In Ancient Egypt there were two types of temple: Cult Temples, these were not places of worship in the modern sense since the people did not take part in religious rituals, that was the job of the priests as only they, or the Pharaoh, were allowed into the temple to carry out the rites. These were centred on a statue of the god housed in a shrine in the inner most part of the sanctuary. An example of a Cult temple is Karnak listed above. Mortuary Temples was the place where rituals would be performed in order to ensure the dead Pharaoh reached the afterlife. The Temple of Deir El-Bahri, which means in Arabic, the “Temple of the Northern monastery”, got its name, in the 7th century AD after a Coptic monastery in the area, although it is better known as the Temple of Hatshepsut, which is a mortuary temple.
The Temple of Hatshepsut was built on the West bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. It was created by the architect Senmut who was also chancellor and, some suggest, the lover of Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty). Hatshepsut became queen and took over the rule of Egypt in 1473 BC after her husband and half-brother, Thutmosis II, died. As Tuthmosis’s heir, the son from a secondary wife, was still a child. Hatshepsut ruled on his behalf for 7 years before proclaiming herself Pharaoh and ruling jointly with him for a further 14 years. Queen Hatshepsut is best known as the only woman who actually reigned as a pharaoh and even portraying herself as a man.
The temple is partly built into the rock and partly free standing built of limestone and not sandstone which was normal for funerary temples of the New Kingdom period. It has undergone extensive renovation, something that still goes on today in an attempt to restore its former glory. Today it is quite impressive but when first built it would have been brightly painted with the causeway lined with an avenue of sphinxes, rich colours and trees and flower beds.
Consisting of three terraces reaching a height of 29.5 metres (97 feet), each terrace is connected by long ramps which were surrounded by lush gardens with plants and trees. Each terrace has a double colonnade of square piers with the temple itself being located on the top terrace.
The walls and columns of the temple are covered with relief sculptures. Along the colonnade on the 1st terrace to the south are scenes, which tell the story of the transportation of Hatshepsut’s two obelisks to the Temple of Karnak. On the north side of the colonnade the scene show the Queen offering four calves to the God Amon Ra.
The 2nd terrace is now accessed by a ramp; although originally it would have had stairs. The southern side shows the expedition to the Land of Punt (now Somalia) to trade for gold, incense and tropical trees. Also to be seen is the shrine of the Goddess Hathor which is reached through a court with columns; this shows a woman’s face with cow’s ears; on the walls, Hathor is depicted as a cow. On the northern side is a scene depicting the birth of Hatshepsut who claimed she was the divine daughter of Amon Ra to legitimize her taking the title of Pharaoh. Beyond the colonnade is the chapel of Anubis, who was the God of mummification and the dead on their path through the underworld.
The 3rd terrace consists of two rows of columns, which were damaged by her step-son Tuthmosis III who also destroyed the columns at the rear, as he did with many of the images of Hatshepsut after her death (1458 BC). This sanctuary consists of two small chapels. A third chapel was added to the sanctuary in the Ptolemaic period.
Above the temple in the cliff was found a tomb which contained a cache of royal mummies moved there from the Valley of the Kings during the 21st dynasty in an attempt to avoid them being desecrated.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.