The shrine in the southeastern (right rear) corner of the First Court is one of the best-preserved architectural features at Karnak. Rameses III based its plan on his memorial temple at Madinat Habu on the West Bank at Thebes. The small shrine/temple seems out of place here because it was built before the First Court was enclosed. It juts through the enclosure wall and now seems awkwardly placed.Until 1896, the shrine was almost completely buried under debris whose depth can be judged from the heavy staining on the walls. The shrine was decorated in the squat, heavy-handed style characteristic of most of Rameses III’s monuments, but it is well preserved largely because it was buried, and unlike many larger temples, its ground plan is easy to understand.
Two statues of Rameses III stand before the shrine’s first pylon. Nearby texts describe a great double leaf door of acacia wood plated with bronze that closed the doorway.
The king wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt on the face of the left (east) tower of the pylon and the crown of Lower Egypt on the right (west). His pose is a typical one, standing before Amen with a mace in one hand, grasping foreign captives with the other. Amen holds forward a sword of victory. The names of towns and countries in Nubia and western Asia from which the captives came were written nearby, but they are now destroyed. The west outer wall of the shrine shows the procession of barks from Karnak to Luxor Temple during the Opet Festival. This is also the subject of scenes in the colonnade of Luxor Temple. Inside the temple a small peristyle court has a colonnade of eight pillars on its east and west sides. Mummiform figures of the king as Osiris stand before the pillars, stocky figures carved with little concern for proportions or detail. The backs of the pillars show various deities. On the left (east) wall of the court, the bark of Amen is carried in procession by priests; on the right (west) wall, they carry ithyphallic statues of Amen; on the inside face of the pylon, Amen delivers blessings for a long life to Rameses III. At the southern end of the court a ramp leads to a vestibule (the pronaos) with four Osirid pillars and four columns. Behind it stands an eightcolumned hypostyle hall and beyond that, three doorways lead into chambers for Amen (in the center), Mut (on the left), and Khonsu (on the right). Each has at least one side chamber.
Imagine an ancient procession entering this temple. It is early morning, already hot, and the sunlight is intense. Senior priests carry on their shoulders a wooden bark with a gilded shrine holding a statue of the god. They have come from deep within the Temple of Amen and will pause here for prayers before continuing to the quay. Outside, the sunlight emphasizes the brilliant red, blue, yellow, and blindingly white paint on the temple walls. The procession moves slowly into the increasingly cool, dark chambers, and the priests pause to let their eyes adjust to the dim light. In the holy of holies at the rear of the temple, where the god’s statue is to be placed, the shrine is completely dark and silent. Only a few people are permitted here—senior priests, the king, selected royal family members—and they come to welcome the god’s statue and pray for a safe journey. To witness a ceremony in such a place must have been a profoundly moving experience. Rameses III’s shrine is an excellent example of a traditional New Kingdom temple. All the standard features are present. The temple façade is a pylon whose tall towers resemble mountains on the horizon, with a valley between them, behind which the sun rises and sets. The temple is bilaterally symmetrical along a single axis. Stone ramps in each gateway raise the floor of each chamber higher than its predecessor and the ceilings become lower, their dimensions smaller.
The procession from an open, sunlit environment into increasingly more restricted, dark, silent, and claustrophobic rooms reinforces the impression that one has entered a sacred place.
From" The Illustrated Guide to Luxor" by kent R.Weeks ,published by the American University in Cairo Press. Copyright © 2005 White Star S.p.a