Posted Date: 10/27/2020
It was during the Old Kingdom and a breakdown of all central authority that Egypt fell into the chaos of a civil war known as the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BC). Egypt’s power rose from the ashes of that turmoil and that was the beginning the Middle Kingdom 2055 – 1650 BC. It is reported that Egypt reached the pinnacle of culture during the 12th Dynasty, and therfore, it influenced the rest of ancient Egypts history.
The Middle Kingdom is also famous for some beautiful artwork/objects and iconic complexes. The Temple of Amun in Karnak (aka Karnak Temple) began construction under the reign of Middle Kingdom King Senusret I (c. 1971-1926 BC). It grew to a size of 200 acres over 2000 years and became a place to worship the Egyptian gods, Amun, Mut and Khonsu.
In Tomb Raider IV, we see Lara Croft venture into the Karnak temple complex on her mission to defeat Set (Egyptian: stẖ). But why did the ancient Egyptians choose Thebes to build the eventual largest temple complex in the world?
About Karnak (Ipetsut)
To know more about Karnak (named Karnak by Arabs during the Arab invasion in 640 AD (see the timeline below) we go back to the history of Thebes (aka Waset) (modern-day Luxor).
The reason Thebes was the central hub of religion in ancient day Egypt was because they believed that it is where life began. This is the reason they called what is known as Karnak Ipetsut which means “the most select of places” It was also called Nesut-Towi, “Throne of the Two Lands.”
Their belief system taught that Thebes was the first city founded on the place of the primordial mound that rose from the waters of chaos. So, they believed that their creator god Atum stood on the mound and started creation, therefore making this sacred land and the perfect place for the centre of their religious structures to dwell thus began Karnak.
It is reported that the Temple is the most massive religious structure in the world. It grew in size over the centuries as each new King added to it as well as building the Great Hypostyle Hall in the New Kingdom. However, I won’t elaborate on the Hall for I have written an older article about it HERE.
This is why the Temple of Amun was started at this sacred site during the middle kingdom, and the entire complex was added to for centuries to come.
Because the first king to kick off the first Temple of Karnak was Senusret I, let’s learn more about him.
Who was Senusret I? Ḫpr-kȝ-Rʿ
Senusret I ruled Egypt during the Middle Kingdom and was the second king of the 12th Dynasty. His father made him a co-regent early in his life, so after his father Amenenhet I was killed, after 20 years as the King, it was well established for Senusret I to ascend the throne. The name “Senusret” means “Man of goddess Wosret”, and his throne name means: “The soul of Re comes into being” it is written as: “Kheper-ka-re”
Senusret I ruled for 44 years in total 10 years as co-regent 30 years as the only King and 4 years with his son. The Middle Kingdom was a period in Ancient Egyptian history that boasted some of the most lavish artistry of its time. Senusret I contributed to the fantastic artistry and craftsmanship of the Middle Kingdom. His White Chapel illustrates this point; additionally, he also built it at the sacred site of Karnak. Let’s explore this structure.
The White Chapel or Jubilee Chapel of Senusret I
Typically, on the 30th year of a king’s rule in ancient Egypt, they recognised it through the Sed festival. So, the White Chapel was constructed in recognition of his 30th year of being King. It is also believed that it was used to store the royal barque and thus was also referred to as the “barque shrine.” However, that is still up for debate whether or not it was a barque shrine. If it was, it was possibly during the rule of Senusret I’s successors Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV for their names are inscribed upon the pedestal.
Here is the pedestal
On the various pillars found in the glorious chapel, there are not only his royal names, but the King appears with Amun, Min, Horus and Ptah in different scenes. The following photo illustrates a scene with Senusret I from the Jubilee (Heb-Sed) festival.
The chapel was a virtual carved history of his jubilee, and it housed a throne which the King sat on during the festivities and later statues of the King sat in his place after the Sed was over. The chapel was a monument to the King’s 30 years of rule.
Man builds man destroys …
During the 18th Dynasty, it was disassembled to add as fill for Amenhotep III’s Third Pylon at Karnak. It wasn’t until 1924 that Henri Chevrier (the director of works at Karnak) was ordered to repair this Pylon where the numerous blocks from the White Chapel were discovered. The best thing about this discovery is that though they were damaged, the artwork was impeccably preserved.
Nearly all of the beautiful chapel was reconstructed. Other blocks from other structures were additionally discovered as fill on the same site and used to reconstruct those buildings as well. However, the White Chapel is known for being the most elegant of all the structures in Karnak. Furthermore, Chevier believes that it may have been covered in gold foil, making it more exquisite.
Deciphering the walls of the White Chapel
To understand the walls of the beautiful chapel, you must understand or read hieroglyphics. They are fascinating and very well explained in the following photo and video.
For a brief rundown of the photo above, you should know that the two columns on the front covered with glyphs mirror each other. They speak of King Senusret I. They write out his five names which each Egyptian King had. Everything on these walls is about the King, and in this lesson video, each glyph is explained in detail.
The King’s names
Thank you for reading this article. I shall leave you with this beautiful recreation of ancient Egypt that is worth watching. It is breathtaking.
And don’t forget to check out the timeline below! I will be back with another article in a few!
Explore the world!
~ Emma aka M. Harris
- Here is the timeline c. 2112 BCE – c. 2063 BCE
First monument raised at Karnak by Wahankh Intef II.
- c. 1971 BCE – c. 1926 BCE
- c. 1971 BCE – c. 204 BCE
- 1570 BCE – 1069 BCE
- c. 1069 BCE – c. 525 BCE
Expansion continues during disunity of the Third Intermediate Period.
- 525 BCE
- c. 404 BCE – c. 398 BCE
Persians driven out of Egypt by Amyrtaeus.
- 380 BCE – 362 BCE
Construction continues at Karnak under Nectanebo I.
- 221 BCE – 204 BCE
Last work done at Karnak under the reign of Ptolemy IV.
- 336 CE
- c. 640 CE
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- Ask Aladdin: Egyptian TravelAccessed 1 Dec 2016.
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- Gibson, C. The Hidden Life of Ancient Egypt. Saraband, 2009.
- Shaw, I. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2016.
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- Wilkinson,T. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2013.