The mortuary temple of Merenptah (Merneptah), Ramesses II‘s thirteenth son and successor, mainly was destroyed long ago but recently has been restored to a large degree and is one of the newest of the sites on the west bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes) available for sightseeing. In addition, a modern museum was built near the temple complex to display items unearthed during the excavations. The restoration work was completed by the Swiss Institute of Archaeology in collaboration with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
Location of the Temple of Merenptah
Under Horst Jaritz, the Switzerland institute led 15 seasons of excavation and restoration of the Temple of Millions of Years of Merenptah. Situated on the west bank at Luxor, this temple is located between the Ramesseum and the Colossi of Memnon.
During these excavations and restorations, the archaeological team made several discoveries, including blocks from a monumental gateway, fragments of a colossal limestone sphinx and parts of nine jackal-headed sphinxes. We are told by the project director, Horst Jaritz, that some of these objects were stunning. For example, he notes the find of astonishingly well-preserved polychrome reliefs of Amenhotep III, which may be the finest examples known from Egyptian history.
The New Museum
The structure, which reused many materials (including statuary) from other monuments (including those of Hatshepsut and Akhenaten), especially those of Amenhotep III mortuary temple, was excavated by Petrie. However, it should be noted that Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple was almost destroyed before Merenptah quarried its stone. Petrie discovered the famous Israel Stele here in 1896. However, this stele too was initially made for Amenhotep III. But it was Merenptah, a 19th Dynasty King. He had the text recarved on its reverse side to describe his victories over the Libyans and other foreign people, including Israel’s earliest known historical reference.
Destruction of Merenptah’s temple
Interestingly, the destruction of Merenptah’s temple complex resulted from the same forces that took Amenhotep III’s structure. Built not far away from the more ancient temple of Amenhotep III, a Nile flood first swept away the two pylons leading into the temple, along with the first hypostyle hall, its side chambers, and the second hypostyle hall and even the cult chapels. Soon the rest of the building also collapsed. This event was not unlike the destruction of Amenhotep III’s complex, though the earlier king’s mortuary temple was built so close to the flood plain that a flood was not required for its demise.
Though much smaller than his fathers (just over half as significant), the temple nevertheless copies much of the Ramesseum’s design. It is the same, only scaled down in size. Like his father’s monument, this mortuary temple featured a forecourt with columns along its sides and a palace adjoining the southern wall. Also, the second court featured Osiride pillars at least on its inner side and may have also had Osiride statues of the king. After the second cour,t was a twelve columned hypostyle hall, followed by an eight columned and then an inner sanctuary with related chapels. Here was also found a court with a large sun altar.
There we mudbrick buildings along the sides of the temple, including a complex of storage annexes to the north where a “treasury” was found. A small sacred lake lay to the south within an extension of the complex. A mudbrick enclosure wall then surrounded the complex as a whole.