Great Hypostyle Hall

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Great Hypostyle Hall is a large pillared-hall in the ancient Egyptian temple of Amun-Re, also known as the Karnak Temple. Great hypostyle hall was begun by Seti I, and completed by Ramesses II. The hall covers an area of 50,000 sq ft (5,000 sq meters) and filled with 134 gigantic stone columns with 12 larger columns standing 80 feet (24 m) high lining the central aisle.


The Second Pylon forms the huge “front door”of the Hypostyle Hall (illustration). During the first millennium BCE, disaster struck when part of the roof of the Second Pylon gateway collapsed. It was constructed but only partly inscribed when Horemheb died, (ca. 1304 BCE). His successor Ramesses I, who founded the 19th Dynasty, then completed the decoration of the Pylon during his brief reign. Ramesses I also built two small shrines which abutted the east face of the pylon on either side of the central passageway.


circa 1260 BCE

The main east-west axis of the Hypostyle Hall is dominated by a double row of 12 giant columns. These twelve great columns in its central nave surpass 20 meters (70 ft.) in height and are capped by huge open papyrus blossom capitals. The structural purpose of the twelve great columns was to support the higher roof of the clerestory in the central nave (illustration). The diameters of the giant bell-shaped capitals are 5.4 meters (18 ft), wide enough to support 100 men. Every inch of these columns has been inscribed by Ramesses II. Ramesses II also decorated each of the twelve columns with two scenes depicting him offering to the gods.

circa 1260 BCE

The 122 columns which comprise the bulk of this vast stone forest 12 meters (40 ft) high. They are only "small" in comparison to the 12 great columns in the nave. The smaller columns have closed-bud papyrus capitals imitating stalks which have not bloomed. As originally envisaged by its builders, the decorative scheme for these columns was much less elaborate than it later became. The scenes on these columns represent typical episodes from the daily cult rituals that took place in the temple sanctuary. In every case the pharaoh acts as chief priest adoring various gods.

circa 1386 BCE

Remains of the third pylon, though much ruined, in antiquity it was quite splendid and parts of it were even plated in gold by pharaoh Amenhotep III. In building the Third Pylon, Amenhotep dismantled a number of older monuments, including a small gateway he himself built earlier in the reign. The Pylon is most famous for the several hundred blocks from earlier buildings (White Chapel of Senwosret I and Red Chapel of Hatshepsut), discovered inside during the early 1900s restorations.

circa 1386 BCE

The southern exterior wall with the entrance (inspect) to the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. The outer walls depict scenes of battle, Seti I on the north and Ramesses II on the south. Adjoining the southern wall of Ramesses II is another wall that contains the text of the peace treaty he signed with the Hittites. Although these reliefs had religious and ideological functions, they are important records of the wars of these kings.

circa 1260 BCE

The northern exterior wall of the Karnak Hypostyle Hall is filled with a panorama of war scenes celebrating the military achievements of Seti I. The war scenes are our main source for Egypt's foreign relations during Seti's reign. The scenes are laid out in a symmetrical form on either side of the north gateway. The eastern half of the north wall is dedicated to Seti I's campaign in his first year as king. The hieroglyphic texts also record speeches by the god praising the king for his actions and gifts.

Columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall

A hypostyle is a large interior space with a flat roof supported by columns. The word comes from ancient Greek and it means 'under pillars.' In places like ancient Egypt and Persia, hypostyles were a way to create large inner spaces before the invention of more advanced roof systems like vaulted ceilings and arches. But all the columns meant a hypostyle wasn't an open space. Instead, it was like a forest of stone columns. Often, they were decorated with images or symbols related to the building's purpose or the ruler who built it. The Great Hypostyle Hall was dominated by sandstone columns. On both sides of a central hall, round columns supported two large roof sections. Images carved in relief (standing up a bit from the surface) covered walls and columns.



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