“ NEXT to the Pyramids,” says Wathen, “the most wonderful relic of Egyptian art is, undoubtedly, the Great Hall of the Temple-Palace of Karnak. From the inscriptions we learn that this Hall was founded by Nenepthah-Osiri I., father of the Great Ramses, who was on the throne about the middle of the fifteenth century B.C. Its superficial area, three hundred and forty-one feet by one hundred and sixty-four, is sufficiently spacious for a large quadrangle. Majestic in ruin, what must it have been when perfect? The massive stone roof is supported by a phalanx of one hundred and thirty-four giant columns, ranged in in sixteen rows; most of these are nine feet in diameter, and nearly forty-three feet high; but those of the central avenue are not less than eleven feet six inches in diameter, and seventy-two feet high. The diameter of their capitals at their widest spread is twenty-two feet. The walls, columns, architraves, ceilings - every surface exposed to the eye is overspread with intaglio sculptures - gods, heroes, and hieroglyphics, painted in once vivid colours. It is easy to detail the dimensions of this building, but no description can convey an idea of its sublime effect. What massive grandeur in its vistas of enormous columns! what scenic effects in the gradations of the chiaro-scuro, and the gleamings of accidental lights athwart the aisles!”

    The roof is formed of ponderous blocks, stretching across the aisles. The three central avenues rise above the general level, and the spaces between the upper piers are filled with close-set loopholes: besides these, the only openings for the light appear to have been the great doorway at the ends of the middle avenue, and a few slits in the roof of the remote aisles. Thus, while a solemn gloom reigned through the interior generally, the nave was strongly lighted, and brought into prominence as a master line bisecting the hall.

    Impressive as Karnak is when visited, Roberts laughs at the affected enthusiasm of the French army, as narrated by Denon - stopping en masse, and clapping their hands in an ecstasy of delight. In the vast plain of Thebes these ruins, enormous as they are, are mere patches, and nothing could have been distinguished at the distance whence these are first seen to create such enthusiasm, or make this show of it a praiseworthy performance. “It is only,” says our Artist, “on coming near that you are overwhelmed with astonishment: you must be under these stupendous masses - you must look up to them, and walk around them - before you can feel that neither language nor painting can convey a just idea of the emotions they excite. That such masses could ever have been displaced, seems to be as surprising as they were ever erected: but there is abundant evidence that fire was one of the means of destruction employed: at least in the closer passages and corridors, where the stones are splintered by this element in every direction.”

    The obelisk seen in the distance is one of two placed there by Thothmes III., 1600 B.C., and within fifty years of the commencement of the Temple of Karnak.


Wathen’s Arts and Antiquities of Egypt.           Roberts’s Journal.