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Queen Hatshepsut and her Temple

(L) Granite Statue of Queen Hatshepsut
Leiden Museum, photograph by Rob Koopman, CreativeCommons.

The Spell of Egypt (excerpt)
by Robert Hichens,
published 1911, The Century Co., New York.
Etext prepared by Dagny and John Bickers.
Adapted for, 2006.

Queen Hatshepsut's Temple - Djeser-Djeseru - an architectural treasure

Make Way for Queen Hatshepsut (Hatshepsu)!!!
Surely she comes to a sound of flutes, a merry noise of thin, bright music, backed by a clashing of barbaric cymbals, along the corridors of the past. This Queen who is shown upon Egyptian walls dressed as a man, and who sent to the land of Punt the famous expedition which covered her with glory and brought gold to the god Amun.

To me she seemed most feminine when I saw her temple at Deir-el-Bahari. It is a place of brightness and suavity, pretty shallowness and sunshine. Its colors are trim and fanciful, all very smart and delicate, full of finesse and laughter, and breathing out to me the imagination of a woman of 1500 B.C.

West Thebes presents the manhood of all the ages concentrated in granite. The terrific masculinity of Medinet-Abu, the great freedom of the Ramesseum, and the grandeur of the two lone colossus. The temple at Deir-el-Bahari came upon me like a delicate woman, perfumed and clothed in a creation of white and blue and orange. She is a gay and sweet enchantress who knew her pretty powers and meant to exercise them. Against a background of orange and pink, of red and of brown she stands forever, a smiling coquette of the mountain.

Mr. Wallis Budge says in his book on the antiquities of Egypt: "It would be unjust to the memory of a great man and a loyal servant of Hatshepsu, if we omitted to mention the name of Senmut, the architect and overseer of works at Deir-el-Bahari." By all means let Senmut be mentioned, and then let him be utterly forgotten.

A radiant Queen reigns here--a Queen of fantasy and splendor cut into the mountain--which is the note of Deir-el-Bahari. And what a clever background! Oh, Hatshepsut knew what she was doing when she built her temple here. It was not the solemn Senmut who chose that background, if I know anything of women.

Hatshepsuts Temple at Deir-el Bahari sits low against the towering cliffs
Hatshepsut's Temple,
photograph by Lekegian, c.1895.

Long before I visited Deir-el-Bahari I had looked at it from afar. My eyes had been drawn to it merely from its situation right underneath the mountains. I had asked: "What do those little pillars mean? And are those little doors?" I had promised myself to go there. And I had realized the subtlety, essentially feminine, that had placed a temple there.

And Menu-Hotep's temple, perhaps you say, was it not there centuries before the Queen's? Then he must have possessed a subtlety purely feminine, or have been advised by one of his wives in his building operations. Blundering, unsubtle man would think that the best way to attract and to fix attention on any object was to make it bigger than things near and around it.

Not so Queen Hatshepsut. More artful in her generation, she set her long temple against the precipices of Libya. And what is the result? Simply that whenever one looks toward them one says, "What are those little pillars?" Or if one is more instructed, one thinks about Queen Hatshepsut. The precipices are as nothing.

And yet how grand they are! I have called them tiger-colored precipices. And they suggest tawny wild beasts, fierce, bred in a land that is the prey of the Sun. Every shade of orange and yellow glows and grows pale on their bosses, in their clefts. They shoot out turrets of rock that blaze like flames in the day. They show great teeth, like the tiger, when any one draws near. And, like the tiger, they seem perpetually informed by a spirit that is aflame. Blake wrote:

"Tiger, tiger, burning bright".

a female lion among papryus plants
Howard Carter copied this lion(?)
from the wall of Hatshepsut's temple c.1890

These tiger-precipices of Libya are burning things, avid like beasts of prey. But the restored apricot-colored pillars are not afraid of their impending fury. It is the fury of a beast baffled by a tricky little woman. Still less afraid are the white pillars, and the brilliant paintings that decorate the walls within.

As many people in the sad but lovely islands off the coast of Scotland believe in "doubles," as the old classic writers believed in man's "genius," so the ancient Egyptian believed in his "Ka" or separate entity, a sort of spiritual other self. This Ka was to be propitiated and ministered to, presented with gifts, and served with energy and ardor. On this temple of Deir-el-Bahari is the scene of the birth of Hatshepsut, and there are two babies, the princess and her Ka. When she became a great Queen she built this temple, that offerings might be made there on certain appointed days for this imagined Ka.

Fortunate Ka of Hatshepsut to have had so cheerful a dwelling! Liveliness pervades Deir-el-Bahari. I remember, when I was on my first visit to Egypt, lunching at Thebes with Monsieur Naville and Mr. Hogarth. Afterward I went with them to watch the digging away of the masses of sand and rubbish which concealed this gracious building. I remember the songs of the workmen toiling and sweating in the Sun. I remember seeing a white temple wall come up into the light with all the painted figures dancing with joy upon it. And they are surely dancing still.

Thutmosis brings bottles of sacred oil to Horus at Hatshepsuts Temple
Thutmosis III and Horus at the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Photograph by Przemyslaw Blueshade Idzkiewicz, CreativeCommons.

Here you may see, brilliant as yesterday's picture anywhere, fascinatingly decorative trees growing bravely in little pots, red people offering incense which is piled up on mounds like mountains, Osiris receiving a royal gift of wine, the queen in the company of various divinities, and the terrible ordeal of the cows.

a gift of cows to honor Queen Hatshepsut
Cows being weighed, wall carving in Hatshepsut's Temple,
photograph by Sebah, c.1890.

The cows are being weighed in scales. There are three of them. One is a philosopher, and reposes with an air that says, "Even this last indignity of being weighed against my will cannot perturb my soaring spirit." But the other two sitting up, look as apprehensive as old ladies in a rocking express, expectant of an accident.

(L) Limestone statue of Queen Hatshepsut, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Postdlf, CreativeCommons.

The vividness of the colors in this temple is quite wonderful. At Deir-el-Bahari, what the long shell contains--its happy murmur of life--is more fascinating than the shell. There, instead of being uplifted or overawed by form, we are rejoiced by color, by the high vivacity of arrested movement, by the story that color and movement tell. And over all there is the bright blue painted sky, studded with a plethora of the yellow stars the Egyptians made like starfish.

The restored apricot-colored columns outside look unhappily suburban when you are near them. The old white columns with their architraves are more pleasant to the eyes. The niches are full of bright hues. The arched chapels and the small white steps lead upward to shallow sanctuaries away from the Sun's glare. Small black foxes face each other on little yellow pedestals-- All this attracts one like the details and amusing ornaments of a clever woman's boudoir. Through this most characteristic temple one roves in a gaily attentive mood, feeling all the time Hatshepsut's fascination.

You may see her, if you will, a little lady on the wall, with a face decidedly sensual--a long, straight nose, thick lips, an expression rather determined than agreeable.

The Queen Mother with a finely carved face and the flail of office, usually held by the Pharaoh
Queen Ahmes, mother of Hatshepsut
photograph of a plaster cast made at Deir el Bahari.

Another painting of the Queen shows her on her knees drinking milk from the sacred cow, with an intent and greedy figure, and an extraordinarily sensual and expressive face. That she was well guarded is surely proved by a brave display of her soldiers. Full of life and gaiety all in a row they come, holding weapons on the right hand, and, apparently, branches, and advancing with a gait of triumph. At their head is an officer, who looks back, much like a modern drill sergeant, to see how his men are marching.

Queen Hatshepsut's men bring aromatic tree branches from foreign lands.
Queen Hatshepsut's men return from their expedition to Punt.
Photograph by Etxupoc, CreativeCommons.

In the southern shrine of the temple, cut in the rock as is the northern shrine, once more I found traces of the "Lady of the Under- World". For this shrine was dedicated to Hathor, though the whole temple was sacred to the Theban god Amun. Upon a column were the remains of the goddess's face, with a broad brow and long, large eyes.

Hatshepsuts Temple - a series of three set back columned terraces spaced by ramps in the middle.
Hatshepsut's Temple today, with the third terrace restored.
Image by Hajor, Dec.2001 License

Is not her influence still there upon the terraced platforms, among the apricot and the white columns, near the paintings of the land of Punt? Did it not whisper to the antiquaries, even to the soldiers from Cairo, who guarded the Vache-Hathor in the night (a famous cow statue found here in 1905). They made haste to take her away, far from the hills of Thebes and from the Nile's long southern reaches, that the great Queen might once more reign unchallenged.

They obeyed. Hatshepsut was appeased. And, like a delicate woman, perfumed and arranged, clothed in a creation of white and blue and orange, standing ever so knowingly against a background of orange and pink, of red and of brown, she rules at Deir-el-Bahari.
adapted from: The Spell of Egypt
by Robert Hichens, published 1911.

Three Pharaohs built shrines at Deir-el-Bahari:
Mentuhotep II ruled 2010-1998 BC (11th Dynasty),
Hatshepsut ruled 1473-1458 BC (18th Dynasty),
and Thutmose III ruled 1458-1425 BC
- He was son of Hatshepsut.

Only parts of Hatshepsut's temple have been restored. The entire area was filled with gardens and statues during her rule. After Hatshepsut's death her temple was raided and hundreds of statues were "destroyed". In other temples (Giza, Karnak) the priests dug a big hole in the sand, threw the statues in and covered them up. They may be close by.

Deir-el-Bahari from the air.
The Valley of the Kings is over the ridge at right.
A guard house sits by the trail atop the ridge,
a post was probably in the same place 3500 years ago.
Photograph by Steve F. E. Cameron, CreativeCommons.

Deir el Bahari - Mentuhotep II

Deir el-Bahri: re-creation of the temple of Mentuhotep II,
by Edouard Naville, who excavated the temple. 1910.

The Temple of Mentuhotep II

Mentuhotep was first. 500 years before Hatshepsut he built the first temple at Deir-el-Bahari, a stunning new design. For reasons unknown, later pharaohs of the 11th Dynasty did not continue either the style or the location. The temple was probably half-covered with sand by the time Hatshepsut built her monument, largely on the pattern set by Mentuhotep II.

These days there isn't much left, one wonders how many visitors even notice those abbreviated columns off to the side.

Deir el-Bahri Temple of Mentuhotep II from the rear.
Photograph by Markh, CreativeCommons.

The Hidden Mummies

Many other interesting things have been found in this area, which a narrow ridge separates from the Valley of the Kings. Most notably a dozen mummies of New Kingdom pharaohs, hidden in the 21st Dynasty, were found in a tunnel here. It is suspected they were hidden away from their tombs to protect them from tomb robbers. Most tombs in the Valley of the Kings were heavily looted by this time.

Excerpted from Oriental Days
by Lucia A. Palmer, 1897
For a long time the antiquarians had known that the Arabs at Luxor were selling to travelers objects taken from tombs. It was a matter of great interest to them, and they were on the lookout to see where they came from. The Arabs were wily, and kept well their secret. One was at last induced to reveal it, and he then led the way. The place of the tomb chambers proved to be near Deir-el-Bahari.

Here was a well-like shaft, filled with sand, discovered by chance, leading to a tunnel, and the tunnel to a rough chamber in the cliff. In this chamber were upward of thirty mummy-cases, the majority of them decorated with the royal asp.

These cases contained the mummies of the Pharaoh of the exodus, Ramsses II, and Queen Nofretari, together with other royal personages and the high priest Nabseni. These relics had been taken from their first royal resting place and hidden in this rude chamber.

I recently read a very interesting description, by Emil Brugsch Bey, of the entering of the chamber. I will give it in brief:

“The well cleared out, I descended and began the exploration of the underground passage. Soon we came upon cases of porcelain, funeral offerings, metal and alabaster vases. Then we reached the turn in the passage, a cluster of mummy-cases came in view. Examining them by the light of my torch, I saw at once they contained the mummies of royal personages of both sexes. Plunging on ahead of my guide, I came to another chamber, containing mummy-cases of stupendous size and weight, with polished surfaces and gold coverings.

I spent most of that night hiring men to remove the relics. At early morning three hundred Arabs were employed. One by one the cases were hoisted to the surface, then securely sewed up in sail-cloth.

After six days of hard labor under a July Sun, the work was finished. I shall never forget the scene I witnessed when I watched the strange line of parcels carried across that historical plain: the bodies of the very kings who had constructed the temples that still stand, and of the very priests who had officiated in them.

When we made our departure from Luxor, our Egyptian helpers squatted in groups upon the Theban side and silently watched us. The news had been sent down the Nile in advance. When we passed the towns the people gathered at the quays and made most frantic demonstrations of mourning for the lost Pharaohs. A strange wail went up from the men, the women were screaming and tearing their hair. The children were so frightened I pitied them. At last we arrived at the Museum.”
Excerpted from Oriental Days
by Lucia A. Palmer, 1897

wings of the Sun.

Temples of West Thebes
In the western desert,
New Kingdom pharaohs built great temples
for the everlasting worship of themselves.

Amenhotep III Memnon
Rameses III Medinet Habu
Rameses II Ramesseum
Seti I Kourna
Queen Hatshepsut - Deir el Bahari
Temples of the Craftsmen Deir el Medina

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