Hypostyle Hall

Related Features

Originally built by Sety I – 1294 BCE to 1279 BCE

Modified by Ramesses II – 1279 BCE to 1213 BCE

Other works initiated by Sety I:

Hypostyle Hall, South Exterior Wall, North Exterior Wall, 3rd Pylon

Other works initiated by Ramesses II:

Obelisks at Eastern Gate, Ramesses II Eastern Temple, South Exterior Wall, Hypostyle Hall, East Exterior Wall


The hypostyle hall was a huge multi-columned hall constructed between the pre-existing second and third pylons. The hall was filled with 134 gigantic stone columns. 12 open papyrus columns lined the raised central aisle. North and south of the central aisle stood 122 closed-bud papyrus-form columns (61 on each side). The first row of these columns on either side of the central aisle supported the stone ceiling and clerestory windows.

Measurements: The hall measures 103m across and 52m deep. The 12 central columns stood 21m high, with a 1.4m abacus atop each capital. The capitals were 5.4m in diameter. The closed-bud papyrus columns measured 15m high, with a 12m tall shaft. The clerestory windows reached up to the ceiling at 24m high.

Phases of Construction

Ramesses I

Prior to Sety I’s construction of the main hall, Ramesses I added a small station of the king against the southeast side of Pylon II. The only remains of this station are a calcite (“Egyptian alabaster”) floor inscribed with the “nine bows,” the traditional enemies of Egypt. 

About the reconstruction model of Ramesses I

Sety I

Sety I began and completed construction of the magnificent hypostyle hall’s walls and columns. Interior decoration of the entire northern half of the hall (including its 61 columns), the southern half’s western wall, and the clerestory window grills was also completed before the end of his reign. The north half of the east interior wall portrayed “the daily ritual,” highlighting the king’s responsibility for the maintenance of the statue of Amun-Ra housed in the temple. The south half of the west interior wall included scenes of the temple foundation ceremony, where the king and the gods are shown performing important rituals before a new building at the temple was constructed. The columns in the northern half of the hypostyle hall were also decorated during the king’s reign. Sety’s artisans did all this work in finely carved raised relief, and the preserved scenes are some of the most vivid remaining at Karnak today.

In the 18th Dynasty, royal coronations and jubilee festival rituals were held in the Wadjet Hall. In the 19th Dynasty, these events were provided with a more grand setting –the hypostyle hall. Inscriptions on the hall’s architraves and columns suggest that on special occasions (such as festival processions), some of the Theban populace was allowed into the hall to view the king or the divine image in its portable bark.

See the webpage for North Exterior Wall for a discussion of Sety’s decoration on the exterior of the hypostyle hall.

Construction materials: sandstone

About the reconstruction model of Sety I

The model of the hall and its columns were based on the drawings of: Carlotti (1995: pl. V, XXIX-XXX), the axial drawings of hall by Golvin (1987:203), and the axial drawings of the roof and clerestory by Clarke and Engelbach (1990:fig. 303).

Most of the hall was covered with a plain sandstone pattern. The columns of the hall were also given a plain sandstone pattern, created to echo the size of the huge drums used for the construction of the columns. Photos of the relief scenes on the hall’s interior eastern wall (northern section) were placed in their appropriate location on the model. These include the scenes of the “daily ritual.”

The elaborate relief scenes covering the rest of the interior walls of the hypostyle hall and each of the 134 columns were not added to the model.

Scholars working at Karnak have recently reassessed the chronology of the Hypostyle Hall. They suggest a peristyle of papyriform columns was constructed lining the interior of the hall during the reign of Horemheb, with the main colonnade and additional columns then built under Sety I (Carlotti and Martinez 2010:140-145). This suggestion is not included in the model.

Ramesses II

Ramesses II completed the decoration of the hypostyle hall started by his father.

Although his artisans began their decoration in the same style used in the reign of Sety I (raised/bas relief), they seem to have quickly changed techniques and adopted sunk relief, a quicker style of relief cutting, for the remaining parts of the hall. In the southern half of the hall, the raised relief panels of Sety were altered to match the new style.

Ramesses II added relief scenes and highly visible cartouches or royal titles on the central line of 12 columns (left undecorated by Sety), which marked Karnak’s main east/west entrance. Each of the southern group of smaller columns, also not adorned under Sety, was carved with a main ritual scene and a series of plant and bird motifs. A deeply carved line of hieroglyphs naming the king ringed each column below the ritual scene. Ramesses also ordered the re-cutting of some of his father’s cartouches, including those on the clerestory window grills, to his own name.

See webpage for South Exterior Wall for a discussion of Ramesses’ decoration on the exterior of the hypostyle hall.

Later, Ramesses IV added his own cartouches to the central line of columns, associating himself with the greatness of his ancestors. Additional ritual scenes and friezes of his cartouches were added to most of the smaller columns. Shortly after, Ramesses VI covered up the cartouches on the central columns, carving his own name atop that of Ramesses IV.

While the form of the hall was not substantially changed after the 19th Dynasty, a number of repairs were carried out in the Late and Ptolemaic Periods.


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