Hidden Karnak – The White Chapel of Senuseret I

Karnak is part of the world largest open air museum, Luxor or Ancient Thebes, home of many Egyptian Gods and Goddesses and built by various Egyptian Pharaohs like Ramses II and Tutankhamen and in my opinion better than the Egyptian pyramids. For many visitors, it’s one of the essential things to do in Luxor.

The Ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt is the largest religious site in the world and yet most tour groups go round in about an hour. A standard family holiday package or Nile cruise often includes a visit. They go down the central axis to the holy of holy’s and then to the cafe at the sacred lake but there is so much more to this site than that brief glimpse can give you. Let me show you round Hidden Karnak.

Started in the Middle Kingdom and there are faint traces of these structures, some granite doorsteps in the central courtyard and the White Chapel of Senusret I or to give him his Greek name Sesostris. I have to stop here because this is my top artefact/structure in Egypt. I have been in Nefertari’s tomb and the tomb Seti I but nothing is as exquisite as this chapel.

Its preservation was an accident, you are pharaoh and building a nice new pylon, who wants that old fashioned stuff from hundreds of years ago but you need some hard core. So this work of art, this gem (do you get the picture I love it) was chopped up into small pieces and used to fill the pylon. Egyptologists excavating the pylon found the blocks and rescued them. Then put them together in the Open Air Museum at Karnak. This is one of my parts of Hidden Karnak.

This is the pearl of the museum but there are other objects and NOBODY goes there. It is an extra ticket, only 25LE but no tour company wants to pay that.

It sits proudly in the museum, officially roped off but give the guardian a small baksheesh 5 or 10Le and he will drop the rope and let you in. Take off your back pack, don’t you dare touch anything, this is a privilege. Study the individual hieroglyphs, take a single owl. Every feather is drawn; you can see flight feathers, down feathers, tail feathers. All carved in amazing detail. Look at the double feathers of Amun; you can even see the barbs of the opposing feathers. The skill, craftsmanship and attention to detail is amazing. Look at the difference between raised and incised relief. This is delicate stuff, not carved in with a spade like a Ramses temple but light subtle reliefs. And to crown it all it is actually a practical piece of documentation. Around the outside is the size of every Nome. You see when the Nile flooded every year boundaries were lost so you needed to know where one Nome (county) finished and the next one began. So they recorded it on this chapel. The Nome name, its standard and its length are carved in the limestone.

So take time out and go to the Open Air Museum in Karnak temple, if you are in the first courtyard look for the signs to the toilet, it is just past there. Pay the extra ticket and get an artistic experience that is second to none.