Karnak Temple, Seti II Wall Conservation Project

Luxor, Egypt


In the heart of Karnak Temple, Thutmosis III, Egypt’s pharaoh from 1479 to 1425 B.C. and successor of Queen Hatshepsut, replaced Hatshepsut’s shrine with his own, and built the sixth pylon of the temple and a vast courtyard between the pylon and the chapel. Later he divided the courtyard into three sections, building two parallel walls decorated with texts from his Annals, the most detailed military record to survive from ancient Egypt. Of particular note, these texts chronicle the military campaigns of Thutmosis in Syria and Palestine.

Two centuries later Seti II dismantled this wall and rebuilt it, partly reusing the blocks with the Annals’ inscriptions, but hiding the decorated portions in the masonry and sculpting new motifs on the previously blank surfaces. Seti II kept the diorite gate that Thutmosis had retained from Hatshepsut’s chapel, but over time, it disappeared after the abandonment of the temple. As a result of excavations of the area in the late-nineteenth century, this gap in the courtyard wall, renamed “the accidental arch,” was consolidated by the archaeologist Georges Legrain at the beginning of the twentieth century by placing a steel bar on top of the wall, kept in place by iron bars inserted vertically into the stone blocks. Over the last several decades, changes in agricultural practice and population shifts have contributed to the rising water table in the area, which affected the base of this wall and the deterioration of the stones necessitated a radical intervention to avoid a catastrophic collapse.

How We Helped

From 2003 to 2006, WMF, through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage and in partnership with the French-Egyptian Centre for the Study of the Temple of Karnak, assisted with a project to dismantle the wall, consolidate its foundations, and build a concrete gate imitating the disappeared diorite gate from Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel, which was reconstructed by the French-Egyptian mission using fragments found in excavations. The wall was rebuilt, carefully documenting each dismantled block and, where possible, substituting blocks with the Annals’ inscriptions, some of which retain brilliant colors since they were hidden for millennia inside the wall of Seti II. The reconstructed wall and gate now make clear the relationship between the courtyards and have made much more secure an area where many tourists gather to view a statue of Tutankhamen.

Why It Matters

The danger posed by this huge wall in its precarious state could not be underestimated and there was an urgent need to find a sustainable solution for its conservation. The documentation and archaeological investigations undertaken by the French-Egyptian mission allowed the wall to be rebuilt, which ultimately led to astonishing discoveries about its history and evolution, not to mention the significant information gained through the possibility to read again portions of the Annals of Thutmosis III, hidden from view for millennia.

Last updated: August 2021.

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