Deir el-Bahari

3d model and reconstruction

Deir el-Bahari

The large funerary complex of Queen Hatshepsut includes the sanctuary and the natural rocky backdrop behind it.

For our reconstruction we followed the drawing by G. Erbes, from Ancient and Modern Egypt, 1893.

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Short history of

Deir el-Bahari

The site of Deir el-Bahari, traditional worship venue of the goddess Hathor, is close to the Thebes mountain of Upper Egypt, on the western bank of the Nile, in front of Karnak. The first sovereign who made use of the natural rocky amphitheatre created by the high and fascinating Thebes mountain was Mentuhotep II (XI dynasty) who chose it as the site for his funerary temple. During the New Kingdom, the queen Hatshepsut (XVIII dynasty) built his funerary temple there, reproducing the terrace structure of the Mentuhotep II temple, with further additions. Later on, Thutmosis III built a temple between the two funerary complexes dedicated to the god Amun, with a very similar plan to that of the Hatshepsut monument. During the Ptolemaic age, the queen’s temple was changed and expanded. Finally, the Copts built a monastery inside it, called the “northern monastery”, from which the Arab place name “Deir el-Bahari” derived.

To the left, in the southern part, stand the remains of the most ancient monument on the site, the funerary temple of Mentuhotep II, the first sovereign of the XI dynasty. On the side, to the right, stands the largest building in Deir el-Bahari, the funerary temple built during the New Kingdom by queen Hatshepsut, called Djeser-Djeseru (the “Holy of Holies”). With its terraced structure and stone sanctuary surrounded by the imposing Thebes mountains, the complex is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular monuments on the western banks of Thebes. Thanks to its ingenious architecture, it merges with the surrounding landscape, to the point of becoming an extension to it. The designer of the architectonic project for the temple was the high dignitary Senenmut, a queen’s favourite, but the whole court participated in its building. A monumental processional ramp, about 37 metres wide, provided with a chapel used to moor the sacred boat of Amun at Karnak during the “Beautiful feast in the valley” and decorated with sphinxes, leads to three courtyards placed on various levels accessible through ramps and separated by rows of columns. The walls behind them are decorated with the famous reliefs which show the journey along the Nile undertaken by the queen’s obelisks from Assuan to Amun’s temple in Karnak, the divine birth and crowning of Hatshepsut and a sea commercial expedition to the African land of Punt. The first temple courtyard was originally decorated by exotic trees from Punt, ponds and flower beds. The second courtyard, on the other hand, leads to two chapels, one dedicated to the goddess Hathor, and the other to god Anubi. The third and last courtyard, preceded by a row of columns formed by Osiris pillars flanked by colossal statues of the queen, is a peristilium consisting of four rows of columns on each side, in the midst of which there are numerous statues of Hatshepsut. On the north side there are a sanctuary dedicated to Ra and an open courtyard dedicated to Thutmosis I, father of the queen, and to his wives. On the south side, on the other hand, there is a room with an “apparition window” (where the pharaoh appeared to the people) and another one dedicated to the cult of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis I. In the middle of the western wall there is the entrance to the sancta sanctorum, the stone sanctuary dedicated to Amun, the core of the whole funerary temple, where the sacred boat of the god was to be moored during the “Beautiful feast of the valley”. The monument also included a valley temple, similar to those found in the most ancient pyramid complexes, now disappeared. During the Ptolemaic age the sanctuary of Amun was changed and expanded; later on, in the 7th century A.D., the temple area became the site of a Coptic monastery. Unfortunately the monument was destroyed and mutilated many times already in ancient times. Because of the tensions between Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III, the queen’s successor eliminated his name and many of his images; during the Amarna age the images of god Amun were destroyed and, finally, the Copts damaged the pagan worship images. The French archaeologist Edouard Naville began excavating the Hatshepsut funerary temple in 1891, when there were just a few ruins left. The temple as it appears today is the result of restoration and reconstruction work started on the site in 1961 by the Egyptian-Polish mission, which has brought back much of the ancient splendour of the monument.