Karnak & Tomb Raider 4!


 If you know me you know that I enjoyed TR4 a lot due to the Egyptian theme. I decided to place this article here for the month of November I wrote this a while ago on another site.

In TR4 Lara visits Egypt. In this article, the legendary temple complex known as Karnak shall be revisited.  This segment of Karnak shall examine the specific levels seen in the game. In the temple complex, there are three major areas Lara explored.


Level 7: Temple of Karnak
Level 8: Great Hypostyle Hall
Level 9: Sacred Lake


 Introduction to Karnak


Karnak is a name that echoes throughout the ancient world and contemporary alike. The very appellation brings a level of mystery and intrigue connected with King Tut, Pyramids and ornate temples to name a few. Many tourists visit the intoxicating beauty of the ancient temples, obelisks, pylons and statues every day. Karnak is located in Thebes (modern day Luxor), Egypt, on the eastern Nile. Thebes was a major religious hub that experienced a boom around 1550 BC, and is the burial place of the kings from the New Kingdom. Karnak grew into an enormous complex added to over two thousand years by various rulers.


Most of the old city of Thebes is gone, however, the ancient religious heart of the city remains, and that is the temple complex of Karnak. Walking down the sphinx Alleyway to the North the sprawling temples of Karnak capture the eye. The immense complex is divided into four sections spanning over 600 acres. The temple of the goddess Mut to the south, east Karnak has the temple of Aten, north Karnak has the temple of the god Montu and central Karnak has the largest and oldest temple dedicated to Amun-Ra.


The heart of Karnak, the temple of Amun-Ra, started during the middle kingdom 1950 BC and is referred to in the Egyptian language as Per-Amun “the house of Amun.” People believed Amun lived in the temple and it was treated as his own home on earth. In fact, a statue of Amun was placed in the temple, and daily given food, drink, incense and oils. Not only was it a god’s house, but an estate that had lands for agriculture near the temple and elsewhere in the country. It has also been determined through archaeologists that the Amun temple as well as the other temples that comprise Karnak was self-sustaining. Homes for priests, storehouses and aviaries, slaughterhouses and much more were uncovered. The temples of Karnak had a system of consumption and production that brought much wealth to the complex. Archaeological work has been on going at Karnak since 1895 to the present.


The opening of level 7 and the Obelisk courtyard


There are only two obelisks standing at Karnak today. The obelisk of Thutmosis I and the obelisk of Hatshepsut which is the tallest measuring a height of 97 feet. However, don’t underestimate the obelisk of Thutmosis I. It is located in the precinct of Amun, and measures a respectable 65 feet tall. Though the game never gives away the exact location of the obelisk where Lara climbs the ruined wall to land by it in the courtyard, it is highly possible the designers were inspired by the obelisk of Thutmose I.

Obelisk of Thumosis I Karnak Image Owner: Steve F-E-Cameron (Merlin-UK)

Note the ruined wall to the far right.The crumbling wall appears to be the same that Lara climbed over in TR4 to land at the base of the obelisk and later shoot scorpions. This obelisk sits in a courtyard, and there is a door to the right as in the game.



Hypostyle Hall (A father and son initiative)

The Hypostyle Hall is as vast as it is great with an area of 1.5 acres and 134 columns holding up a ceiling 80 feet above the floor. In fact, the first row of these massive colossal columns on either side, supported the clearstory windows as seen in the following photos. These unique windows also allowed for privacy.

Hypostyle Hall columns supporting the giant clearstory windows seen above. The stone slits allow shafts of light to flow into the Hall. © UCLA Owned
This is another clearstory window. They allowed shafts of light through, which bathed the mighty columns in a magnificent fused golden glow. © UCLA Owned

The Hypostyle Hall was originally built by Seti I 1294 BC to 1279 BC and after his death his son Ramesses II completed it 1279 BC to 1213 BC

Seti’s Vision


 During Seti I reign, the Pharaoh completed most of the Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak. Seti’s artists decorated the Great Hall with detailed beauty, and one example is the north half of the east interior wall. This wall portrays the “daily ritual” of the king’s responsibility for the maintenance of the statue of Amun-Ra housed in the temple. The columns that were decorated during Seti I reign were intricately carved, raised relief, and many are the finest found in Karnak or anywhere else in the ancient world to date.

North Exterior Wall

The wall above is part of the North Exterior Wall of the Hypostyle Hall. © UCLA Owned

The immense 152 foot external wall is rather like a history lesson. There are several themes created in relief scenes. Seti I had some of the relief scenes portray his campaigns against foreign towns and people such as the Libyans, the Hittites and the Yenoam Asiatics to name a few. Additionally, they showed the presentation of tribute by foreign rulers to the Egyptian king in his victory.


Ramesses II


Ramesses II completed the décor that his father began. Where his father’s artists used finely detailed raised bas relief panels to adorn the walls and vast columns of the Hypostyle Hall, his son employed a quicker version of the relief known as sunken relief. This less intricate style is quicker to produce; however, the quality suffers, so it is clear where the hand of Ramesses II rested within the wall and column adornments and where Seti’s rested. Some of the relief panels of Seti I were altered to match his son’s style, and this can be seen in the southern half of the Hall.


Ramesses II also added relief scenes and ornately decorated cartouches on the central 12 columns that went unadorned by Seti I. The 12 columns mark Karnak’s east / west entrance. These 12 columns were carved under the authority of Ramesses II with the ritual scene, and scenes of birds, and plants. Additionally, each column was carved in a series of hieroglyphs which named the king. Ramesses II eventually had a re-cutting done to replace his father’s cartouches on the clearstory window grills and other places of the Hypostyle Hall of Karnak.

South Exterior Wall of Hypostyle Hall, Karnak embellished under the authority of Ramesses II. © UCLA Owned

At the time of Seti I death, the interior south wall and the exterior south wall of the Hypostyle Hall were blank. It wasn’t until Ramesses II (Seti’s son), became king that he adorned the walls inside and out with his tradmark sunken reliefs seen in this segment of the south wall photo above. Ramesses II had the same vision for his sunken relief scenes about battle scenes and victory as his father did for his reliefs on the north walls of the Hypostyle Hall.



 Though most Egyptologists agree that the battle of Quadesh was a draw, Ramesses II was particularly proud of his victory there and reflected his approval in relief scenes on the south wall. However, in an odd change of mind, before the scenes were completed, Ramesses’ had his artists change the reliefs to campaigns that spanned over 14 years in Syro-Palestine.

South Exterior Wall of the Hypostyle Hall, Karnak. Image belongs to UCLA

Sacred Lake

Sacred Lake, Karnak Image owned by UCLA
Sacred Lake Karnak Photo Credit: Johanna Ouwerling

Though larger and not shrouded in hallways as in Tomb Raider 4, the Sacred Lake is located south of the middle kingdom court and is rectangular in shape. Notice the steps that go down into the lake on the upper photo. These are reminiscent of the ones from TR4 where Lara fought off crocodiles. It appears the game designers drew inspiration from the part of the lake seen in the lower photo and its wall faces with doorways leading off from the lake. Although, the game developers may have tried to recreate a certain area archaeologists know about on the North side of the Sacred Lake known as The Taharqo edifice. It consisted of several underground rooms with a main building sporting an open courtyard. Lara is seen running through a series of hallways and underground rooms that are attached directly to the Lake. An interesting theory nonetheless.


 What the Public Saw


It was widely believed that the public was never allowed within the massive walls of the Great Hypostle Hall, however, inscriptions found on the architraves (moulded frame over doorway), as well as some columns, propose on certain occasions some of the general populous was allowed in the hall to view the king in his portable bark.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I shall be back with more updates for December.

Explore the World!






Brand, Peter (2008), “The Karnak great hypostyle hall project.” 


Brand, Peter (2001), “Repairs ancient and modern in the great hypostyle hall at Karnak.” Bulletin of the American Research Center in Egypt, vol. 180, 1-6.


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.


Clarke, Somers and Reginald Engelbach (1990), Ancient Egyptian construction and architecture. New York: Dover Publications, xviii, 242 p., [66] .


Golvin, Jean-Claude (1987), “la restauration antique du passage du IIIe pylône.” Cahiers de Karnak, vol. VIII, 189-206.


Lorton, David (1999), “The theology of cult statues,” in Born in heaven, made on earth : the making of the cult image in the ancient Near East. Winona Lake: Eisenbraun, 123-210.


Nelson, Harold (1949), “Certain Reliefs at Karnak and Medinet Habu and the Ritual of Amenophis I.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 201-232.


Nelson, Harold (1949), “The rite of ‘bringing the foot’ as portrayed in temple reliefs.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 35, 82-86.


Shafer, Byron (1997), “Temples, Priests and Rituals,” in Temples of Ancient Egypt. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1-30.


Further reading

Brand, Peter (2000), The monuments of Seti I : epigraphic, historical, and art historical analysis. Leiden: Brill.


Brand, Peter (2007), “Veils, votives, and marginalia: the use of sacred space at Karnak and Luxor,” in Sacred space and sacred function in ancient Thebes. Chicago: Oriental Institue of the University of Chicago, 51-83.


Cooney, Kathlyn and J. Brett McClain (2002), “The daily offerings meal in the ritual of Amenhotep I: an instance of the local adaptation of cult liturgy.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, vol. 5, 41-78.


Murnane, William (2004), “The Karnak hypostyle hall project: (1992-2002).” annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte, vol. 78, 79-127.


Nelson, Harold (1940), Festival scenes of Ramses III. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, XII, p. 194-249 pl..


Nelson, Harold Hayden (1981), The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.


Rondot, Vincent (1989), “Restaurations antiques a l’entrée de la salle hypostyle ramesside du temple d’Amon-Rê à Karnak.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo, vol. 45, 249-259.


Rondot, Vincent (1997), La grande salle hypostyle de Karnak : les architraves. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, xiii, 209, 63p..


Seele, Keith (1940), The coregency of Ramses II with Seti I and the date of the great hypostyle hall at Karnak. Chicago: The University of Chicago press.


Teeter, Emily (1993), “Popular Worship in Ancient Egypt: Contrary to what is often written, commoners had access to their deities.” KMT: a modern journal of Ancient Egypt, vol. 4, no. 2, 28-37.



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