The Queen Hatshepsut temple is one of the greatest temples left by ancient Egyptians. It belongs to a group of temples which lie in Deir El bahari, a valley ending in an ample amphitheatre bordered to the west by the rocky Mountain of Qurna, which forms the outer side of the Valley of the Kings.
The temples of the Theban pharaohs of the New Kingdom extended parallel to the banks of the Nile and clearly oriented in an east-west direction according to the solar axis. The Egyptians believed that this valley, anciently called geser “sacred”, was sacred to the goddess Hathor. Deir el-Bahri is an Arabic name which means “Monastery of the North”, since in the Coptic era there was a monastery there, nowadays destroyed. No less than three temples were built, arranged one at the side of the other and belonging respectively to the pharaohs Mentuhotep Nebhepetra, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III.
No doubt, the Queen Hatshepsut temple is the most impressive building of Western Thebes. The Queen Hatshepsut Temple carried the name djeser-djeseru, or “the holy of the hollies”.
The architect who designed this architectural masterpiece is Senenmut, “Chief Steward of Amun”, who had his own tomb built right under the first terrace of the Temple. S6enenmut wanted the building to exist harmoniously with the surrounding scenery. Senenmut was certainly inspired by the innovative concepts already realized by the builders of the Temple of Mentuhotep, but he developed these concepts in his own unique style. The 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 strategical calculations: it was situated not only in a valley considered sacred for over 500 years to the goddess of the funeral world, but also on the axis of the Temple of Karnak and, moreover, it stood at a distance of only a few hundred meters in a straight line from the tomb of the Queen in the Valley of the Kings, on the other side of the mountain.
Two successive ramps lead from the first courtyard to the second courtyard and to the upper terrace, both delimited to the west by arcades. The intermediate arcade is flanked by two chapels situated to the south and the north of it and dedicated respectively to Hathor and Anubis.
On the wall of this arcade, two most important events of the Queen’s reign are illustrated in multi colored bas-reliefs: in the southern part (the Punt arcade) one can see illustrations of the expedition to Punt and, in the northern part (the birth arcade), the divine birth of Hatshepsut is represented as if she were conceived by the god Amun in the image of her real father Tuthmosis I.
EXPEDITION TO THE LAND OF PUNT
The most admirable bas-reliefs of the Queen Hatshepsut temple are undoubtedly those which illustrate the famous naval expedition to the mysterious Land of Punt, sent by the Queen probably in the 8th year of her reign; those bas-reliefs are situated in the southern part of the arcade of the second (middle) terrace.
These multi-colored bas-reliefs are accompanied by a long text describe in detail the voyage. This voyage went along the shores of the Red Sea.
The Red Sea was called “Great Green” in the text. The arrival of the Egyptian vessels at Punt, the local pile dwellings, the plants and animals of the region, the sacrifices and presents offered by the leader of the Egyptian expedition to the King and Queen of Punt, the loading on board the vessels of important raw materials much needed by the Egyptians.
Those materials included: cinnamon, aromatic wood, gold, resin, furs, and most important above all, two products identified as myrrh and incense (antyu and senetjer in ancient Egyptian language. The accompanying hieroglyph text describes the scene as follows:
“The vessels were loaded with large
quantities of the wonders of the Land of Punt, precious woods of the Land of
God, piles of gum of myrrh and living myrrh trees, ebony and ivory, the green
gold of Amu, aromatic wood, with fragrances, incense, antimony, baboons,
monkeys and dogs, skins of panthers of the South, with the natives and their
The bas-reliefs expresses the return of the expedition to Thebes and the weighing of the imported goods.
At the end of the northern part of the arcade the bas-reliefs illustrate the arrival of the god Amun at Deir el-Bahri on the occasion of the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. The Queen delivers a long speech before god Amun in which she emphasizes on the courage of her mission that had made it possible to find the way to Punt in order to yield to the wish of god.
Amun the Lord of Karnak answers by a speech from his side to the speech of the queen, in which he praises all her actions and the success of the expedition. He says that he was glad, since the precious goods from Punt confirmed he had created that land “to amuse his heart” and that he had provided for the final success of the difficult expedition, so that he could benefit from “all the good and beautiful things from the Land of God”, satisfied that Hatshepsut –acting that way –had respected his will and honored him as her divine father.
It is known that 31 myrrh trees arrived in Egypt in good condition and were planted in Amun’s garden at the Temple of Karnak, although different climatic conditions probably prevented them from taking root.
But where was the mysterious Land of Punt?
It is known that ever since the time of the Old Kingdom the Egyptians organized more or less regular expeditions to the Land of Punt, with the purpose of importing incense and myrrh, the raw materials that were required for celebrating religious cults, as well as in the field of medicine.
In particular, myrrh was principally used as a balsam, while incense, besides being burnt in special burners for its characteristic fragrance, was used in mixed with other substances, such as honey, myrrh, wax, beer or fruit, for the purpose of medical treatment.
Numerous hypotheses have been advanced concerning the real geographical location of the Land of Punt. Yet, it is logical to assume that Punt was situated on the shores of the Red Sea, although there is no reliable proof.
And indeed, knowing the relatively modest navigational skills of the ancient Egyptians, who were engaged in river navigation much more than in sea voyages, and comparing the average speed of the ships in that age which amounted to about 3-4 knots) to the time required for completing the expedition (about 30 to 40 days for the voyage along the coast using the dominant northerly winds and about three months for the return voyage on oars against the wind), it appears evident that the Land of Punt could not lie farther than Cape Guardafui, the southernmost point of the Red Sea.
Besides the plants from which both myrrh and incense are produced, the Boswellia and the Commiphora, indeed grow at these latitudes, on both the African and the Arabian coasts. These were the two most important products of the Land of Punt; also, the examination of various archeological objects brought from Punt undoubtedly proved their African origin.
Therefore, and based upon the previously given information, it would be logical to generally assert that the Land of Punt was situated in the area of the Horn of Africa, and precisely, on the coasts of Ethiopia and northern Somalia.
The chapel of Hathor
The chapel of Hathor (in the southern part of the terrace), includes a vestibule and a hypostyle hall followed by a sanctuary excavated in the rock. That sanctuary consists of a vestibule with two columns and two rooms.
The vestibule, consists of two square Hathor- headed columns in a central position adorned in their upper parts with masks representing Hathor with cow’s ears. Each column is surrounded by a group of four columns. The hypostyle hall, obviously situated at a higher level, is supported by 12 columns.
The surrounding walls of the vestibule and of the hypostyle hall are decorated with scenes of festivals and sacrifices to Hathor illustrated on her boat in the form of a cow.
The part carved in the rock consists of a vestibule with two columns from which there is access to the Sanctuary, where the most secret parts of religious rituals took place.
The sanctuary consists of a narrow and long hall with a vaulted ceiling and four small niches on the right and left walls which leads to the innermost room.
Two large niches interrupt the walls. In the corner of one of the niches, in a designedly hidden position, appears the portrait of Senenmut the architect, as if he had wished to participate in the most private rituals of the cult of Hathor together with the Queen.
The remaining part of the decorations of the Sanctuary is dominated by the depiction of the goddess Hathor, illustrated in the form of a cow nursing and protecting Hatshepsut, as well as the depiction of the Queen offering sacrifices to her divine wet-nurse.
And finally, on the back wall of the hall, the final scene of the cult of Hathor is represented: the sanctification by Amun and Hathor of the Queen putting on the double crown and the ritual beard.