BAR 35:03, May/Jun 2009
One of ancient Egypt’s most impressive monuments is the great Hypostyle Hall from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. The hall, begun by Pharaoh Seti I and completed by his son Ramesses II in the 13th century B.C., is made up of 134 soaring columns capped by papyrus-shaped capitals that once supported an 80-foot-high ceiling. Some of the columns are more than 30 feet in circumference, so large that it takes the extended arm spans of six individuals to completely encircle it. When completed, the Hypostyle Hall and its forest of pillars covered an area of more than 50,000 square feet, making it one of the largest interior spaces ever built.
Hypostyle halls were a regular part of Egyptian New Kingdom temple architecture. Standing just before the rooms of the temple’s inner sanctum, the darkened interiors of these halls were thought to symbolize the primordial Nile marshes out of which all life had emerged. But beyond their symbolic meaning, the towering columns and immense walls of these grand hypostyle halls provided ideal canvases for illustrating the virtues and victories of Egypt’s pharaohs. At the great Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, for example, the hall’s interior is covered with scenes of pharaohs making dutiful offerings to the resident god Amun; its exterior depicts their military victories over enemies in Palestine, Syria and beyond.
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