The First Pylon of the Mut Temple, South Karnak - Architecture, Decoration, Inscriptions

Apr 6, 2020

Fazzini, Richard A. and Van Dijk, Jacobus (eds) The First Pylon of the Mut Temple, South Karnak: Architecture, Decoration, Inscriptions, OLA 236 (2015).

Taharqa Gate & Ptolemaic chapel after restoration (Photo Brooklyn Museum Mut Expedition, J. van Dijk)

In 2014, the Mut Precinct in South Karnak reopened its gates to the public after being closed for almost 40 years. The reopening was the result of the work of the Brooklyn Museum’s expedition to the Mut Precinct, the Johns Hopkins University’s Mut Expedition, and the American Research Center in Egypt.

Project description

The Brooklyn Museum Mut Expedition at South Karnak began the systematic exploration of the northern half of the site and its monuments in 1976 under the direction of curator Richard A. Fazzini. The Detroit Institute of Arts assisted in this work from 1978 to 2001. 

When work began, most of the site was covered with rolling mounds of earth and debris. The work on the Ptolemaic texts at the Mut Precinct began in the late 1980s, concentrating first on those on the gateway of the Mut Temple's First Pylon, their study and collation virtually completed by the mid-1990s.

Since 2001, the Brooklyn Museum’s mission has shared the site with a team from Johns Hopkins University under the direction of Dr. Betsy Bryan. Each mission is “responsible for its own areas of the precinct but cooperating on matters related to conservation and preparing to open the site to the public (e.g., interpretive materials, laying out walkways). Brooklyn has concentrated its efforts on the precinct north of the Second Pylon of the Mut Temple but has also worked on the Contra-Temple immediately south of the Mut Temple. Johns Hopkins has concentrated on the rest of the site from the Mut Temple's Second Pylon southward, including the temple of Ramesses III (Temple C) and the largely unexplored land south of the Isheru. The goals of this work have been and remain the excavation, preservation, restoration and publication of the site's structures.”

Decorative program

The Mut Precinct lies to the south of the great Amun temple of Karnak to which it is oriented. The two temple complexes are connected by an avenue of sphinxes. The Mut precinct’s massive enclosure walls surround an area of approx. 20 acres. The site “contains the remains of three major temples: the Temple of Mut proper, the temple erected by Ramesses III, and the temple in the northeast corner of the precinct with the modern designation Temple A.”

The Mut Temple is surrounded on three sides by a sacred lake called Isheru. 

There may have been a Mut temple at Karnak as early as the Middle Kingdom, however the earliest standing remains date to the reigns of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III. At that time the temple was “significantly smaller than it eventually came to be. In fact, the existing First Pylon of the Mut Temple was originally the location of the front section of a Tuthmoside enclosure wall for the Precinct.” Temple A may have been first built by Amenhotep III, which then Ramses II renovated and expanded into a “Temple of Millions of Years”.

 “All three of these major monuments have been reduced to ruins by the removal of a considerable amount of stone, probably for building purposes elsewhere. Numerous subsidiary structures, including the significant remains of a sizable chapel of Ptolemaic date adjacent to a monumental gateway erected by Taharqa of Dynasty XXV attest to the continued development of the precinct. In addition, during a late part of its history the precinct was entered through a propylon,” a massive stone gateway built in Ptolemaic times. 

“The main entry way to the Temple of the goddess Mut is through a stone gateway in a pylon constructed in mud brick. This entranceway in the First Pylon is divided into three units and consists of the gate proper, which is preceded on the north by a later addition containing relief images of the god Bes that are part of the colonnade erected before the gate. A small addition at the rear of the main gate leads into the First Court of the temple.”

“In the Temple of the goddess Mut much of the building material has been discovered to be reused. Few of the walls have been preserved to a height that would include even inscriptions, let alone dedications with names of kings. The pylon gateway, reduced to a mere five courses of stone, offers a limited opportunity to gather some textual and artistic information from the remains of what may have once been a majestic monument to the goddess.”

Documentation method

“With the exception of these Ramesside text, we have not attempted facsimile reproductions of the gateway's inscriptions as all involved agreed that accurate hand copies accompanied by photographs would be sufficient. The facsimile and hand copies were drawn by Dr. van Dijk. The hieroglyphs within the commentary were created by Dr. Jochen Hallof of the University of Würzburg. The maps were produced by William H. Peck, and all photographs are by Mary E. McKercher unless otherwise noted.”

Visual example(s)

Pl. 48. Text 18 (Sety II text): photographs and facsimile copy

Pl. 54 a. South end with reconstruction of decorative friezes.

PL 58. Text 22: photograph and facsimile copy.

Pl. 63. Text 27: photograph and hand copy.

What we like

  • Wherever still retraceable, clean, single-weight lines represent the carved decorative surface (mostly textual elements), emphasizing readability over stylistic nuances.
  • This clean presentation of the decorative surface is achieved through eliminating most of the nondecorative elements while providing important additional data, such as block lines.
  • Composite drawings of multiple fragments visualize the relative placement of individual pieces, delivering a more comprehensive view of the larger decorative program.
  • Basic reconstruction drawn by single-weight lines is provided to connect individual wall fragments, indicating their relative placement on the wall.
  • To avoid overcomplicating the visual representation, damage is only indicated at block lines.

Additional reading

This article is based on The First Pylon of the Mut Temple, South Karnak: Architecture, Decoration, Inscriptions, OLA 236 (2015), edited by Fazzini, Richard A. and Van Dijk, Jacobus, which you can purchase from Peeters Publishers or Amazon US.

To read more about the Brooklyn Museum’s Mut expedition, visit their website.

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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