstruction model of Senusret I

The location of the Middle Kingdom inner enclosure wall was based on the drawings of Graindorge (2003: Abbs. 1-4) and the sections of the wall identified by Charloux (2007: pl. IV).

The wall was given a simple mud brick pattern developed from photographs taken of existing mud brick walls at Karnak today.

For a drawing of the hypothetical outer Middle Kingdom wall, see: Graindorge (2002: Abb. 3). For the identification of a possible section of the eastern Middle Kingdom wall near the area east of the sacred lake, see: Carlotti (2005: 174-175, pl. I).

Thutmose III

A portion of the enclosure wall located slightly east of the sacred lake, dating to no later than the New Kingdom, has been recovered through excavations at the temple. The construction of this wall has traditionally been assigned to Thutmose III, who mentions the destruction and rebuilding of an enclosure wall for the temple in an inscription on a stele from Karnak. Excavations of the wall show its outer face was punctuated with rectangular mud brick bastions. The mud brick pylon fronting the Ramesside temple of “Amun-who-hears-prayers” in east Karnak seems to have been built in line with or over this enclosure wall as it extended to the north. Additional sections (possibly rebuildings or repairs of the Thutmoside wall) have been identified just west of the later “Osiris catacombs.” Study of the wall suggests it was built and renovated in at least four stages. A recently discovered stela of Ramesses III records his repairs on the wall.

The northern side of the wall can no longer be seen at Karnak. However, an inscribed stone gate of Amenhotep III (reinscribed by Ramesses III) stands just north of the temple’s third pylon. This gate may have provided access to the temple through the 18th Dynasty wall.

The southern section of the wall may have only extended as far south as the line of Pylon IX during the early 18th Dynasty, as archaeological excavations revealed houses from this time period under Pylon X. The presence of domestic materials in the area of the southernmost pylon suggests the precinct walls did not enclose that area within the sacred space until the mid or late 18th Dynasty.

Pylon IV would have marked the western-most extent of the temple in the early 18th Dynasty, and the enclosure would have run at least this far west.

The Thutmoside walls seems to have remained in use until reign of Nectanebo I.

Construction materials: mud brick

About the reconstruction model of Thutmose III

The plan of the bastioned wall of Thutmose III was based on the detailed plan of overall Karnak published by Carlotti (2001: pl. 1).

The wall was given a simple mud brick pattern developed from photographs taken of existing mud brick walls at Karnak today.

Nectanebo I

Nectanebo I built a huge new enclosure wall encircling the Amun-Ra temple and extending north to the temple of Ptah, east past the temple of “Amun-who-hears-prayers,” south along the line of the tenth pylon, and west to include the temples of Khonsu and Opet.

The king originally planned on puncturing the massive wall with twelve entrance gates, but only four were completed. The Bab el-Malakha (the eastern gate) was begun under Nectanebo I and measured about 20m high. The gates at the Opet and Ptah temples were also built by that king. Later gates were added by Nectanebo II and the Ptolemaic kings.

The wall’s irregular trapezoidal shape may have been designed to respect the location of important pre-existing buildings around the Amun temple. Alternatively, the strange angle of the northern and southern sides of the wall may have corresponded to the orientation of the urban areas around the temple.

Construction materials: mudbrick, sandstone

About the reconstruction model of Nectanebo I

The plan of the large enclosure wall of Nectanebo I was based on the detailed plan of overall Karnak published by Carlotti (2001: pl. 1). The elevation and sectioned appearance of the Nectanebo wall on the model was based on the axial drawings by Golvin and Hegazy (1993: fig. 3-4, 6). The reconstruction of the eastern gate in the Nectanebo wall was based on these axial drawings as well (1993: figs. 2-6). The location of the pylon foundation south of the Khonsu temple, the location of this pylon in relation to the Ptolemy VIII gate (Bab el Amara), and the location of the later wall over the pylon foundation was based on the plans of Lauffray, Sauneron, et al. (1975: fig. 11) and Laroche-Traunecker (1982: fig. 10).

Photographs of the mud bricks of the Nectanebo wall (still standing at Karnak) were used to create the brick pattern on all the mud brick walls depicted on the model.

Modern Site Photos


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