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Egypt: The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III on the West Bank at Luxor


The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III
on the West Bank at Luxor

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

A statue of Amenhotep III and his queen


Amenhotep III built not only the largest temple at Thebes (on the West Bank at Luxor), but in Egypt, measuring 700 by 550 meters. It covered 385,000 square meters (4,200,000 square feet). It was even larger than the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak. The temple's architect was also named Amenhotep, but was the son of Hapu. Unfortunately, it seem that the temple began to decay rapidly, and during the reign of Merenptah, it was actively used as a source of limestone blocks for the temple of that ruler.

The reason for this was perhaps a brilliant, but regrettable religious concept. The temple was apparently uniquely built on the flood plain. The temple was purposely built so low that the inundation of the Nile would flood its outer courts and halls, probably leaving only the inner sanctuary, built on a knoll above water level, dry. Thus, when the water receded, the whole temple symbolized the emergence of the world from the primeval waters of creation. Of course, this did nothing for the temple's preservation, particularly considering that many of the temple walls were built of mudbrick. Aggravating the destruction, many of the massive sandstone pylons and columns were far too heavy for the weak or even missing foundations upon which they were built.

However, we do have Amenhotep III's own description of the complex:

"He did (it) as his monument for (his) father Amen, lord of the throne of the two lands, making for him a splendid temple on the right of Thebes; a fortress of eternity out of good white sandstone - worked with gold throughout. Its floors were purified with silver, all its doorways were of electrum..."

Much of the temple was build during the last ten years of Amenhotep III rule and in conjunction with his three Sed-festivals.

Plan of Amenhotep III's temple

Though this temple has never been fully investigated, the only real remains seem to be the two huge statues we call the Colossi of Memnon, along with a few fragments of pylons, and various statues and column fragments A quartzite stela which has been re-erected but was probably originally one of a pair set up at the entrance to the court describes Amenhotep III's building accomplishments. Also, in the vicinity of the Solar court there are many column bases, though they are overgrown and difficult to spot, along with fragments of standing statues of Amenhotep III as Osiris. Some of the huge column bases are important to Egyptologists, because they reveal foreign place names known in the time of Amenhotep III, including references to the Aegean.

Other statues discovered in the area depict the goddess Sekhmet, sphinxes, some with the bodies of crocodiles and other deities. Ancient documents tell us that there was one seated and one standing statue of Sekhmet for each day of the year. Many other colossal statues were built here, including a pair of striding figures of the king that flanked the northern entrance to the temple, fragments of which also still remain. In fact, some Egyptologists believe that some of the colossal statues in the Ramesseum, including the famous fallen statue of "Ozymandia", were probably usurped from the Amenhotep III complex.

Of course, the Colossi of Memnon actually portray Amenhotep III. Due to an earthquake in 27 BC, these statues became known for a bell like tone that usually occurred in the morning due to rising temperatures and humidity. Thus they were equated by the early Greek travelers with the figure of Memnon, the son of Aurora who's mother, Eos, was the goddess of dawn. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, seeking to repair the statues, inadvertently silenced them forever.


Side of the Colossi of Memnon showing Nile gods uniting plants of Upper and Lower Egypt

Side of the Colossi of Memnon showing Nile gods uniting plants of Upper and Lower Egypt

These colossal statues set at the front of the temple, which was located almost directly across the Nile from the Temple of Luxor at Kom el-Hetan. Behind them were two massive courtyards with other seated, colossal statues. There were a total of three pylons. In front of the second set of pylons were two additional quartzite colossal statues, and before the third pylon stood two additional colossal statues made of alabaster. Betsy Bryan has suggested that this was the largest sculptural program in history.

A long processional way similar to that built by the king in the Luxor Temple, lined with sphinxes, stretched from the innermost pylons to a large peristyle solar court.

A considerable part of the temple was dedicated to Amen, but it is also known that the northern part of the temple was devoted to the Memphite deity Ptah, or Ptah-Sokar-Osiris to whom Amenhotep also built a temple in honor of in Memphis.

There is also a small, separate limestone temple dedicated to Ptah-Sokar-Osiris in the northern part of the compound. It had its own gateway flanked by two quartzite standing statues of Amenhotep III. However, it was so destroyed by stone thieves that we can barely guess at its ground plan.

Arial view of the Colossus of Memnon

Arial view of the Colossus of Memnon

References:

Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.

2000

Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs)

Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H.

1966

Thames and Hudson Ltd

IBSN 0-500-05080-5

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian

2000

Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor

Strudwick, Nigel & Helen

1999

Cornell University Press

ISBN 0 8014 8616 5

Valley of the Kings

Weeks, Kent R.

2001

Friedman/Fairfax

ISBN 1-5866-3295-7

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