Friday, January 21, 2011

Temple of Hatshepshut, and Habu Temple

Now we are off to see Hapshepsut's mortuary temple, on the other side of the mountain from the King's Valley. There are various stories about how there is a tunnel from this temple deep into the mountain, and what its intended purpose may have been.

Stunning location of this beautiful temple

This temple was largely destroyed and in fragments but it has been beautifully restored so that you can really appreciate its beauty.

We had long wanted to see this temple, and it did not disappoint.
The temple is carved out of living rock, limestone, on the opposite side of the same mountain as the Valley of the Kings. It faces East, toward Luxor and Karnak temples, and has has three levels or terraces.

On the first level there are painted scenes of her expedition to Punt, a long sea voyage down the Red Sea toward present day Eritrea or Somalia. This was a major accomplishment for the non-seafaring Egyptians. There is great detail showing African people with conical houses, a obese queen and all the strange animals and plants that the expedition encountered and bought back.

A remarkable portrait of the wife of the chief with whom they are trading

Bringing back full-sized trees in baskets from Punt
There are giraffes, monkeys and elephants. And there are depictions of bringing back nursery stock of trees that are sources of myrrh and frankincense, both used in embalming. There were also many kinds of flowers and ornamental trees and the temple includes inventories of everything that was brought back. The queen had these specimens planted in front of the temple and on the various terraces (a lady after my own heart!). Archaeologists when they excavated found the roots of some of these still preserved in the sand – quite unbelievable. On the opposite side of the first level is recounted Hatshepsut’s claim to be king legitimately, because she is actually the daughter of the god Amon. Her conception and divine birth are depicted here.

Are the next level is a row of colossal statutes of Hatshepsut. These were demolished as part of a campaign to erase her from history but they have been recovered and reassembled well enough to see her face.

Hatshepsut had herself portrayed with the
pharaoh's false beard and the red skin
of males rather that the yellow, usually reserved for females

The Hapshepsut temple lies in the center of three similar temples, the earlier Montuhotep II temple, which still lies in ruins, to the left of Hapshepsut's, and the temple of Tutmoses II, which has yet to be restored. Hapshepsut's temple was discovered buried and in ruins in the 1800s, in this valley, called Deir al-Bahri, “Northern Monastery,” for the Coptic monastery that occupied this site.

In the rear of the sanctuary a tunnel has been found, heading deep into the mountain toward the Valley of the Kings on the opposite side of the mountain, but the tunnel may also go toward the tomb of Senemut her architect, friend, supporter, vizier, and possible lover.

Beautiful painted low relief decorated her temple

Hathor topped column

These are the Colossi of Hatshepsut.

The tomb of Senenmut is on the same site as Hatsepshut's temple; the entrance is to the North a couple of hundred yards away. It is a very deep, steep shaft, not open to the public, but has interesting carvings deep inside in the burial chamber, including verses of devotion to Hatsepshut. There is continuing interest and scholarship about these two, and recently Hatsepshut's mummy was positively identified, using a combination of CT Scans and DNA analysis. Amazing!

Our last stop in Thebes – i.e. Luxor (which means complex of temples) – is Medinat Habu. Here is the mortuary temple built by Rameses III, but it was a sacred site long before his time, and his is only the latest addition.

Rameses III has been called the last "great" pharaoh, with the possible exception of Cleopatra, 1200 years later. He built an unusual looking entrance for the complex, modeled perhaps on citadels he had seen on military campaigns in Syria. The tower is in the form of a "migdol," a kind of fortified gate house. The complex thus had the look of a fortress since originally it was enclosed by a mud brick wall 35 feet thick and 60 feet high.

We spend most of our time here just gawking. The sheer size of the statues, and of the entire complex is amazing and we do not have time to do it justice. But everywhere Rameses has “smiting” scenes of his overcoming the Sea People and the Lybians, both identified by their dress, features and weapons. How many were slain? Here is a pile of right hands. Not sure all the hands came from combatants and not women camp followers? Here is a pile of male members.

Below is is part of a dramatic chariot scene. There is also a hunting scene and the only depiction of an Egyptian sea battle found on any temple walls. (The Egyptians were spoiled by the predictability of the Nile and never became accomplished sailors.)

There is a palace off to the side of the temple, where Rameses was in residence from time to time. There is even a latrine but it not impressive for a king. The palace was built of mud brick so there is not that much of it left. (Mud brick could look wonderful for a while and did not, unlike tombs and temples, have to last for eternity.) On side wall of the temple, that faces the palace there is a 40 foot high, and 100 yards long wall, pictured below, solid top to bottom heiroglyphs, depicting all the festivals and important dates through the year.

Originally there was a canal with a harbor outside the entrance, that connected the temple to the Nile, but the desert reclaimed this centuries ago.

In later times, Medinat Habu's strong fortifications made it attractive as a place of refuge during a civil war between the High Priest of Amun at Karnak and the viceroy of Kush.

The exterior walls are carved with religious scenes and portrayals of Rameses III's wars against the Libyans and the Sea Peoples. The first pylon depicts the king smiting his enemies and also has a list of conquered lands.

The interior walls also have a wealth of well preserved bas-reliefs some of which still retain their original paint work.

Now we must rush to catch the boat, the MS Crown Emperor. Less than six hours and we saw all of this!

After all the rushing around, it is time to slow down and try to absorb everything we have seen in the last few days. It is really information overload.

We watch the sunset, bathe and even dress for dinner. Not fancy - we did not bring that sort of clothing, but at least we are presentable! It's a nice buffet and we enjoy the relaxation and the opportunity to catch up with our journals. And appreciate another cabin boy creation.

Later in the evening, we go up on deck to watch the ship go through the Isis lock. We have waited in line for the lock for a couple of hours – there are 200 cruise ships on the Nile! So it is after 11 before we go through the lock, and we get to bed.

Other pictures are here:

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