The Osirian Temple of Taharqa at Karnak

The Osirian Temple of Taharqa at Karnak in Egypt

By Jimmy Dunn

A baboon worships the sun on a Nubian block found on the west wall of Taharqa's small building

South of the main east-west axis of the temple of Amun at Karnak in Luxor (ancient Thebes), and east of the secondary north-south axis is the Sacred Lake of the temple. A number of structures surround the lake, including a small building on its northwest corner that is known as the Osirian Temple of Taharqa. Though this structure is not specifically attached to the main temple complex, it is in alignment with the main axis and attached to the Sacred Lake, and should probably be considered as a part of the temple of Amun. This structure looks not unlike an almost square mastaba style tomb with a torus at each corner but no doors on any of its outer walls. A study of the east wall which is composed of blocks that are at times scored and sometimes unfinished, suggests that there existed at this location an access ramp that lead to the terrace of the structure. Therefore, one would have had to cross the terrace from east to west to reach a staircase that then descended into the chambers located in the northwest corner of the monument. The direction of the walk from east to west would be in conformity with that of the king represented on the north facade of the building, but opposite to the general advance of the king inside the temple.

Floorplan of the main section of the Osirian Temple of Taharaqa at Karnak

A study of the cartouches and the hammered out double ureus on the blocks of this structure allow it to be dated to the 25th Dynasty, Nubian reign of Taharqa, with blocks reused from his predecessor, Shabaka. Psamtik II (Psammetichus II) subsequently added his cartouches to the building. On the outside northern facade of this building we find several interesting scenes. Here, the king is purified by a double stream made up of the ankh and the was (Life and Power) that falls in a dome around him. His two open hands show the palm of one and the back side of the other. Two falcons cross their wings over the king's chest under his three-row user necklace. As is the Nubian style, the musculature of the kings legs is prominent. Here, the cartouche of Taharqa has been etched out and replaced by that of Psamtik II. To the left of this scene is another where the king is clad in a pleated loincloth with a triangular front panel.

The king offers incense

He offers incense to his father Atum. He holds a "cubit of incense" which he sprinkles into a fire. Within the structure are additional support walls that rise about 1.5 meters that contain a large number of reused stones from the Nubian period, of which several still retain the cartouche and the two uraei, not hammered out, of Shabaka. This whole area, with the exception of the several rooms in the northwest corner of the building, is thought to have been filled with dirt or debris. Within the structure, in the corner northwest room, on its southern wall is a depiction of the king and behind him are six baboons, They face the east, and are called "the eastern souls who worship Ra" when he rises. There may have originally been two groups of four baboons each facing east. The classic tests, according to A. Piankoff, states:

The king and baboons worship the rising sun

"To worship the sun and cause it to rise, by the spirits of the east. The sprits of the east are the four neters (gods) who worship the sun. It is they who make the sun to rise and who open the doors of the four gates of the sky's eastern horison" The Egyptians chose the baboon for this symbolism because the animal seems to greet the morning sun, and is said to give a howl at every hour and urinate twelve times during the day and twelve at night during the equinox. On the interior north wall of this chamber is a scene depicting the solar barque. The surface on which this bas-relief is sculpted has been flattened out, removing the base of a dozen columns of hieroglyphs from which the cartouches have been visibly removed or cut away. The solar barque is proceeding from east to west, in the direction of the sun's daily path. In the middle is Atum in his naos, who is surmounted by the single word "iuf", which means flesh.

The solar barque as depicted in the temple
The solar barque as depicted in the temple

To the southeast of this chamber is another that in turn leads into an inner chapel. Here, carved on the lintel to the doorway into the chapel is a very strange and extremely rare representation. On one side, a female figure draws a bow with her left arm pulled behind her back, while on the other side, a male figure, who holds a club in his left hand, is making the "great stride". This is Taharqa and his mother. In the center is depicted a tree which juts up from a hemispheric mound drawn within a rectangle. Text here describes this as the shndt tree (spiny acacia of the chest). The name of Osiris is on the mound. A similar representation on a Saite sarcophagus explains that "This is the mound that hides what it holds; this is the hill of Osiris" Along the northwest wall of this structure on the inside runs the staircase leading to the terrace.

Taharqa and his mother on the lintel of the door leading to the inner chapel

Taharqa and his mother on the lintel of the door leading to the inner chapel

On the wall next to the staircase are representations of androcephalic figures and mummified baboons, each of which correspond to a stair, climbing from north to south above a solar disk. In the Royal Tombs of the West Bank, when present, the Book of the Night is usually found on the western walls, while the Book of the Day is on the east. The ascension of the figures here very probably correspond to the last hours of the night. During excavations conducted between 1949 and 1950, two additional walls of unbaked brick were unearthed that lead off of the north and south ends of the east wall of the main structure. Apparently this was a sort of courtyard that preceded the "pure wells" from which the water for purifications of the daily ritual were drawn. The southern brick wall is interrupted at its easternmost end by the opening of a staircase that descends to the sacred lake, perpendicular to its border wall.

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See also:

The Great Hypostyle Hall

The Courtyard of the Cachette






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