Thebes, Malkata To Thebes, the Ramesseum (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)

Thebes, Malkata

Malkata is the modern Arabic name for a royal ceremonial and palace site at the southern end of the line of royal funerary temples on the west bank of Thebes (25°43′ N, 32°36′ E). The site was established about year 29/30 of the reign of Amenhotep III (18th Dynasty) in connection with that king’s first heb-sed (jubilee) festival. Foundation of the new royal settlement was a symbolic act of creation, reflecting the renewal of both monarch and royal power. At the center of the site is the main palace, built of mudbrick with colorful designs painted on the walls, floors and ceilings. The main palace was flanked by at least three subsidiary palaces for different members of the royal family. Oriented at a right angle to the main palace is a temple to the god Amen. The house of the king corresponded to the house of the god in terms of such architectural elements as restricted inner chambers, a series of colonnaded courts set along a single axis and in a massive enclosure wall surrounding the complex. Situated around the royal complex are the villas of the palace officials and other nobles, as well as more modest structures serving as dwellings and workshops for palace functionaries and artisans. Large earth mounds mark out a vast (originally 1.5km2) T-shaped artificial basin, the Birket Habu, southwest of the main palace. Although it could have served as a functional harbor, the enormous size of the basin indicates ceremonial significance.

Malkata was identified as the site of a palace of Amenhotep III in 1888 by Georges Daressy, who did exploratory work while working at nearby Medinet Habu. Systematic excavations were begun in 1900 by Percy E.Newberry under the auspices of the American Robb de Peyster Tytus. Excavations at the site were carried out intermittently by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1910 to 1921. In the 1970s, the palace site and harbor were investigated by a team led by David O’Connor of the University Museum, Philadelphia and Barry Kemp of the University of Cambridge.

Concurrently in the 1970s, a Japanese expedition from Waseda University, Tokyo investigated Malkata South, uncovering an unusual desert altar or ceremonial kiosk. The modern name of the site, Kom el-Samak (Hill of Fish), refers to mummified fish buried there in late Roman/Coptic times. The underlying structure, however, was clearly built and renovated for the celebration of the heb-seds of Amenhotep III. It consists of a kiosk set on a platform with a ramp to the south and a staircase to the north. The thirty stairs were decorated with alternating painted depictions of bows and bound prisoners. In the 1980s the Japanese expedition began working at the palace of Malkata, emphasizing the study of the mural paintings.

The many fragments of decorative painting help indicate the different functions of the rooms in the Malkata palace. The small audience hall uncovered by Daressy had a painted pavement consisting of a papyrus marsh scene with ducks, birds and fish. The ceiling of the chamber was decorated with blue and red rosettes alternating with yellow spirals. The steps of the throne base were decorated with bound prisoners and bows, similar to those found at Kom el-Samak. As the king mounted the kiosk or throne he would symbolically "trample" upon Egypt’s enemies. The great central hall of the palace preserves sixteen limestone column bases which would have supported two rows of wooden columns. On the south wall of the hall, a figure of the enthroned king was depicted, no doubt imaging the scene in the throne room beyond; no decoration from the throne room itself has been reported.

Even the areas of the palace not meant for public display were lavishly decorated. The "king’s bedchamber" was decorated with painted panels of spirals, bulls’ heads and rosettes. On the ceiling was a pattern of vultures with outspread wings. In addition to the bedroom, a bathroom, robing rooms, retiring rooms and private dining halls completed the royal suite. Eight smaller suites including a hall with two columns and a raised dais against one wall, an antechamber, a bedroom and a bathroom are thought to belong to the ladies of the royal harim. They are decorated with painted grape arbors and have ceilings covered with flying ducks and pigeons. Other parts of the palace included storerooms, work rooms and courts, offices and quarters for royal officials and kitchens. Even the storage magazines contained frescoes depicting stands heaped with food, fattened cows and leaping calves. Motifs such as the spiral and the "flying gallop" in the Malkata paintings (along with a Mycenaean sherd from the site) indicate some connection with the Aegean world.

Amenhotep III created at Malkata a new royal zone in the southern area of the west bank of Thebes, stretching from his funerary temple at Kom el-Hetan some 5km southwest to Kom el-Abd. Interpretations vary as to whether this monumental royal establishment was purely ceremonial in nature (Kemp) or was intended to function as an urban administrative center (O’Connor). At some point after the initial construction of the palace and its enclosure wall, the complex (including the Kom el-Samak structure) was renovated on a different alignment. The different stages of rebuilding are usually connected with the various heb-sed celebrations (in years 34 and 37, as well as 30) held at the site. Large quantities of small finds, including many inscribed pieces of jar labels, sealings, glass and faience, as well as decorated (blue-painted) ceramics have been recovered from Malkata. They indicate that the palace was occupied through to the reign of Horemheb, but cannot prove that either Akhenaten or Tutankhamen actually resided at Malkata. The spacious linear plan of Malkata with palaces, temples, villas and so on strung out along the edge of the cultivation at a previous unoccupied site serves as an obvious precursor to Akhenaten’s establishment of a new city at Tell el-Amarna.

Thebes, New Kingdom private tombs

The area which is commonly called the "Theban necropolis" lies opposite the modern upper Egyptian town of Luxor (25°44′ N, 32°38′ E) on the west bank of the Nile along the western foothills of the Western Desert. Private tombs are located in the following private cemeteries, geographically from north to south (1) el-Tarif, (2) Dra’ Abu el-Naga, (3) el-Asasif and the valley of Deir el-Bahri, (4) el-Khokha, (5) Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, and (6) Qurnet Murai and the cemetery belonging to the village of Deir el-Medina.

The modern names designate the villages built within the pharaonic cemeteries. The ancient term for the whole region opposite the capital of Thebes was imntt W3st or imntt niwt, meaning "West of Wose" or "West of the City." This designation comprises all the cemeteries and the village of Deir el-Medina, as well as the royal mortuary temples of the New Kingdom along the edge of the cultivation. The name for the pyramid-shaped hill surmounting the whole area was t3 dhnt, "The Peak," which is today called el-Qurn (The Horn). The cemeteries today called el-Tarif, Dra’ Abu el-Naga, el-Asasif, el-Khokha, Sheik Abd el-Qurna and Qurnet Murai were designated as ("She, who is in front of her lord").

Serving as the capital cemetery during several dynasties, it is not surprising that from the time of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1789-99 the interest of scholars, plunderers, adventurers and excavators has been concentrated on this site. With the beginning of the nineteenth century, more and more scientifically oriented missions visited the Theban necropolis, starting in 1815 with Belzoni, who discovered the tomb of Seti I in 1817. Nevertheless, the results of the archaeological enterprises during the nineteenth century were basically concentrated on the "export" of valuable finds to museums all over the world. It is to the credit of Flinders Petrie that we owe a new kind of field archaeology at the site of the Theban necropolis. About the same time the Carter-Carnarvon expedition, the crew of the Marquis of Northampton, Gauthier and Chassinat excavated several sites in the Theban necropolis, followed a little later by the Metropolitan Museum expedition under the supervision of H.E.Winlock and the Pennsylvania Museum expedition with Clarence Fisher. Those various activities called for a final systematic numbering of the rock tombs, which was done by Alan Gardiner and Arthur Weigall in 1913, supplemented by Reginald Engelbach in 1924 and finally summarized in the bibliography of Porter and Moss, published in 1927 (revised and augmented in 1960) and mapped by the Survey of Egypt in 1924.

In the twentieth century more and more efforts have been undertaken to publish the texts and decoration of the most important private tombs in an adequate and scientific manner. It is due to the patience, perseverance and talent of Nina and Norman de Garis Davies that the epigraphic work gained such remarkable and impressive results up to the 1950s. After the Second World War, Torgny Save-Soderbergh published many of Davies’s notes and drawings, but neglected the archaeological findings and objects. Apart from a general overview by Steindorff and Wolf, a classificatory attempt by Abdul Qader Muhammed, a short article concerning the occupation of the cemeteries by Wolfgang Helck, art historical publications by Wegner and Baud and several guidebooks, the history and development of the New Kingdom necropolis has not been scientifically investigated. A new approach in this direction dealing with the architectural development of the Theban private cemeteries during the New Kingdom has been commenced by Friederike Kampp.

The history of the Theban necropolis started with the occupation of the site in the late Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period, when a few rock-cut tombs were carved in the hillock of el-Khokha, belonging to local nomarchs and their officials. Furthermore, some ruined mastabas (mudbrick tombs) of this period on the plain of el-Tarif have been recorded by Dieter Arnold. The necropolis reached its first heyday in the 11th Dynasty, when the region of el-Tarif was occupied. Here the huge royal saff-tombs of the Intef kings had been constructed, with the tombs of their officials in close proximity.

In the second half of the 11th Dynasty under King Mentuhotep Nebhepetre, the cemeteries were transferred to the Asasif, Deir el-Bahri, the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna and the northern slope of Qurnet Murai. Lining the various valleys, the private tombs were usually situated on the hillsides and were oriented toward the causeways of the royal funerary temples. In front of these 11th Dynasty tombs were large walled courtyards. The tomb fagades were constructed with either plain slightly sloping walls or with a pillared portico. The general interior scheme of these tombs consists of a long corridor leading to a chapel with a statue niche and the entrance to burial shafts or sloping passages. In the 12th Dynasty, the Theban necropolis lost its importance until the 17th Dynasty, when Thebes again became the center of political power.

While the kings of the 17th Dynasty built their tombs in all probability near the top of the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hills, the private tombs were situated in front of them along the slope of the hills and on the plain to the east. The rock-cut tombs of the higher ranking officials of this period and of the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty were constructed in nearly the same manner as those of the 11th Dynasty, continuing as corridor and saff-shaped tombs. There are changes in the shape of the portico pillars, the shortening of the corridor and the enlarging of the chapel to a kind of broad hall, as well as a preference for deep vertical shafts rather than sloping passages. The tombs of the middle high-ranking officials were built on the plain, consisting of a shaft in the middle of a somewhat trapezoid courtyard, which was surrounded by a brick wall. A cult chapel, also built of mudbrick, was placed within this court. Both Dra’ Abu el-Naga and Sheikh Abd el-Qurna served as cemetery sites at the end of the 17th Dynasty.

Following the geographical direction of the 18th Dynasty royal funerary temples along the edge of the cultivated land, the occupation of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna began in the north during the time of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III and ended up in the southern part of this region about the time of Amenhotep II and Tuthmose IV. From then on the tombs were distributed more or less evenly in the different parts of the necropolis. The typical 18th Dynasty tomb of the Theban necropolis is the so-called "inverse T-shaped tomb," whose inner rooms consist of a broad hall followed by a longitudinal corridor. This scheme can be enlarged by constructing additional pillared halls or by adding rooms and cult chapels according to the individual needs and taste of the tomb owner, his social rank and financial resources. The courtyards of these tombs, when situated on the hillslopes, seem to be open terraces, protected and lined by side walls with a rounded top. The tomb fagades were likewise protected by a plastered wall of limestone rubble above the entrance. Within these walls, above the tomb entrances, there were sometimes little niches for stelophorus statues of the tomb owner, praising the rising sun. The top of the fagade walls was built with a different type of molded bricks, containing the so-called rows of "funerary cones" which contained the name and titles of the tomb owner.

With the era of Amenhotep III a new kind of private tomb layout appears, which resembles for the first time that of a funerary temple rather than the usual private tomb plan. Such large tombs could only be realized in the best rock strata, which caused the tomb owners to construct their sepulchers on the plains of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, el-Khokha and el-Asasif. Though none of these colossal tombs was ever finished, they were conceived following a similar scheme, with a large sunken courtyard and a ramp or staircase leading down, framed at the entrance by a kind of pylon. The courtyard has colonnades on all sides and the inner halls were planned to be pillared halls with several rows of columns or pillars in various shapes. For the first time since the 11th Dynasty, sloping passages seem to be the obligatory type of access to the burial chambers, but they are now elaborate bending tunnels. After the interim of the Amarna period, the reoccupation of the Theban necro polis took place mainly in the region of Qurnet Murai, but there are a few tombs of the time of Tutankhamen until Horemheb on the plain of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, el-Khokha and on the "main hill" of Dra’ Abu el-Naga.

In Ramesside times, the majority of the tomb owners belong to the clergy of the temple of Amen at Karnak and to the military administration of Upper Egypt and Nubia. While the small tombs of lower rank Ramesside priests are scattered all over the necropolis, the hill of el-Mandara at Dra’ Abu el-Naga seems to be the favorite place for the high priests of Amen and viceroys of Nubia. The plans of the larger Ramesside tombs resemble those of the large tombs from the era of Amenhotep III, having one or two courtyards surrounded by colonnades with pylon gateways. The entrance to these tombs is usually framed with funerary stelae on both sides. Elaborate sloping passages with a sequence of subterranean chambers and a brick pyramid as superstructure complete the plan.

With the 20th Dynasty, when only a few rock-cut tombs were constructed, the period of reusing older tombs began to flourish. Some of the usurped tombs received decoration and inscriptions, mostly on still undecorated walls, but the majority of the tombs received only numerous intrusive burials until the end of the Third Intermediate Period. During the 25th and 26th Dynasties the Theban necropolis had its last peak period of construction. The region of el-Asasif in particular was dominated by the enormous mudbrick pylons, walls and superstructures of the huge tombs of the Late period. These buildings represent the last stage of Theban tomb development, following the tradition of the Ramesside period, but are even more connected with the idea of the netherworld, which is realized in the subterranean chambers and tunnels.

Aside from more intrusive burials, including those of animals during Ptolemaic times, the Theban necropolis lost its importance until the advent of Christianity. Several monasteries were then built in nearly every part of the necropolis and numerous tombs served as houses or churches. In many cases the decoration of the tombs suffered much from the vandalism of the monks and the soot of fires. Except for the northern region of Dra’ Abu el-Naga, the Asasif and the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, all the other parts of the necropolis are covered by modern villages. Unless the plans of the Egyptian government to transfer the villages to other locations are successful, and tomb robberies cease, the absolute destruction of the Theban necropolis will occur within the next few decades.

Thebes, Qurnet Murai

A small hill called Qurnet Murai (25°44′ N, 32°36′ E) forms the southernmost part of the private necropolis at Thebes. It is situated directly behind Kom el-Hetan, the great funerary temple of Amenhotep III. As with Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, the occupation of the site began during the second half of the 11th Dynasty. Several huge saff-tombs dating back to this epoch are nowadays hidden behind modern houses. The presence and expansion of the present village has caused the permanent destruction and disappearance of numerous tombs in this area. Although the whole hillside is honeycombed with rock-cut tombs (mostly undecorated), only seventeen have been placed on the official list of numbered tombs. During the last decade, even some of these tombs have vanished.

Apart from a few tombs dating either to the first half of the 18th Dynasty or to the Ramesside era (19th-20th Dynasties), the majority of Qurnet Murai tombs date to the reigns of Amenhotep III, Ay and Tutankhamen. The vicinity of the royal funerary temples of these kings and the neighborhood of Amenhotep’s city of Malkata are the main reasons for the popularity of Qurnet Murai during the late 18th Dynasty. High-ranking officials of this era were buried at Qurnet Murai. Examples include the Viceroy of Nubia Merimose and the famous architect Amenhotep, son of Hapu, if Dino Bidoli’s 1969 identification is accepted. In Coptic times the northern part of the hillock was dominated by the monastery of St Mark, one of the best preserved ancient Coptic buildings on the west bank of Thebes.

The most important tombs at Qurnet Murai are listed below in chronological order, according to their numbers (TT=Theban Tomb), the name and title of the tomb owners.

Amenhotep III: TT 383

Merimose, Viceroy of Nubia

Amenhotep IV/Tutankhamen: TT 40

Amenhotep (called Huy), Viceroy of Nubia

Ay: TT 271

Nay, Chief Physican and Royal Scribe

Ramesses III-IV: TT 222

Heqamaatrenakht, High Priest of Monthu

Further investigations of Qurnet Murai are to be expected by the French, especially by Luc Gabolde, who is entrusted with the publication of tombs in this area.

Thebes, the Ramesseum

The Ramesseum, the funerary temple of Ramesses II, is located on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes in Upper Egypt, not far from Deir el-Bahri. It was built on the edge of the cultivated land, and is oriented east-west. Together with its support buildings and enclosure wall, the temple complex covers an area of about 37,380 sq. m. The temple proper, constructed mostly of sandstone, is not quite rectangular in plan but forms a parallelogram, due to the presence of an earlier temple. A foundation deposit with the earliest form of the king’s prenomen provides evidence that construction on the temple began very early in his reign. Other inscriptions refer to Ramesses II’s first jubilee ^tub-sea) celebrated in the thirtieth year of his reign. Thus the temple’s construction occupied some three decades.

The Ramesseum’s ancient name was "Mansion of Millions of Years, United with

Thebes" tmp20A-4_thumb

The architect who designed and built the temple was named Penre. Its plan is of the standard funerary type, and most closely resembles that of Ramesses II’s father Seti I at Qurna. An entrance pylon forms the front of the temple, opening onto two unroofed courts. On the inner face of the entrance and second pylons are reliefs of the Battle of Qadesh, fought in northwest Syria during the fifth year of Ramesses II’s reign. Later battles are depicted in the reliefs of the northern, first pylon tower. Beyond the courts is a hypostyle hall, similar to the one at the temple of Karnak, with a raised central clerestory. To the west are three smaller columned halls, the westernmost one of which opens into the sanctuary, now in ruins.

Porticoes surrounded the first court of the temple, and at the north end on piers was a row of Osiride statues of Ramesses II, carved in the mummiform position characteristic of the god Osiris. Only two of these statues survive. The court was dominated by a huge granite statue of the seated pharaoh, located on the western side south of the processional axis. Named "Re of the Rulers," the colossus had its own chapel, as shown by a row of four small column bases at its feet. Now broken, this statue was the inspiration for the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Opposite the colossus was another statue of the queen mother Tuya, also with its own cult chapel. On the south side of the court was an entrance to a small palace of the king, adjacent to the temple. This palace is similar in design to a palace attached to Seti I’s temple at Abydos, also completed by Ramesses II.

Slightly higher in elevation, the second court was originally surrounded on all sides by porticoes, with Osiride statues of the king on piers on the eastern and western sides. Only the northeastern corner of this court still stands, along with a section of the second pylon’s inner face. Carved on this face is a version of the Battle of Qadesh, and above that, a portion of relief of the festival of the god Min. In the early nineteenth century Giovanni Belzoni removed the upper torso and head of one of the two colossi that stood in the second court; a drawing of this scene has been much reproduced. What remains of this colossus is now in the British Museum, but the head of the companion statue still rests in the Ramesseum’s second court.

To the west of the second court, the front wall of the hypostyle hall still stands. Reliefs on the outer side of this wall show Ramesses II being given scepters by the Theban triad, the deities Amen, Mut and Khonsu. Carved below this is a procession of Ramesses II’s sons, moving toward the central aisle of the temple. Battle reliefs of the king and his sons attacking the town of Dapur in Syria are on the wall’s inner side. Three staircases led into the hypostyle hall from the second court. Originally there were forty-eight columns in this hall, with the central taller columns supporting the clerestory. The hall’s side walls are now destroyed, but the central part with its roofing is well preserved. Three small halls were located to the west of the hypostyle hall, and to the north and south of these were two small temples. The southern one is a small processional-style temple, possibly dedicated to Ramesses I, with a room for the bark of Amen and a triple shrine.

North of the hypostyle hall was a small double shrine, probably dedicated to Seti I and Tuya, the queen mother. The shrine’s fagade had a columned portico that opened onto a court, with columned porticoes on all sides. Two small columned halls led to a double shrine with a storeroom in the center. Most of this shrine is now badly ruined. The small columned hall immediately to the west of the hypostyle hall is noted for the astronomical scenes carved on its ceiling. On one wall is a relief of Amen and the goddess Seshat recording the length of Ramesses II’s reign on leaves of a persea tree. As Seshat is associated with numbers and writing, some scholars have speculated that the temple library was in this hall, but more likely it would have been in one of the smaller side rooms. Other reliefs in this hall show the divine barks of the Theban triad. On the walls of a second columned hall to the west are offering lists for the gods Ptah and Re. A third columned hall, now ruined, led to the bark shrine, a square room with four piers on which the portable bark with divine images was placed. Rooms to the south were probably storerooms for temple equipment, while rooms to the north included a hall open to the sky, a small temple to Re, and possibly areas for food preparation of the cult offerings. Beyond the bark shrine to the west was the rearmost room of the temple, the sanctuary for the images of the gods.

The stone temple of the Ramesseum is surrounded on three sides by a great number of storerooms, mostly built of mudbrick. These storerooms were where the temple’s wealth, in grain and other commodities, was stored. Best preserved are the storerooms on the northwest side of the temple, including a central columned hall. Impressive barrel vaults of mudbrick formed the ceilings of these storerooms, which were originally coated inside with gypsum plaster. Reused blocks of limestone from Hatshepsut’s funerary temple have been found in some storerooms, usurped by Ramesses II with his deeply cut reliefs over the delicate, raised ones of Hatshepsut’s. The entire complex was surrounded on three sides by a thick wall of mudbrick, enclosing an area of 210x178m. On the east side the enclosure wall joined the temple’s first pylon. Inside the north tower of this pylon was a staircase leading to the roof, which temple astronomers used for celestial observation or measurement. Part of the pylon has collapsed, and its foundations were probably undermined by the waters that inundated agricultural fields outside the temple.

During the 20th Dynasty, the Ramesseum served as an administrative center on the west bank. In Ramesses III’s reign, the work crew that lived at the village of Deir el-Medina marched on the Ramesseum during a labor strike, prompted by arrears in pay, and demanded that officials release some of the grain stored there. Toward the end of the 20th Dynasty there is textual evidence of renegade priests stripping gold, silver and bronze ornaments from the temple. The demolition of the temple began in part during the reign of Ramesses III, who reused some blocks on his own funerary temple at Medinet Habu. In the Graeco-Roman period the Ramesseum was known as the "Tomb of Ozymandias," a corruption of Ramesses II’s prenomen, User-ma’at Re.

Excavations at the Ramesseum by J.E.Quibell indicate that it was partly built over Middle Kingdom tombs. Quibell also found later burials from the 21st-23rd Dynasties in the temple’s storerooms. In the 1970s, French and Egyptian archaeologists made further investigations in the temple. Uvo Holscher’s studies demonstrate that the later funerary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu closely follows the Ramesseum in design. Hieroglyphic texts from the temple have been studied and published by Kenneth Kitchen in his magisterial corpus of Ramesside inscriptions. Today, despite its ruined state, the Ramesseum is among the most picturesque sites in Egypt, a fitting memorial for its larger-than-life owner.

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