Essential Architecture-  Egypt

Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut


Senmut, architect-engineer and Queens' chancellor


Deir el-Bahri


18th Dynasty, c. 1490-1460 BC


Ancient Egyptian




Temple Tomb, Mausoleum
By the banks of the Nile, across the river from Thebes, a three-tiered temple was found beneath hundreds of tons of sand tens of centuries after its construction. The temple is a reflection of the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II, and was constructed alongside that eleventh-dynasty structure. However, the temple of Hatshepsut is far larger than that of Mentuhotep. The architect was Senmut, Hatshepsut's lover and a member of her court with more than 20 titles. Senmut designed the temple with rows of colonnades that reflect the vertical patterns displayed by the cliff backdrop. In this way the temple is a successful example of architectural harmony between man and nature. The temple is dedicated to Amon and Hathor, Hatshepsut's claimed parents, although there are chapels dedicated to other gods, like Anubis, the god of embalming. The sanctuary lies within the mountainside. Two ramps connect the three levels, and on either side of the lower incline were T-shaped papyrus pools. On the ground level were sphinxes and fragrant trees from Punt. The sphinxes had the heads of Hatshepsut, and she is also represented as a lion in some of the temple's reliefs. Although she has no specific enemies, she is represented clawing at adversaries and capturing "birds of evil" with a clapnet.

Furthermore, the temple's walls document Hatshepsut's divine conception, her vote of confidence given by her father, her efforts to repair damage inflicted by the Hyksos invaders, the expeditions to Punt and the erection of the colossal obelisks at the temple of Karnak. Since the construction of the complex took about twenty years, the walls were like blank pages of a book, filled in as her reign progressed. By the time the temple was finished, Hatshepsut probably had little time to enjoy it as a pharaoh. Although Senmut originally planned to be buried at the temple, Hatshepsut's tomb was destined to lie elsewhere. In the manner of her father, Tuthmose I, who realized a temple is too obvious a place to bury priceless artifacts, the tomb of Hatshepsut was constructed in secret. Ineni, the architect of the tomb and temple of Tuthmose I, prided himself that he was the only one who knew the tomb location of his master. The 100 "slaves" that built the tomb, according to Otto Neubert, were killed after the project to protect the secret. Whether this brutal technique was used in Hatshepsut's case is not known, but it is rather moot. The biggest enemy Hatshepsut had were not grave-robbers, but her own nephew, who would have no problem finding her tomb, no matter how many slaves died.

For Senmut's work, he was rewarded handsomely and was able to buy a temple for himself not far from Hatshepsut's, in which were buried his minstrel and family, and even his favorite pet apes and horses. His mother Hatnofer was buried nearby as well. Around his mother's neck was a scarab necklace, according to the prescription of the Book of the Dead. On the back of the pendant is written:

Hatnofer says: heart of my mother, heart of my mother! Heart of my present form! Don't stand up against me in the council. Don't make opposition against me before the keeper of the scales [of judgment]. You are my life force in my body, my creator who makes my limbs sound. When you go to the good place to which we travel, don't make my name smell bad to the court of the living, so that it will go well for us and for the jury and so the judge will be happy. Don't tell lies against me beside the god. See: your [own] reputation is involved.

Although vandalized by Hatshepsut's foes and buried in sand for centuries, the Senmut's masterpiece loses no splendor. It is an incredible expression of the absolute power of a pharaoh, whether woman or man.
Located on the western bank of the Nile (or in Western Thebes, the great capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom), this is one of the most beautiful of the royal mortuary temples. The terraces were different then, with gardens of frankincense trees and other rare plantings brought from Punt, a place that appears in painted reliefs decorating the walls of one of the colonnades. (See below.) The name Deir el-Bahri derives from the former monastery built during the Coptic era. This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, stepmother of pharaoh Thutmose III, who became regent for the adolescent Thutmose III when Thutmose II, her brother died. As the first known female monarch, she ruled for about two decades, thus delaying the kingship of Thutmose III. It is not known how she died or was superseded. Many of her portraits were destroyed after her death, no doubt on orders from Thutmose III. In the surviving portraits she appears as a male pharaoh with royal headdress and kilt and sometimes even the false beard. Some inscriptions refer to her as male.
"Construction of the temple of Hatshepsut took fifteen years, between the 7th and the 22nd years of her reign. . . .The site chosen by Hatshepsut for her temple was the product of precise strategic calculations: it was situated not only in a valley considered sacred for over 500 years to the principal feminine goddess connected with the funeral world, but also on the axis of the temple of Amun of Karnak, and finally, it stood at a distance of only a few hundred meters in a straight line from the tomb that the queen had ordered excavated for herself in the Valley of the Kings on the other side of the mountain" (Siliotti 100).

The plan consists of three colonnaded terraces, with two ramps. The horizontals and verticals echo the cliffs behind the temple.

Left and center: the first ramp and first colonnade; the second courtyard with the intermediate and upper porticos in the distance

The ramp to the upper terrace
The second ramp leads to the upper terrace, which is at present closed to the public. This portico has columns decorated with Osirian statues of the queen. Many of these statues in the round were destroyed by Thutmose III.

The Punt Portico (the southern portico of the second terrace)
Two rows of square columns support this porch. Reliefs on the walls illustrate a naval expedition to Punt, an exotic place, probably what is now Ethiopia or northern Somalia.

Texts engraved on the walls describe the voyage, the gifts offered to the king and queen of Punt, the products exported from there, including cinnamon, trees, ebony, ivory, gold, aromatic wood, incense and myrrh, and various animals.
Left: the inhabitants' dwellings off the ground reached by ladders; center: one detail of the marine fauna illustrated below each scene in zigzag areas representing water; right: the leader of the expedition with his soldiers, offering gifts

Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut: Hathor Chapel and Anubis Chapel (page 2 of 2 pages)
Senmut, architect-engineer and Queens' chancellor
18th Dynasty, c. 1490-1460 BCE

The second or intermediate portico is flanked by two chapels, the south one dedicated to Hathor and the north dedicated to Anubis.

The Chapel of Hathor
The Chapel of Hathor, at the southwest end of the Mortuary Temple once had its own access ramp; the most sacred part of the Chapel is excavated into the rock.

Some square piers and round columns are topped with Hathor capitals--with features of the goddess with cow's ears. Note the Osirian statue just visible on the top level ( left image, at the top center).

The left and center images are of the outer vestibule. Several painted bas reliefs decorate the walls of the Chapel; the image on the right depicts the Queen's soldiers on parade in honor of the goddess Hathor.

The Lower Chapel of Anubis
The columns of the Anubis Chapel are fluted, unlike the plain piers used in the rest of this temple.This room at the far north end of the second colonnade has twelve of these grooved columns with an astronomical ceiling. Wall paintings decorate the walls.

The hypostyle hall with paintings depicting offerings to Anubis and Sokaris

Left: upper portion of wall with cobra frieze and astronomical ceiling; center: portion of a painting depicting a table of offerings before the god Amun (whose legs are just visible).

With special thanks to the Digital Imaging Project
Images copyright Mary Ann Sullivan.