The Great Columns of theGreat Hypostyle Hall of Karnak Temple

The double row of open-flower papyrus columns in the central nave of the Great Hypostyle Hall. Each one is 21 meters high.

The main east-west axis of the Hypostyle Hall is dominated by a double row of 12 giant columns, each rising to a height of 21 meters (70 ft). All the columns in the hall represent papyrus stalks, and the 12 great ones have open capitals imitating the feathery blossoms of flowering papyrus.

The diameters of these giant bell-shaped capitals are 5.4 meters (18 ft), wide enough to support 100 men. Papyrus stalks are not cylindrical but have three sides with ridges along each edge. The columns are round, but a slight ridge runs up each column like a vertical seam in imitation of the plant. 

Ramesses II even placed his cartouches on the papyrus blossom capitals of the great columns more than 20 meters above the viewer.

Every inch of these columns has been inscribed by Ramesses II. three offering scenes encompass them on their lower halves. Royal cartouches and Ramesses' other royal titles have been inserted nearly everywhere possible from the base of the shafts to tiny ones on the outer rims of the papyrus capitals.  Two huge vertical cartouches below the scenes on each column face the processional axis, marking Ramesses II's claim to be the owner of the Hypostyle Hall. 

Three names in one cartouche. Ramesses IV first changed the "spelling" of his own name before Ramesses VI claimed the cartouches for his own. Note the plaster on either side of the large sun disk in the feathers of the god Amen (right) and Maat (left) . The rest of the plaster used to hide these changes has fallen out.

Several reigns later, Ramesses IV (ca. 1153-1147 BCE) added his own cartouches over triangular leaf patterns at the base of the shafts.  These are difficult to read because this king changed the spelling of his name and recut these inscriptions.

Later still, Ramesses VI (ca 1143-1136 BCE) took credit for these by placing his own name inside the cartouches. Plaster was used to cover the earlier versions each time. Most of this is gone, leaving a confusing jumble of hieroglyphs.  In some places the plaster remains, testament to a Pharaonic "cover-up."