Deir el-Bahri, Hatshepsut temple To Deir el-Bahri, Mentuhotep II complex (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)

Deir el-Bahri, Hatshepsut temple

Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty built her "Temple of Millions of Years" in the rock semicircle of Deir el-Bahri (25°44′ N, 31°36′ E) north of the funerary temple of the 11th Dynasty King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, located on the west bank of the Nile opposite the modern town of Luxor. The ancient Egyptians called Hatshepsut’s temple "Djeser-Djeserw," meaning "Holy of Holies." The Arabic name of the site, Deir el-Bahri, meaning "The Northern Monastery," derives from the structure built there by monks during the Christian period. The temple of Hatshepsut is the only great temple complex of the early 18th Dynasty that can be reconstructed in its plan and decoration.

Hatshepsut’s temple extends approximately on an east-west axis, which appears as the prolongation of that of the temple of Karnak on the east bank of the Nile. In addition to the main temple, there is a badly preserved valley temple connected to the main temple by a 1km alley formed by fifty pairs of sphinxes. Midway from the lower terrace an intermediate station for the divine bark was built (called Kha-akhet). The main temple consists of three successive terraces, fronted by porticoes. It ends on the upper terrace with a double sanctuary cut into the rock. The whole temple is built of limestone, except for the architrave of the Northern Portico of the middle terrace. The violet sandstone of this architrave is the same as that used by Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II in his Deir el-Bahri temple.


The temple was first explored by Richard Pococke in 1737, then by Jollois and Devilliers, members of the Napoleonic expedition, in 1798. A mission of the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF), directed by Edouard Naville, worked at Deir el-Bahri in 18931904. The results of the EEF excavation and architectural studies were published in seven volumes which are still one of the basic reference sources on the temple. From 1911 to 1931 the American Mission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York worked at Deir el-Bahri, under the direction of H.E.Winlock, who went on with the excavation, analyzed the building phases and studied the statuary. Some restoration work was conducted in those years by Baraize.

In 1961 a mission of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of Warsaw University in Cairo undertook a new extensive study, a consolidation of the architectural structures and a restoration of the wall bas-reliefs. In the 1990s two Polish missions alternate seasons at Deir el-Bahri: an Epigraphic Mission of Warsaw University directed by J.Karkowski, and a Polish-Egyptian Restoration Mission, directed by F.Pawlicky.

The temple was built between year 7 and year 20 of Hatshepsut. The basic religious and architectural conception of the temple was clearly formulated from the beginning. Some changes in the plan, however, are recoverable from the analysis of the architectural elements. The sequence of these changes is not certain: (a) an outer hypostyle hall was added to the Hathor shrine with a consequent change of the inclination of its ramp and lowering of the pavement of the middle colonnade; (b) the original plan of the solar court was changed and the size of the altar was increased; (c) some details of the foundations bear witness to further changes on the upper terrace.

Tuthmose III had almost all of the names of Hatshepsut erased and substituted by those of Tuthmose II, or more rarely by those of Tuthmose I. At the same time, the statues and Osiride pillars of Hatshepsut were destroyed. Tuthmose III also replaced the coronation text of Hatshepsut with one dedicated to Tuthmose I. During the reign of Akhenaten, the names of the non-Amarna gods were erased; the divine names were restored during the reign of Horemheb and some of the scenes were redrawn. Ramesses II restored the temple and engraved a restoration formula in many places of the temple. Finally, in the Ptolemaic period, a completely new chapel was cut in the rock, beyond the sanctuary, in front of which a portico was added. This new sanctuary was dedicated to Imhotep/Asclepius.

Plan of Queen Hatshepsut's temple, Deir el-Bahri

Figure 24 Plan of Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Deir el-Bahri

The lower terrace measures 120x75m; it is not paved. Pairs of sphinxes were probably set up along the axial way. The terrace is enclosed by a wall with a gate about 2m wide at the center of its eastern side. On the outer side of the entrance, two quadrangular holes housed persea trees. The ascending ramp to the middle terrace has a rounded top balustrade, decorated at the base by the figure of a recumbent lion. In front of the ramp two T-shaped basins housed papyrus and flowers. The two porticoes at the western end of the terrace are symmetrical, and are about 25m wide. Their roofs lie on two rows of eleven elements. The outer row is composed by eleven "semi-pillars," i.e. "D-shaped" columns which are shaped as square pillars in the fagade and, on their inner side, reproduce the protodoric columns of the second row. The walls of the porticoes are decorated with bas-reliefs representing the transportation of two obelisks in the southwest portico, and hunting and fishing in the northwest one.

The middle terrace measures about 90 x75m. It is paved from the porticos to the end of the ramp, the balustrades of which are decorated with the coils of a snake. Three pairs of sphinxes were probably set along the axial way. The porticoes are slightly wider (about 26m) than those of the lower terrace. Their roofs lie on two rows of eleven square pillars. The walls of both of the porticoes are decorated with the most famous reliefs of the temple: in the southwest one, the expedition to the land of Punt; in the northwest one the scenes of the divine birth of Hatshepsut and her pilgrimage to the sanctuaries of northern and southern Egypt, accompanied by her father Tuthmose I.

The Hathor Shrine on the southwest corner of the terrace is a chapel dedicated to the goddess Hathor, situated as an independent temple, with a ramp of its own which ran along the southern retaining wall of the lower terrace. It is composed of an outer hypostyle hall, an inner hypostyle hall, a vestibule and a double sanctuary. The roof of the first hypostyle hall was supported by eight square pillars and eight protodoric columns; the inner sides of the axial pillars are decorated with large Hathor sistra. The inner hypostyle hall has sixteen cylindrical columns with Hathor capitals. The most meaningful scenes represented on the walls of the Hathor shrine are connected with coronation rituals, including the cow goddess Hathor licking the hands of the queen (hypostyle halls); the goddess Weret-hekau giving the queen the menat necklace (hall of the two columns); the cow goddess Hathor suckling the queen represented as the god Amen (outer and inner sanctuary).

The Anubis Shrine in the northwest corner of the middle terrace serves as a counterpart of the Hathor chapel; a narrow ramp with steps connects it with the northern portico. It consists of a hypostyle hall with twelve protodoric columns, followed by a narrow room on the axis, a second perpendicular room (oriented south-north) and a small niche. Cult and offering scenes are represented on its walls. On the southern wall of the hypostyle hall, the god Anubis accompanies the queen into the shrine.

The structure of the third terrace is different from the others. The ramp leads directly to the porticoes, each composed of an inner row of twelve protodoric columns and an outer row of twelve pillars with Osiride figures of the queen. Their walls are very damaged and their study is still in progress; the northwest portico is decorated with the coronation text and scenes. A granite doorway between the porticoes opens onto a peristyle enclosed by three rows of protodoric columns on the south, west and north sides and two rows on the east side. The walls are decorated as follows: on the east and north walls, bark processions of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley and the Festival of Opet; on the south wall, coronation rituals; the back wall (west) has five smaller and four higher niches on each side of the axial passage to the sanctuary. They presumably contained kneeling and standing statues of the queen. Two groups of rooms are built beyond the southern and northern walls of the court, the funerary complex preceded by the so-called "royal palace" and the solar complex. The southern rooms, at the east end of the southern wall of the court, have been interpreted by R.Stadelmann as the royal palace, having a "window of appearance" immediately west of the entrance. The second doorway in the southern walls lets into a vestibule with three protodoric columns, which in turn leads to the funerary chapels dedicated to Tuthmose I (north) and Hatshepsut (south).


The solar complex is composed of three elements: (1) a vestibule with three protodoric columns with access from the east end of the northern wall of the court; (2) the actual solar court (oriented east-west) with an altar in the open air; and (3) the Upper Anubis shrine, which opens on the northern wall of the court. Two niches are present in the court, one in the southern wall, the other in the western wall, just opposite the ramp leading to the altar. The scenes and texts are: the gods Re-horakhty and Amen accompanying the Queen into the court (inside of the left jamb of the entrance); the "Text of the Baboons," "Cosmographic Text" and beginning of the Book of the Night (eastern wall of the altar court); various scenes of offering and of daily rituals (Upper Anubis shrine and in niches) Rehorakhty giving the symbol of life (ankh) to the Queen; and Hatshepsut as the (Inmutef) priest making offering to her own sacred image (western niche of the solar court).

The sanctuary is composed of two rooms, one after the other, on the main axis of the temple. The first is a bark station, as is demonstrated by the main scenes of the long walls, in which the bark of Amen receives offering from Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III accompanied by Queen Ahmose and the two princesses Nefrura and Nefrubity. The inner sanctuary contained the cult image of Amen, probably housed in the ebony shrine presently in the Cairo Museum. A window cut in the tympanum of the western wall of the bark sanctuary allowed the sun’s rays to reach the statue of the god.

As all the other temples on the west bank of the Nile, Djeser-Djeserw is usually seen as the funerary temple of Hatshepsut. According to Haeny, however, some elements indicate that these sanctuaries were also used for the cult of the living king. At Deir el-Bahri, this double aspect is reflected in the structure of the temple, which is organized on two main axes: an east-west one connected with the voyage of the god Amen-Re, paralleled with the daily voyage of the sun god; and a south-north one connected with the life cycle of the pharaoh (coronation, death, rebirth). These two aspects were closely connected, however, as is borne out by an analysis of the scenes carved on the walls of the temple, where a preponderant role was certainly played by the rituals celebrated during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. On that occasion the bark of Amen, coming from Karnak, visited the west bank and rested in the temple. During the festival, the queen was ritually enthroned, "Osirified" and in the end united with Amen-Re on the solar altar.

Deir el-Bahri, Meket-Re tomb

Meket-Re held the titles of Chancellor and Steward of the Royal Palace in the reign of Nebhetepre Mentuhotep II in the 11th Dynasty. He chose to have his large, terraced, tomb (TT 280) prepared in the valley south of Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis. It was excavated by Georges Daressy in 1895 and again by Sir Robert Mond in 1902, but it was not until a later clearing operation carried out by the Metropolitan Museum of Art under Ambrose Lansing and Herbert Winlock in 1920 that the most sensational finds connected with this tomb came to light.

Meket-Re’s tomb is approached by a wide and steep avenue 80m long. At the top of this inclined ramp is a long portico of nine columns with two corridors cut into the rock behind it. One of the corridors is centered on the portico while the other is to the left and was probably prepared at a later time for Meket-Re’s son. Little was preserved of the decoration of this rich tomb and the original intention of the Metropolitan Museum expedition was to clear the approach and chambers so that the tomb could be accurately mapped and planned. Work was proceeding on the tomb until 17 March 1920, when one of the workmen employed in the clearance noticed that small chips of stone were slipping into a crack in the rock. When the supervisors were able to bring flashlights to illuminate the cavity, one of the great archaeological discoveries in Egypt was recognized.

The find consisted of a small chamber which had previously escaped notice and still contained the complete set of tomb models prepared for the owner. During the Middle Kingdom, when Meket-Re lived, one of the funerary practices current was to furnish the tomb with models of activities such as cattle raising, baking and brewing, carpentry, weaving and other aspects of daily life. Generally such models were made of wood, coated with gesso or plaster, and painted. Their quality could vary considerably according to the rank and wealth of the tomb owner, but the detailed information they furnish on aspects of the crafts and trades in ancient Egypt is great.

The small chamber in Meket-Re’s tomb took three days of hard work to clear. Although most of the twenty-four models found were in good condition, some had been damaged by falling fragments of stone within the chamber. On the whole, they were remarkably preserved and no similarly complete complement of high quality models has been found. These included three models which were properly associated with the burial in the tomb. Of these, two were large images of single female offering bearers, beautifully painted and posed with baskets of food and drink on their heads. The third, a model of a group, depicted a priest carrying his censer and libation vessel followed by three offering bearers, a combination of figures known from the furnishings of other tombs. The remainder of the twenty-four models were all miniature tableaux of daily life, included in the tomb furnishings for the magical purpose of providing the spirit or soul with necessities in the afterlife.

The largest of these was a scene of cattle counting in which the tomb owner is found seated on a columned porch, accompanied by his son. Clerks and stewards count and manage the count. Herdsman prod and chastise the brightly colored cattle, all together capturing the activity of the estate and the accounting to the master. The counting is actually only one part of the cattle production cycle portrayed in the models. Two others, the cattle barn and the butcher shop, show in detail the steps in the feeding and the ultimate slaughter with such telling details as the preparation of blood pudding and the hanging of meat cuts to dry.

Two of the models have to do with the storage and processing of grain. The activities of the granary include not only the men who are measuring and storing the grain, but also the scribes who are keeping the accounts on papyrus rolls and tally boards. The grain as it is prepared for consumption is shown in a composite model which includes the processes of both baking and brewing. The grain is ground and made into cakes, and mash is prepared. Vats of fermenting mash stand to the side and some of it is poured into jars. In the bakery the grain is cracked and ground, dough is worked and cakes fashioned which are then put into ovens.

The weaving shop illustrates the whole procedure from the preparation of flax and spinning of thread to the weaving of cloth on horizontal looms. The carpentry shop is equally detailed including the process of squaring timbers and ripping planks, as well as the cutting of mortises in furniture. Included in the shop was a tool chest, with a complete set of carpenter tools in miniature. Two garden models represent the most important aspect of any richly appointed house or dwelling. Rather than depicting interior rooms for activities such as sleeping, a choice was made to illustrate the center of life for the well-to-do Egyptian, the walled garden with pool. Wood and plaster fruit trees surround a copper-lined pool which could have held real water.

No fewer than half of the models in the tomb were of boats, underlining the importance of the river to the ancient Egyptians. Winlock, who published the models, described four of the vessels as large traveling boats, either rigged with full sail for sailing with the wind or with mast lowered for rowing with the current. Smaller vessels ("yachts") were probably intended for short trips, and there is one skiff of the type used for hunting and fishing. In addition, two models of kitchen tenders illustrate the necessity for separating that activity from the master’s vessel for his comfort. Two papyrus or reed boats are represented with a drag net stretched between them, complete with model fish being caught. The amount of detail in these boat models provides a great deal of information on the construction, rigging, handling and use of ancient Egyptian boats.

Half of the models were retained by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and half were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are now in New York. In both museums they are among the most interesting, detailed and vivid reminders of daily life in Egypt as it was almost four thousand years ago.

Deir el-Bahri, Mentuhotep II complex

Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (11th Dynasty) was the first Theban king to build his temple at Deir el-Bahri (25°44′ N, 31°36′ E), south of the later temples of Queen Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III. This is also the first and only Middle Kingdom monument whose history, architecture, texts and decoration are well known. Like the other two temple complexes at Deir el-Bahri, it lies on an east-west axis and has a valley temple, monumental ramp, large enclosure wall and main temple. The temple consists of a quadrangular, three-level structure with pillared porticoes, followed by a peristyle court and a rock-cut sanctuary.

The first investigations of the temple were conducted by Baron Dufferin and collaborators in 1858-9, and again in 1869. They discovered numerous monuments, including the tomb of Queen Tem, a seated statue of Amen-Re and a granite altar of the king. In 1868 Howard Carter chanced upon the royal "cenotaph" of Bab el-Hosan, within the enclosure wall, which he excavated in 1900-1. Edouard Naville worked in the temple from 1903 to 1907 and published three volumes for the Egypt Exploration Fund. He also formulated the hypothesis that the original temple was surmounted by a pyramidal building. In the early 1920s Herbert Winlock, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art expedition, studied the tombs of the princesses, and the large forecourt. The most recent study was by Dieter Arnold, who directed an expedition for the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, from 1966 to 1971. Arnold’s work suggests a new reconstruction of the temple and a new interpretation of the whole complex.

Construction of the temple began in the first decade of Mentuhotep II’s reign, and probably continued until the end of his life. The main building phase, however, was from regnal years 30-39. Sandstone was used for the foundations, columns, architraves and walls of the inner part of the temple; limestone was used for the walls of the outer part. According to Arnold, there are four main phases of construction:

1 An eastern enclosure wall was built, presumably for a project that was later abandoned, dating to the period of reunification of Egypt under Mentuhotep II, when the king’s Horus name was "S’ankhibtawy."

2 A large enclosure wall, replacing the old one, the "cenotaph" of Bab el-Hosan and the tombs and statue chapels of the princesses were built when Mentuhotep II used another Horus name, Nctery-Hedjet.

3 Most of the structures of the temple were built in this phase (corresponding to the period of the later Horus name of Mentuhotep, Smatawy), including the terrace, central structure surrounded by an ambulatory, hypostyle hall, the long ramp with the king’s tomb and the statue chapel.

4 In this last phase, the ramp and the lower pillared hall were completed, and the sanctuary of Amen-Re was built.

A mudbrick-paved ramp, 960m long and flanked by limestone walls, led from the valley temple (not discovered) to the enclosure wall (which originally followed the curve of the valley and was successively changed to a rectangular shape), where a pylon gateway gave access to the large court in front of the temple proper. A seated statue of Mentuhotep II was on each side of the entrance. Within the court, a subterranean structure (Bab el-Hosan) is cut into the rock. It contained the sandstone statue of the seated king, painted with black skin and wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, and a wooden coffin. Boat models were found in another pit below this structure, which has been variously interpreted as a cenotaph or a ritual burying place for the statues of the king, connected with the jubilee (beb-s&t) ceremony.

In front of the lower pillared portico, where circular depressions are still visible, were the remains of fifty-five tamarisk trees and eight sycamores, which flanked the ramp leading to the upper level of the temple. Standing statues of the king were found here by Winlock. The ramp divides the lower portico into two asymmetrical halves, the northern of which is wider (28.58m, with two rows of 13 square pillars) than the southern one (23.75m, with two rows of 11 square pillars). On the east wall of the northern half were reliefs of the bark procession of Amen-Re.

The ramp led to an upper level, with pillared porticoes on the north, east and south sides, whose walls were decorated with scenes of battles, hunting and fishing. These walls enclosed an ambulatory around a central square nucleus, which rose about 11m above the ambulatory in a stepped shape. The roof of the ambulatory was supported by three rows of eight-sided columns (on its north, east and south sides) and two rows of columns (on its west side). The inner walls of the ambulatory were decorated with cult scenes. Six earlier limestone chapels were incorporated in the west wall of the ambulatory, and were dedicated to the royal wives. The chapels, which housed statues of the royal wives, were decorated with scenes of them with the king, and offering scenes. Their tombs were behind the chapels.

To the west of the ambulatory was a peristyle court with two rows of eight-sided columns on its east side and one row on its north and south sides; its walls were decorated with butchering scenes. From the middle of the court a descending east-west ramp, 150m long, was cut into the rock. Covered with sandstone, this has a vaulted roof and three niches in its walls contained wooden models of boats, granaries and bread. The ramp leads to the burial chamber, which is covered with granite slabs and has an alabaster shrine for the royal coffin. Unfortunately, the tomb was robbed and very few fragments of tomb goods were still on the floor. To the south of the ramp entrance, a square limestone altar was found.

A gate in the middle of the west wall of the peristyle court gave access to the oldest known hypostyle hall, consisting of eighty columns. Its walls were decorated with offering scenes. Two sandstone false doors were erected on the south and north sides of the west wall, in the middle of which was a rock-cut sanctuary for a standing statue of the king, and, according to Arnold, a third false door (not found). In the southwest corner of the hall was the rock-cut tomb of the chief royal wife, Tem. It contained only the remains of an alabaster coffin.

In the last building phase, the four westernmost columns of the hypostyle on each side of the temple axis were incorporated into a newly built Amen-Re sanctuary in which the royal cult was, for the first time, connected with that of the god. In the sanctuary was a high offering table with a ramp on its east side. The sanctuary walls were decorated with various cult and ceremonial scenes. Artifacts found nearby include a sandstone statue base of Mentuhotep II’s and a limestone seated statue of the god Amen.

The great innovations that Mentuhotep II introduced in the building of his temple complex at Deir el-Bahri resulted in an original structure which expressed a sophisticated conceptual framework. According to Arnold, this 11th Dynasty temple is the missing link between the royal ka chapels of the Old Kingdom and the royal funerary temples of the New Kingdom. In the design of this temple, the king respected both Memphite traditions and the Upper Egyptian tradition of a rock-cut tomb with a pillared portico in the fagade.

Around this funerary structure, however, Mentuhotep II created a network of royal and divine cults, which was a new conception for the royal cult center. Added to this is the concept of the mound-shaped temple, which, according to Arnold, recalls the cult centers of Montu (here in his aspect as Montu-Re). The king himself is represented with a falcon head and double feather, the emblem of the god Montu. The sanctuary of Amen-Re also shows for the first time a clear link between the cult of the royal statue and that of the "new" god (Amen-Re).

Beginning with Amenemhat I’s reign (early 12 th Dynasty), the Amen-Re sanctuary in the Mentuhotep II temple became one of the settings for the ceremonies of the "Beautiful Feast of the Valley," but it was not until the reign of Senusret III that the temple was enriched with other monuments: a large granite stela and six standing statues of the king, which were found by Naville. Naville also discovered fragments of several artifacts (for example, a limestone slab and a wooden shrine) inscribed with the names of various kings of the 13th- 17th Dynasties, which demonstrate that the temple remained in use throughout the Second Intermediate Period.

From the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, the site of Deir el-Bahri became one of the most important seats of the cult of Amen-Re in connection with the cult of the king. Amenhotep I built a mudbrick sanctuary in this area and erected statues in the forecourt, probably flanking the ramp leading up to the temple. In Queen Hatshepsut’s reign, the religious center was moved to the north, where she built her great temple. Under Tuthmose III, who built his own temple and a new shrine of Hathor near the terrace of Mentuhotep II’s temple, the Middle Kingdom sanctuary was again brought into the ritual circuit and many statues dedicated to Hathor were found here. During the Amarna period (Akhenaten’s reign) many of the sculptures in this complex were destroyed. The temple was restored during the Ramesside period (19th-20th Dynasties), as is demonstrated by inscriptions of Ramesses II and Siptah and many ex-votos dedicated to Amen-Re and Hathor. From the end of the 19th Dynasty and the beginning of the 20th, however, the ceremonial use of Mentuhotep II’s temple came to an end. It was used as a quarry and limestone and sandstone blocks were removed to construct new buildings. Most of the columns fell and very little of the temple was preserved before its ruins were covered by debris of the Coptic era and desert sand.

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