The word Karnak comes from the Arabic al-Karnak, expression meaning “the fortified village”.
In antiquity, this site was called Ipet Sout, which can be translated as “The very venerated Place”.
This largest religious complex in ancient Egypt (123 hectares) includes the enclosure of the Montou falcon god to the north, that of Amon-Re in the center, and that of the goddess Mout, his wife, to the south.
The main axis of the temple of Amon, perpendicular to the river, connects the Holy of Holies, to the east, to the Nile, to the west. The north-south secondary axis, called the royal axis, leads to the sacred complex of the goddess Mut. Oriented along these two orthogonal axes, the site of Karnak reflects the fundamental conception that the Egyptians made of the order of the world. The north-south axis is a terrestrial axis that corresponds to the course of the Nile, and the east-west axis a celestial axis that responds to the daily course of the sun, the second life-giving principle of the land of Egypt.
The site will experience its true golden age in the New Kingdom. The pharaohs will express their devotion to the main god by bringing large amounts of wealth from the territories over which Egypt extended its influence. They will contribute to the beautification of Karnak which will become the largest religious complex of antiquity.
The power of the clergy of Amon, considerable, will transform this power into a state within the state. The high priests of Amon will long retain a preponderant influence on the pharaonic monarchy. Thebes will remain the spiritual heart of Egypt when it loses its status as a dynastic capital. It was not until 391 AD, that a decree of Theodosius, will lead to the closing of the last sanctuaries to be dismembered.
Karnak will be rediscovered by Captain Norden and Reverend Poclocke in the early eighteenth century, before the expedition of Bonaparte inventory. The archaeological complex will become a career under Mehemet Ali. Auguste Mariette began to release the temples in 1858, at the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and at the request of the Khedive Ismâel Pasha.