Temples, Temples, and More Temples

I’m sure that I’ve written something like this before, but it bears repeating. The sheer number and size of the temples in this area of Egypt is mind-boggling. I have already written about the temples of Sety I. Luxor, and Karnak, each one successively larger and more grandiose than the other. More recently we also visited the temples of Ramses II, Hatshepsut, and Medinat Habu. We revisited Karnak as well just because it is too much to comprehend in one day (not that going back for another visit helped us comprehend it much more). Now add to this list the dozen or so other temples in the area that we didn’t visit. Keep in mind that the smallest of these temple compounds covers more ground-space than any football stadium. And here’s the real kicker, they were all up and functioning at the same time. By the end of the 19th dynasty in the New Kingdom there must have been hundreds of thousands of people employed by the priesthood in Egypt. Aside from agriculture, the construction, maintenance and daily operations of these temples must have been the only game in town.

The Temple of Ramses II, also known as the Rameseum, is a huge complex built by Ramses the Great (1279-1213 BC) primarily commemorating his many military conquests. Like most of the temples we have visited, the entire compound is arranged in a large rectangle. At one of the narrower ends there stands the remains of an enormous wall referred to as a pylon. This pylon stands about 50 feet tall, 200 feet across, and about 20 feet thick at the base. It gives the temple a fortress-like appearance except for the fact that the pylon only sits at the front of the temple. More reasonable walls of maybe 20 feet tall surround the rest of the complex. So what’s the deal with the pylon? It almost looks as if it were constructed to break a large wave. It does face towards the Nile. I mention this only because the pylon is a common feature of many of the temples of this era. Ramses’ temple, like the others, contains several smaller pylons that function to separate the complex into sub-sections. At any rate, the first pylon is very impressive. There are writings about this temple where Ramses declares his magnificence and powers over life and death. It is covered with scenes depicting Ramses with an upraised war club in one hand while in the other he holds his enemies by their hair. Scenes of him riding his chariot while shooting bow and arrow abound. All larger than life. He seemed quite fond of these two poses as they are found on every temple and monument that he touched. Also, it is here where the 60 foot tall colossal of Ramses once stood. All that remains of this statue are his feet, shoulders, and a deeply disfigured face in ruins on the ground. The English poet Shelley wrote about Ramses in his poem titled “Ozymandias.” The poem makes light of Ramses’ claims to eternal glory by noting the ruins of this temple. Ramses did appear to have an overactive ego. But I have to disagree with Shelly, and I’m sure Ramses would disagree as well. There are just too many references to this great pharaoh to just write him off as being an egomaniac: this temple along with his other temples, the inscriptions written by and about him everywhere in Egypt, his mummy in its place of honor in the Cairo Museum, the very fact that we still talk about him today all testify to his greatness in history even if his monuments are a bit ruined. I wonder who will speak of Shelley 3,220 years after his death?

I could spend days describing Hatshepsut’s Deir al-Bahri Temple. Hatshepsut, the first official female pharaoh, ruled as queen alongside Tuthmosis II and alone as pharaoh from 1492-1458 BC. Her temple is so different from any of the other temples. It is built right into the base of the cliffs below the symbolic, pyramid shaped mountain Al Qurn (the horn). Her temple sits deep back in a valley but holds a commanding view across the Theban plain and the river to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The lines of her temple are totally different from the pharaohs both before and after her. The lines are angular; gone are the rounded bundles of papyrus characterizing the columns of other temples. The majority of her columns are either square or 13 sided. Gone are the hypostyle hall features. There are many reliefs on the walls of each of the terraces of her temple. On the lowest terrace there is an amazing scene recording the shipping of her two obelisks (see Karnak: Supersize Me!). It shows a huge ship with both obelisks lengthwise end-to-end tied down onto the deck. This had to have been one gigantic vessel! On the central terraces there are intricate scenes recounting Hatshepsut’s expedition into the Land of Punt, Sudan along the Red Sea coast. There are pictures of birds, fish, animal, trees, plants, and flowers that were brought back from this adventure. Because of the detail of these pictures biologists are able to pinpoint her trip based upon where these native birds and plants grew. It’s amazing. Hatshepsut has an amazing story that I will write more about in the future.

The last temple that we visited was Medinat Habu, second only in size to the Karnak complex of temples; that means that this place is huge as well. This temple site was first built upon by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III and later added to by Ramses III (1184-1153 BC) whose structures make up the majority of the construction. Ramses III, like his father Ramses the Great at the Ramesseum, managed to dominate this complex with his exploits. There are numerous scenes of him leading away captives and slaves from the lands he conquered. He also seems to have been quite impressed with the image of himself with war club in one hand while the other grasps several enemies by their hair as they beg for mercy. There is a great deal of color remaining on the ceilings and high walls of this temple beyond the reach of vandals and weather. And nowhere in Egypt have I seen engravings so deep into the walls. Some of the hieroglyphs were easily eight inches deep into the stone. His writing was not going to be easily erased by time. On and outside wall of his temple there is an unusual scene of Ramses hunting bulls and donkeys. He stands in his chariot, reigns tied around his waist, shooting arrows at these animals as he single-handedly (actually hands-free!) drives the chariot. Impressive driving, but hunting bulls and donkeys?

Service Truck Ride to Medinat Habu


linnie said...

I don't think I ever had any clue at all as to the magnitude and proliferation of temples in Egypt. At every picture I am bowled over by the incredible beauty of the carved stories and hieroglyphs covering every pillar and wall. It's just breathtaking. I cannot wait to see your many pictures in larger format. I am in awe.

linnie said...

Your truck, car, donkey...rides give us such a flavor for the modern life there. The music is a hit too. Very fun!

Julianna said...

Hold on tight! They drive very very fast! It's a good thing that the driver did not run over anyone in the street!

Michelle said...

love the music!!! its sooo kool!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Parag said...

"Sublime of the Sublimes" or Djeser-Djeseru is the ancient Egyptian language is part of complex of buildings known as Deir el-Bahri and the first temple was build around 500 years earlier during the 11th dynasty while Neb-Hepet-Re Montuhotep is a little structure located on the left side of the temple.
Deir El-Bahri