The memorial temple of Hatshepsut – in Deir El Bahri is one of the most prominent temples we have in Egypt. It is stands high on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor, Luxor governorate. It is a semi-rock-carved temple. This aspect was unusual for that time. Indeed, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut became an absolute engineering marvel of the ancient builders. Now, we consider it as one of the most famous structures of ancient Egyptian architecture.
The construction of the funeral temple began during the life of Hatshepsut. The court architect, Senmut, built this fantastic temple. Worth noticing that this architect prepared a secret tomb for himself and left his portrait in one of the hidden corners in this temple.
The Ancient Egyptians found the Hatshepsut Temple next to the temple of Pharaoh Mentuhotep I. Please note that Mentuhotep was the ancestor of the pharaohs of the XVIII dynasty. The area where the temple of Hatshepsut stands has the Arabic name – Deir el-Bahri. According to its enormous size and abundance of decorative ornaments, this temple surpasses all other similar structures of Ancient Egypt. It stands out sharply with a view over the temples of Ancient Egypt.
Structure of Hatshepsut Temple
Temple of Hatshepsut is a semi-rock one. A sanctuary carved into the rocks combines with its ground chambers. The temple consists of three terrace steps, towering above each other and connected by gentle stair-ramps. We list these features as follows:
- Lower Terrace of the temple.
- The second terrace of the temple.
- Also, the Upper Terrace of the temple.
Lower Terrace of the temple
A wall surrounds the lower terrace, which serves as the central courtyard. The builders decorated this wall with stone statues of a falcon. From the west, a 22-column portico closes the courtyard. A ramped staircase divides this courtyard in the middle. Monumental figures of lions framed it, and on the sides of the entrance stand colossal 8-meter high figures of Queen Hatshepsut. The Ancient Egyptian artists shaped these statues in the form of the god Osiris. they decorated the portico with painted reliefs depicting Queen Hatshepsut, trampling on enemies and sacrificing god Amun. Hereabouts, you can see scenes of military parades, a chain of slaves, and episodes of construction work.
Second terrace of the temple
A staircase that cuts through the portico leads to the second terrace of Hatshepsut Temple. Once in its centre, there was an artificial pond surrounded by trees. The ancient builders also decorated the western part of the terrace with a portico, with tetrahedral monolithic columns. They dissected it by a staircase to serve as the basis for the third upper terrace. On the walls of the gate are preserved relief compositions dedicated to the life of Queen Hatshepsut. Here, the mother of the future ruler of Egypt, Queen Ahmes, is married to the god Amun-Ra.
Then there are scenes of the birth of Hatshepsut from this “divine” marriage, her coronation, receiving blessings from the goddess Hathor. At the opposite end of the terrace, the reliefs depict an expedition sent by the queen. Hatshepsut sent this expedition to the legendary country of Punt to bring back many jewels and rare plants. According to most researchers, the country Punt should be the east coast of Africa. Probably, the same country was in ancient times known to the inhabitants of the Middle East under the name Ophir. The reliefs depict monkeys, panthers, giraffes, huts on stilts – typically African scenes.
Upper Terrace of the temple
The ancient Egyptians decorated the staircase leading to the upper terrace with sculptures of giant cobras, on the back of each sits a falcon. These are heraldic figures symbolising Upper (cobra) and Lower (falcon) Egypt, and the whole composition personifies the unity of Egypt. Also, they framed the ladder by a pair of sphinxes carved from red Aswan granite.
The upper terrace hosted the main temple rituals. Therefore, the entrance to the Hatshepsut sanctuary cut into the rocks. The sanctuary facade is a portico with four-sided columns, in front of each of which once stood a monumental statue of the queen. Thus, these vast statues were gloriously visible far from the ships sailing down the Nile. The columns surrounded the whole terrace. Also, there were several small chapel churches in the southern wing of the portico. There located the sanctuary of the goddess Hathor, the patroness of Queen Hatshepsut.
In the depths beyond the colonnade of the portico, a mysterious labyrinth of underground halls cut into the rocks opens up. Three-meter statues of Queen Hatshepsut in the form of the god Osiris framed the entrance to the main hall. Ancient Egyptians lined the floors of the halls with gold and silver plates. They also inlaid cedar doors with bronze. Hatshepsut also decorated the walls with faceted columns. She covered the arches with brightly painted reliefs. However, Ancient Egyptians made its doors of “black copper” inlaid with Electra (an alloy of gold with silver).
In the main hall of the underground sanctuary, there was a giant marble statue of the queen. Unfortunately, only fragments have survived from it. In total, there were more than two hundred statues in the temple, 140 of them sphinxes. Sculptures from the temple of Hatshepsut are the most outstanding examples of ancient Egyptian art of the XVIII dynasty. They depict Queen Hatshepsut in three forms: a pharaoh, the god Osiris, and the guise of a sphinx. These portraits bring to mind the appearance of the ancient ruler: a face oval narrowed to the chin, a small mouth, almond-shaped eyes under wide arches of eyebrows. The eyelids line, with the help of makeup, was extended to the temples.
On all the statues, the sculptors tried to convey the portrait resemblance exactly. But if giant statues (8 and 5 m high) were part of the temple’s exterior, they only outlined the general resemblance and reproduced the most characteristic features. The statues from the main shrine, which had a cult character, were made first great masters and in a fragile and soft manner to recreate the portrait appearance of the queen.
Temple of Hatshepsut after her Death
The luxurious decoration of the temple of Hatshepsut did not last long. After the death of the queen, the legitimate heir Thutmose III, who ascended the throne, ordered to destroy all his predecessor’s images all over the country. And also, he ordered to erase the inscriptions where her name existed. All the sculptures of the temple were smashed and buried nearby. Recently, archaeologists discovered these sculptures after many centuries of ignorance.