By Marie Parsons
Hatshepsut is one of the more mysterious figures of ancient Egyptian history. Much is known of her reign as King, yet so many questions remain unanswered. Questions such as why late in the reign of her successor Tuthmosis III, 40 years after her death, did he suddenly seem to embark on a campaign to erase her name and memory from the lists of Kings.
Lying directly across the Nile from the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak, the rock amphitheater of Deir el-Bahri provides a natural focal point of the west bank terrain and an inviting site for the temples of many rulers. The natural rock amphitheater, a deep bay in the cliffs, was an important religious and funerary site in the Theban area. The remains of the temples of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, Hatshepsut, and Tuthmosis III, as well as private tombs dating to those reigns and through to the Ptolemaic period can be found here. The most important private tombs at Deir el-Bahri are those of Meketra, which contain many painted wooden funerary models from the Middle Kingdom, and even the first recorded human-headed canopic jar, and the tomb of Senenmut, Hatshepsuts adviser and tutor to her daughter..
An 11th Dynasty shaft tomb at the southern end contained a cache of forty royal mummies from the Valley of the Kings. The bodies had been re-interred there by 21st Dynasty priests, probably to safeguard against further attempts at robbery. The cache included the mummies of King Seqenenre Taa II, Ahmose I, Amenhotep I, Tuthmosis I, II and III, Seti I and Ramesses II, III, and IX, Pinudgjem I and II and Siamun. Later on, a cache of 153 reburied mummies of the priests themselves were also found in a tomb here.
The first monarch to build here was the Middle Kingdom ruler Nebhepetre Mentuhotep, whose temple became a template for similar later structures such as the much larger mortuary temple of Hatshepsut.
Temple of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep
Nebhepetre Mentuhotep was the first ruler of the 11th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom, and is often listed as I or II on modern dynastic king-lists. The Theban kings of the family Inyotef came to power as Egypt was once again unified after the First Intermediate Period. The Inyotef Kings have left almost no remains of temples associated with their cults. Nebhepetre continued his predecessors practice of combining cult structures with tomb.
The temple is called Akh Sut Nebhepetra, "Splendid are the places of Nehepetre". It was the first to be built in the great bay of Deir el-Bahri, just south of the tombs of his ancestors. The temple was discovered in the 1860s and was excavated after the turn of the century. It continued to be studied later on.
The temple is smaller and not so well-preserved as is the later temple built by Hatshepsut. Unlike the later mortuary temples it also functioned as a tomb, and differed from them in its multi-level construction and plan. A processional causeway led up from a small valley temple to a great tree-lined court beneath which a deep shaft was cut. This shaft led to unfinished rooms believed to have originally been intended as the kings tomb. Howard Carter found a wrapped statue of the king there.
The front part of the temple was made of limestone and was dedicated to Montu-Ra, local deity of Thebes before Amun. The rear of the temple was made of sandstone and was the cult center for the king.
The sides of the ramp leading to the upper terrace were colonnaded, and the upper terrace itself was given a colonnade on three sides. Octagonal columns surround a large squire structure, a funerary chapel. The enclosure also contained six chapels and shaft tombs for his wives and family members.
The inner part of the temple consists of a columned courtyard, beneath which was the entrance to the kings tomb cut into the rock. At the level of the terrace, the hypostyle hall contained the sanctuary of the royal cult. A statue of the king stood in the niche carved into the rock face.
Temple of Tuthmosis III
Tuthmosis III, the successor to Hatshepsut, built a temple complex here. It was only discovered in 1961, when restoration and cleaning work between the monuments of Mentuhotep and Hatshepsut was underway. The complex, perched on the rising rock of the cliffs, was built to Amun, as was a chapel to Hathor. The structure was probably intended to receive the barque of Amun during the Feast of the Valley, and thus would have replaced the temple of Hatshepsut.
After a landslide seriously damaged the temple at the end of the 20th Dynasty, it was apparently abandoned. It then became a quarry, and later, a cemetery for the nearby Coptic monastery.
Temple of Hatshepsut
The temple of Hatshepsut is the best-preserved of the three complexes. Called by the people Djeser-djeseru, "sacred of sacreds", Hatshepsuts terraced and rock-cut temple is one of the most impressive monuments of the west bank.
Situated directly against the rock face of Deir el-Bahris great rock bay, the temple not only echoed the lines of the surrounding cliffs in its design, but it seems a natural extension of the rock faces.
The temple was little more than a ruin when first excavated in 1891, but it has led to a great deal of successful reconstruction. The temple took 15 years to build and was modified throughout that time. The approach to the temple was along a 121-foot wide, causeway, sphinx-lined, that led from the valley to the pylons. These pylons have now disappeared
It consisted of three broad courts separated by colonnades, probably imitating the earlier funerary complex of Mentuhotep to its south. These terraces were linked by ascending ramps, and bounded by dressed limestone walls. Hatshepsut recorded that she built the temple as "a garden for my father Amun," and the first court once held exotic trees and shrubs brought from Punt.
Its portico was decorated on its northern side with scenes of the marshes of Lower Egypt, and on the south side, with scenes depicting the quarrying and transportation of the great obelisks in Upper Egypt. The portico on the second court was carved on its southern side with relief scenes of the exploits of her soldiers on the famous trading mission to Punt, and on the north side of this portico are depicted the birth scenes showing Hatshepsuts divine conception as daughter of Amun himself.
The site of Deir el-Bahri was traditionally connected with the goddess Hathor, chief deity of the Theban necropolis, and long sacred to the goddess. At the southern end of the second colonnade is a complete Hathor chapel, originally with its own entrance. The chapel contains a vestibule with the characteristic Hathor-headed pillars, a 12-columned hypostyle hall and inner rooms also decorated with various scenes of Hatshepsut and Hathor. At the northern end of the same colonnade is a somewhat smaller chapel of Anubis, again with a 12-columned hall and inner rooms.
The upper terrace had an entrance portico decorated with Osiride statues of the female king, that is, statues of Hatshepsut sculpted to appear as the god Osiris, before each pillar, though most of these statues have been destroyed. The portico opened to a columned court flanked on the left with a chapel dedicated to the royal cult, and on the right by a chapel of the solar cult, with open court and altar.
Eighteen cult niches, nine on each side, flank the rock sanctuary of Amun, which was the focus of the entire complex. During the Amarna period, many of the images of Amun were destroyed
During the Ptolemaic time the sanctuary was expanded to include the cults of architects Amenhotep son of Hapu, who oversaw works for Amenhotep III, and Imhotep, who designed the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. In the 7th century ACE, the temple area became the site of a Coptic monastery, from which the Arabic name Deir el-Bahri is derived.
- Thebes in Egypt by Nigel and Helen Strudwick
- Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt by Richard Wilkinson
- Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt by John Baines and Jaromir Malek
Marie Parsons is an ardent student of Egyptian archaeology, ancient history and its religion. To learn about the earliest civilization is to learn about ourselves. Marie welcomes comments to email@example.com.
Last Updated: June 12th, 2011