Hatshepsut’s temple is a showpiece of the West Bank in Luxor. Its setting is superb- the temple rises in a series of broad terraces that at the topmost level join with a great bay of limestone cliffs.
Much of the mystique of the temple has to do with the personality of Hatshepsut herself, ancient Egypt’s only woman pharaoh. As a daughter of Tuhtmose I she had been married off to her half brother and heir to the throne. He duly succeeded to the throne as Tuthmose II, but died in his early thirties, leaving one young son whom he named as his successor, Tuhtmose III. As first step mother Hatshepsut acted as re-gent for the young king, but later usurped him altogether and declared herself pharaoh. To legitimize her position she was portrayed in statues and reliefs with all the regalia of kingship, including the royal false beard.
She held the throne until her death though there is some speculation that Tuhtmose III might have had a hand in this, after kept so long in waiting.
The site of the temple is often referred to as Deir al Bahari, after a Coptic Monastery (Deir) that once stood here. The original ancient Egyptian name was the far more evocative Djeser- djeser, Sacred of sacreds. The three temples stood side by side, but the two neighbors have not survived. Hatshepsut’s temple very nearly didn’t make it either.
Her successor, Tuhtmose III, vandalized the place out of spite at being kept off the throne. When discovered in the mid 19th century the temple was in ruins, and its present appearance is largely due to massive reconstruction by a polish Egyptian team that has been working on site since 1961. It is debatable how successful this rebuild is- one travel magazine described the place as resembling a Romanian bus depot. Exaggerated the comment may be, but the temple definitely has a cleaned lined, almost brutal modernist feel to it.
Only the core of the temple has been re-created; missing is the sphinx-lined causeway and the monumental entrance pylon that it would have led up. Beyond the pylon would have been the first court, now a dusty flat area where the lower ramp begins, Most people pass straight on up, but first take time to look around the lower colonnade, which depicts scenes of fishing and birds being caught in nets, and the transportation of the queen great obelisk’s from the Aswan quarries to Karnak.
Ascend to the second court and you can view the carved reliefs around the second level colonnade, which on the right hand side show the queen’s divine birth, and on the left hand side tell the story of an expedition to the land of Punt. No body is quite sure where this Punt was, but the best guess is that it equates to what is now Ethiopia or northern Somalia.
There is a detailed scene of ships being loaded up with sacks and animals, and myrrh trees being carried in baskets. Look to for the reception of the Egyptian Embassy by the king of Punt and his queen, who is almost elephantine appearance.
Beyond the Punt scene is the small Chapel ofo Hathor, which was originally approached by its own separate ramp up from the first court. It is crowded with columns, with capitals in the form of the features of the cow goddess.
At the back of the Chapel, just to the left of the entrance to the sanctuary, there is a carved relief of Hathor in the form of a cow licking the hand of Queen Hatshepsut. The third and uppermost terrace has been recently opened to doorway leading to the temple of Amun cared out of the cliff.
The Temple in Details
Although the majority of the scenes here have been destroyed, some do still survive – most notiably a scene of Tuthmosis III dancing before the god Min, and also a scene showing the journey of two obelisks down the Nile (see were erected at the temple of Karnak).
* Anubis Chapel
Any scenes of Hatshepsut have been destroyed, but scenes showing Tuthmosis III still survive (he is shown worshipping Seker). The chapel also has figures of many gods – Anubis, Nekheb, Uaset, Amen-Ra, Harmachis, Osiris (but Anubis occurs the most – in one scene Hatshepsut (now erased) makes offerings to him).
* Birth Colonnade
These scenes are a repetition of scenes carved on the walls of the temple at Karnak and show Hatshepsut’s divine birth (these scenes are now much damaged, mostly due to a vengeful Tuthmosis III, but also to Akhenaten who had the images of Amun-Re erased as part of his religious crusade).
The scenes start with Amen-Ra and an astral version of the unborn Hatshepsut, the gods decide that Queen Ahmose (wife of Tuthmosis I) would be a perfect mother for this unborn child. Once this has been decided Amun-Re comes down to Earth and enters Ahmose’s chamber after assuming the form of Tuthmosis I (Amun-Re at first finds Ahmose asleep but his godly presence wakes her), using his divine breath he impregnates Ahmose. Before he leaves, Amun-Re reveals his true nature to Ahmose and then that she will give birth to a daughter who will live to rule Egypt. Amun-Re then visits the god Khnum and tells him to fashion a human body for the unborn Hatshepsut:
* Punt Colonnade
These scenes show the famous expedition to Punt during Hatshepsut’s reign. The story begins with the Egyptian expedition (in two boats) arriving at the mysterious land of Punt, the sailors are rowing as the boats reach their destination:
“Arriving at the goodly way into God’s Land, journeying in peace to the land of Punt”.
Once the Egyptians land, a force of soldiers carrying spears, axes and shields are made ready in case of attack.The Egyptians have also brought with them some items to trade (strings of beads, an axe, a dagger, some bracelets and a wooden chest. The people of Punt welcome the Egyptians warmly, the Chief of Punt – Parahu – steps forward to meet the Egyptian officer (Parahu’s wife is shown behind him, many different explanantions have been offered to explain her strange appearance ranging from suffering from a disease to being overweight), two sons and a servant drive along a donkey which the queen, Parahu’s wife, sometimes rides:
* Hathor Chapel
Several of the columns in the chapel have been destroyed, although the surviving columns show them to have Hathor capitals similar to those found at Denderah: Tuthmosis III is shown presenting a sacred oar to Hathor, Hatshepsut dances before Hathor, Hathor licks the hand of an enthroned pharaoh. In the shrine of the Hathor Chapel, Hatshepsut is shown suckling one of Hathor’s udders, and at the end of the chapel Hatshepsut is shown seated between Hathor and Amun-Re.
The Upper Court
The name of Hatshepsut in this upper level has in most places been replaced by that of Tuthmosis III. The Upper Court consists of niches in the wall, in the middle is a doorway which leads to the inner sanctuary. The decoration inside consists of scenes of gods (Harmachis (there is also a limestone altar to Harmachis – any other gods near to this altar were destroyed by Akhenaten – Harmachis was as a form of the Aten) , Amun-Re, Min), once more any figures of Hatshepsut have been destroyed. There are also scenes of Tuthmosis I and Queen Senseneb (Tuthmosis I’s possible mother – if he was a son of Amenhotep I) making offerings to Anubis.
* The Sanctuary
In here there are various scenes of offerings to Amun-Re; Hatshepsut and her daughter Raneferu kneel before the barque of Amun-Re; Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis III and the Princess Raneferu sacrifice to the barque of Amen-Re. The most inner room of the Sanctuary was re-built in Ptolemaic times and scenes honour the deified Imhotep and Amenhotep son of Hap.
The Mortuary Temple after Hatshepsut.
After Hatshepsut’s death, Tuthmosis III replaced her image with his own – or erased her image completely as detailed above. Akhenaten then attacked the image of Amun-Re during his religious ‘crusade’ against the old gods, some additions to the temple were made by Ramesses II, Merneptah inscribed his name on the walls, in the Ptolemaic Period made some repairs to the temple (and mistook the temple to be in honour of Imhotep and Amenhotep son of Hap). Finally a Christian Monastery was built upon the ruins which left little of original temple visible.
Many burials are also to be found placed around the temple – in the 21st / 22nd Dynasty a cache of High Priests (163 mummies) was buried a few yards to the north of the temple.