The Mortuary Temple of queen Hatshepsut

Deir al-Bahari

The celebrated temple of Hatshepsut (c.1473–1458 BC), the queen who became Pharaoh, is located here, in Deir al-Bahari, on the west bank of Luxor. Made up of three man-made terraces that gradually rise up toward the sheer cliff face, this structure is truly a sight to behold.

The site of Deir al-Bahari was sacred to Hathor, the goddess who nursed and reared every king, including their mythological ancestor, the god Horus, in Egypt’s primordial past. A manifestation of this goddess was believed to reside in the very hills under whose shadow lies the temple of Hatshepsut, and just on the other side of which is the site of the tombs of some of ancient Egypt’s most famous rulers, the Valley of the Kings. Stelae bearing prayers to Hathor depicts her, in cow form, emerging from these mountains. This impressive geological formation features a summit that is naturally pyramid-shaped.

This was why King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep (c.2055–2004 BC) chose this hallowed location as the site of his tomb and mortuary temple, 600 years before Hatshepsut set foot here. Royal mortuary temples complemented tombs, and the cults of deceased kings were maintained in these structures for the continued survival of their souls in the hereafter. The most prominent feature of Mentuhotep’s temple-tomb was a monumental structure, believed by some to have been a pyramid, which rose from the center of the main terrace.

The temple of Hatshepsut served as a mortuary temple for the female pharaoh and her revered father, Thutmose I. Sunset was regarded as the daily death of the sun god before his glorious rebirth in the east. Given its funerary nature, Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple was built on the west bank of the Nile, directly across the river from the main temple of Amun in Karnak. The statues of this god, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu left their temples every year during the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, and crossed the Nile to visit the royal mortuary temples, including Hatshepsut’s, which appears to have been one of their most important stops.

Hatshepsut (c.1473–1458 BC), the queen who became Pharaoh, built a magnificent temple at Deir al-Bahari, on the west back of Luxor. It lies directly across the Nile from Karnak Temple, the main sanctuary of the god Amun. Hatshepsut’s temple, Djeser-djeseru “the Holy of Holies” was designed by the chief steward of Amun, Senenmut.

          The temple consists of three levels each of which has a colonnade at its far end. On the uppermost level, an open courtyard lies just beyond the portico. Mummiform statues of Hatshepsut as Osiris, the god of the dead, lean against its pillars.

          This is because Djeser-djeseru is Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, where her cult was practiced after her death, when she attained the blessed state of Osiris. Far from being devoted solely to her, the temple also includes sections for the cults of her revered father Thutmose I, the goddess Hathor, and the funerary god Anubis. An altar, open to the sky and the sun, was dedicated to the cult of the solar Ra‑Horakhty. Pride of place was given to Amun. At the far end of the upper courtyard, on the temple’s central axis, a passage cut directly into the living rock culminates in his sanctuary.

          The temple’s walls are covered with beautiful painted reliefs depicting temple rituals, religious festivals, and even the transportation of obelisks from the quarry to their destination in Karnak Temple. Perhaps most interesting are the reliefs in the portico on the so-called Middle Platform. The decorative programme on the left side depicts Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt, believed to be located near modern Eritrea. The inhabitants of this land, their dwellings, and surrounding environment are vividly recorded, as are the riches and exotic animals that the Egyptians brought back with them. On the other side of the portico, Hatshepsut relates how she is the rightful king of Egypt. She does this not only by claiming that her father Thutmose I had designated her as his heir, but by stating that her true father was none other than the god Amun himself.

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