Middle Kingdom Court

Related Features

Originally built by Senusret I – 1971 BCE to 1926 BCE

Modified by Amenhotep I – 1525 BCE to 1504 BCE

Other works initiated by Senusret I:

Middle Kingdom Court, White Chapel, Enclosures and Gates

Other works initiated by Amenhotep I:

Middle Kingdom Court, Amenhotep I Calcite Chapel, Amenhotep I Limestone Chapel


A large, virtually empty square space stands in the center of Karnak today, as very little remains of the Middle Kingdom temple that once marked the heart of Amun-Ra’s cult. Only a series of rose granite doorway sills and a large calcite alter from the original temple can still be seen today. This area is now called the “Middle Kingdom court.”
Measurements: The temple measured 38m by 38m and stood 6m high; The rectangular chapels of Amenhotep I were 3.1m high, 2.6m wide and 3.65m deep; the small chapels along the court’s bisecting wall were 1.1m wide, 1.3 deep and 1.75m high.

Phases of Construction

Senusret I

Senusret I built a limestone temple dedicated to the god Amun-Ra at Karnak, probably replacing a much smaller sandstone temple on the same location. As reconstructed by one scholar, a 3m deep portico lined with twelve pillars fronted the western side of Senusret’s temple. The pillars, the bases of which were made from reused sandstone, were adorned with engaged statues of the king in the pose of Osiris. Behind the front portico was a large, open-air courtyard with a single row of pillars on each side. After crossing a series of red granite thresholds into the temple’s sanctuary, a 90-degree turn to the left gave access to the naos (supported by the calcite altar) where the cult statue of Amun-Ra was housed.

Construction materials: limestone, rose granite, sandstone, calcite

About the reconstruction of Senusret I

About the Model:The model of the Middle Kingdom temple was based on the hypotheses of Gabolde (1998; 1999). He based his reconstructions on excavations made in the “Middle Kingdom court” and study of the remaining blocks from the Senusret I temple.

The model was given a plain white limestone pattern. Unfortunately, representations of the Osiride pillars on the portico of the Middle Kingdom temple were not included on the model. The altar holding the god’s naos was given a calcite pattern taken from photographs of that feature from Karnak today.

It should be mentioned that François Larché has recently challenged the size and orientation of Gabolde’s reconstruction of the Middle Kingdom temple area (2007). He suggested that the temple covered a much smaller area and may have faced east, towards a now disappeared Nile channel.

Amenhotep I

While possibly leaving most of the Middle Kingdom Senusret I temple as it stood, Amenhotep I drastically renovated the area around it. Two short walls were appended to the Senusret temple’s western façade, limiting access to the aisles flanking the temple. The middle and eastern sections of the Middle Kingdom mud brick wall were removed and replaced with a limestone enclosure and a series of rectangular chapels. The chapels opened onto the court before the Senusret temple. The court was delimited on its western edge by a new high limestone wall and gate, and bisected into a western and eastern section by another stone wall. Along one of these walls, the king placed sixteen small limestone chapels (eight on each side of the wall’s central doorway) opening to the east. The northern line of chapels appears to have held cult statues of the god Amun-Ra. In the central area of this new court stood one of the king’s bark chapels. Recent study suggests this may have been a wooden chapel, not the king’s well-known calcite chapel. See the webpage Amenhotep I calcite chapel for more information on this feature. Nine-meter long screen walls flanked this chapel on its northern and southern sides. These walls were covered with relief scenes of the king’s jubilee festival and other cultic rituals.

Outside of the court, the king may have constructed a small mud brick pylon. A brick wall between this pylon and the court may have been fitted with a limestone door or gate.

Construction materials: limestone, calcite

About the reconstruction model of Amenhotep I

The reconstruction of the Amun temple during the reign of Amenhotep I is based on the text and plans of Graindorge (2002: Abb. 1-2). Not all of her suggestions were included on the model: she reconstructed a small court to the south of the southern line of chapels and also hypothesized that the central chapel was made of wood, with the king’s calcite chapel located in one of the courts to the west (the model shows the king’s calcite chapel as the central shrine). See the webpage Amenhotep I calcite chapel for more information on the position of the chapels. Graindorge’s reconstruction is based on her work piecing together 800 blocks found in the Karnak magazines. The exact layout of the structures therefore remains hypothetical, and the understanding of Amenhotep’s work here may change as research at the temple continues.

The additions to the temple were given a plain limestone pattern. The mud brick pylon was given a mud brick pattern based on photographs of the remaining mud brick walls at the temple today.

Destruction: Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut removed the Middle Kingdom temple’s portico of Osiris pillars to make room for her new temple sanctuary, the “palace of Ma’at.”

The rest of the Middle Kingdom temple may have stood until the 4th century AD when the temple was closed and the blocks were removed for new building projects by the inhabitants of the city.

Modern Site Photos


Gabolde, Luc. (1998),Le “grand château d’Amon” de Sésostris 1er à Karnak : la décoration du temple d’Amon-Ré au Moyen empire. Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Paris: Diff. de Boccard, tome 17, 204 p., xl p. of pla.

Gabolde, Luc. (1999),Aux origines de Karnak : les recherches récentes dans la “cour du Moyen Empire”. Bulletin de la société d’égyptologie. Genève: La Sociétévol. 23 , 31-49.

Larché, François. (2007),Nouvelles observations sur les monuments du Moyen et du Nouvel Empire dans la zone centrale du temple d’Amon. Cahiers de Karnak. vol. XII , 407-592.

Ullmann, Martina. (2007),Thebes: Origins of a Ritual Landscape. Sacred space and sacred function in ancient Thebes. Chicago: Oriental Institue of the University of Chicago, 3-25.

Graindorge, Catherine. Beinlich, Horst (2002),Der Tempel des Amun-Re von Karnak zu Beginn der 18.Dynastie. Ägyptologische Tempeltagung : Würzburg, 23.-26. September 1999. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 33vol. 5 , 83-90.

Carlotti, Jean-François. (1995),Contribution à l’ étude métrologique de quelques monuments du temple d’Amon-Rê à Karnak. Cahiers de Karnak. vol. X , 65-127.

Charloux, Guillaume. (2007),Karnak au Moyen Empire, l’enceinte et les fondations des magasins du temple d’Amon-Rê. Cahiers de Karnak. vol. XII , 191-225, 809-813.

Graindorge, Catherine and Philippe Martinez. (1989),Karnak avant Karnak. Bulletin de la Société française d’égyptologie. vol. 115 , 36-55.

Graindorge, Catherine and Philippe Martinez. (1999),Programme architectural et iconographique des monuments d’Amenophis I a Karnak. annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte. vol. 74 , 169-182.