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The Third Pylon & Obelisks

Precinct of Amun Ra - Karnak Temple - Theban Temples

Ipet Sut, “Most Select of Places”

The Precinct of Amun Ra

3rd Pylon 

Constructed by Pharaoh Amenhotep III as a new entrance to the Festival Courtyard of Karnak Temple, long before the Hypostyle Hall was conceived by Pharaoh Seti I. As with much else in the ancient Temple, the Pylon is in ruins now, using the 2nd Pylon as a Template, you can still see the footing of how large and imposing this Pylon would have been at its peak, especially as Pharaoh decorated the Reliefs with gilded gold and precious stones. It would have literally shimmered in the sun’s reflections.

Egyptologists know about this decoration from a Stelae which Pharaoh erected commemorating the Pylon and his wish to show his devotion to the God Amun Ra.

“The king made a monument for Amun, making for him a very great gateway before Amun-Re lord of the thrones of the two lands, sheathed entirely in gold, a divine image according to respect, filled with turquoise [one-half ton], sheathed in gold and numerous stones [two-thirds ton of jasper]. The like had never been made… Its pavement was made of pure silver, its front portal inset with stelae of lapis lazuli, one on each side. Its twin towers approach heaven, like the four supports of the sky. Its flagpoles shine skyward sheathed in electrum.”

To learn more about Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his building projects, including his Malkata City Palace Complex, click here



The Construction of the Pylon came at the price of other earlier monuments which had been erected on site and were then used as “filler” for the internal bricks. These included the White Chapel of Pharaoh Senusret I (see left image) and the Red Chapel of Pharaoh Hatshepsut (see left and above image) which were discovered in the ruins of the Pylon by Egyptologists and are now fully re-erected and in the Open-Air Museum within Karnak Temple’s precincts. To visit the Red Chapel, click here. To visit the White Chapel, click here

Pharaoh Akhenaten’s followers of the Aten damaged the Reliefs on the Pylon which was then restored by his son and successor, Pharaoh Tutankhamun and then again by Pharaoh Horemheb, both of whom inserted images of themselves rather than the Pylon’s builder.

A particular relief to be noted is that which shows the navigation of the Sacred Barque of God Amun Ra. See Image Below.


Using your imagination, at either end of the Boat are the Reliefs of the Pharaoh, in the centre is the resting position for the Cabin and where the Barque of God Amun Ra resides, here the Deity is offered flowers and incense by the Pharaoh’s image at the front of the Boat. The Pharaoh’s image at the rear of the boat steers the boat.

The interesting part is what was originally added and then appears to have been removed before the final carving was undertaken. In a smaller version, wearing the Blue Crown of the Throne, and copying Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s positions precisely appears to be an exact copy of the Pharaoh. So, who is this shadowy copy of Pharaoh?

  1. Pharaoh Amenhotep III originally had the smaller images made but then changed his mind to the more prominent ones on show.
  2. Co-Regent with his father, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV? Who later changed his name to become Pharaoh Akhenaten. For more details about Pharaoh Akhenaten and his change in religion, click here.
  3. Pharaoh Amenhotep IV when he succeeded his father added the Reliefs of himself
  4. Pharaoh Tutankhamun when he was restoring damage done to the Reliefs by his father’s Aten followers, to see details of this, click here to read about Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s Restoration Stelae.

We may never know with 100% accuracy, but I believe, due mainly to what he stated in his Stelae, that this is the figure of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. One of his many efforts to realign his Kingdom with its traditional plethora of Gods at whose head sat the God Amun Ra. In depicting himself beside his Grandfather, Pharaoh Amenhotep III, he was disavowing everything that his father had done and aligning himself with the traditional and successful reign of his grandfather.


The slim lined dominating Amun Ra Precinct Obelisks are found in a fairly tight cluster when you consider the size of Karnak Temple!

Tuthmose I’s Obelisk

The first we will examine is from the Reign of Pharaoh Tuthmose I in the 18th Dynasty. The Obelisk would have been one of a pair which would have each weighed approx. 143 tons, hewn from a single piece of stone and shipped to the Temple via barges on the Nile before being hauled into position. The remaining Obelisk is nearly 22 meters high with a base of 1.8 meters square. During the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmose I his own 2 Obelisks would have stood proudly in front of the Temple itself; this is today what we know as the 4th Pylon. 

Hatshepsut’s Obelisks

The second Obelisk is from Pharaoh’s daughter, Pharaoh Hatshepsut. This Obelisk is located behind the 4th Pylon but is discussed here to be shown for the similarities and differences between Obelisks depending on which Pharaoh Commissioned them.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her High Steward and Architect Amenhotep, built her original pair of Obelisks to be nearly 30 meters high with a weight of anywhere from 155 to 325 tons each. Click here to learn more about Architect Amenhotep.

These are known to have been hewn from the quarry at Sehel Island, close to modern day Aswan. To learn more about the ancient quarries, what they produced and how they made these and other massive monuments, click here. Egyptologists have translated the confirmation of the construction, delivery and erection of the Obelisks from Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri in the Theban Necropolis. As well as in her Red Chapel on site at Karnak Temple.

Click here to visit Deir el Bahri in the Theban Necropolis and click here to see the reconstructed Red Chapel of Pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Despite several of her successor’s attempts to obliterate her name and monuments from the history of ancient Egypt, her standing Obelisk inside Karnak Temple remains the tallest standing to date.

Today the Obelisk looks as though it is made of 2 different hues of stone, but this effect was caused by Pharaoh Tuthmose III, her successor, building a large wall around the bottom of the Obelisk to obliterate its meaning and reading for generations after they were both in their Tombs.

Today, this Wall does not obscure our view and we can see the hieroglyphs that explain the reasons why Pharaoh Hatshepsut constructed her pair of Obelisks:

I was sitting in the palace and I remembered the One who created me; my heart directed me to make for him two obelisks of electrum, that their pyramidions might mingle with the sky amid the august pillared hall between the great pylons of my father. . . . My Majesty began to work on them in the year 15, the second month of Winter, 1st day, continuing until Year 16, fourth month of Summer, 30th day, spending 7 months in cutting it from the mountain. . . . I acted for him with a straightforward heart, as a king does for any god. . . Let not anyone who hears this say it is boasting which I have said, but rather say, ‘How like her it is, she who is truthful to her father.’ The god knows it in me Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands. . . . I am his daughter in very truth, who glorifies him”

According to Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s own reliefs she made the Obelisks

“ . . . for her father Amun, Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, erecting for him two large obelisks at the great gate ‘Amun is Great in-Terror’, wrought with very much electrum, which illuminates the Two Lands like the sun. Never was the like made on earth since the beginning. It was done for him by the sun of Ra ‘Hatshepsut, unified with Amun’, may she live forever like Ra.”

The second of the pair has collapsed and part of it remains at Karnak. Being able to see what would have been inaccessible if the Obelisk had remained aloft is precious to all professional and enthusiastic Egyptologists. On the Pyramidion – the very pinnacle – there is a relief of Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the kingly regalia holding her stepson and successor, the future Pharaoh Tuthmose III.

My Plan of Karnak Temple


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