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September 2017

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Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple – Luxor East Bank, Upper Egypt. Thebes was the capital of New Kingdom Egypt. It had grown in importance throughout the Middle Kingdom, when it was a sanctuary of the god, Montu. Karnak and Luxor Temples together were known as Waset, Thebes was the later Greek name for the town. The history of Karnak Temple and its gods is told in three performances in different languages each evening in a spectacular Sound and Light Show.

Karnak is the biggest temple complex in the world, covering an area of 100 hectares and there is nowhere more impressive to the first-time visitor. Much of it has been restored during the last century and our knowledge of the buildings here in different periods of Egyptian history is still increasing each year. In ancient times, Karnak was known as Ipet-isut, ‘The most select of places’.

The temples are built along two axes (east-west and north-south) with the original Middle Kingdom shrines built on a mound in the centre of what is now called the Temple of Amun.

On the west side is the entrance to the temple used by visitors which was once a quay built by Rameses II to give access via a canal to the river Nile. This is where boats carrying statues of the gods would have arrived and departed from the temple during festivals, such as Opet, and from where the cult statue of Amun would leave on its weekly tour of the west bank temples such as Deir el-Bahri and Medinet Habu. There are many names of kings on the quay each recording the levels of inundations during their reigns.

On the right, in front of the first pylon, is a small barque shrine built by Hakor in Dynasty XXIX, which was used as a resting place during the gods’ professional journey to and from the river.

An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leads the visitor towards the massive front of the first pylon, each one holding a statue of the king, Rameses II, in its paws (later usurped by Pinudjem of Dynasty XXI). The sphinxes were fantastic beasts with the body of a lion and the head of a ram, a symbol of the god Amun.

The first pylon is unfinished and its height, originally of 43m, is still pretty impressive. There is no certainty as to who built it, but it’s thought that it may have been the Dynasty XXV king Taharqo whose buildings are in the forecourt. Alternatively, it may have been constructed by Nectanebo I of Dynasty XXX who built the temenos walls which link to the pylon and surround the temple complex. The remains of a mudbrick ramp can still be seen on the inner side of the pylon, the only example we have, and which shows how the pylon was constructed.

The forecourt is now inside the entrance pylon but would have originally been outside the main temple. In the centre are the remains of the giant Kiosk of the Nubian pharaoh, Taharqo, with its one complete papyrus column still standing. It is worth remembering that Karnak Temple was built to expand outwards from a central core, the oldest part being in the middle of the main axis, behind the sanctuary of Amun.

To the north of the forecourt and adjoining the first pylon, is the triple barque shrine of Seti II, with three rooms built to contain the barques of Mut, Amun and Khonsu, the gods of the Theban triad.

On the south side of the forecourt is the entrance to a temple of Rameses III, who was not satisfied with the simple way-stations of his ancestors and built an elaborate barque shrine designed as a mini-version of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu on the west bank. Its first court is lined with Osirid statues of Rameses and its walls show festival scenes and texts. Next to this is the ‘Bubastite gate’, built by Sheshonq of Dynasty XXII, the biblical king ‘Shishak’.

The second pylon was built by Horemheb but not completed until the reign of Seti I. Seti’s son Rameses II built two colossal statues of himself which stood in front of the pylon gate. A third statue of Rameses II still stands in situ and has a tiny statue of his daughter Bent’anta between its feet. This statue was later usurped by Rameses VI then the High Priest Pinudjem I. Inside the walls of this pylon many of the sandstone talatat blocks from the Akhenaten temple were found which had been reused as infill in the construction of the walls.

Through the entrance of the second pylon is the famous hypostyle hall. Standing amongst its 134 gigantic columns the visitor can’t help but be awe inspired by the grandeur of the place. The centre 12 columns are larger (21m tall) and have open papyrus capitals, which may have been intended to symbolise the original ‘mound of creation’. The other 122 columns are smaller (15m) and have closed capitals, perhaps representing the swamp which surrounded the mound.

The hypostyle hall was begun by Amenhotep III who built the side walls which close off the space between the second and third pylons. It was not completed until the reign of Seti I who carved his beautiful raised reliefs around the walls of the northern half. His son Rameses II completed the decoration of the southern half of the walls and pillars, often overcarving his father’s reliefs with his own crude sunk relief carvings including temple foundation rituals. ‘Rameses the Great’ was not going to be forgotten.

Both Seti and Rameses have left us fine examples of temple ritual and the relationship of the pharaohs with their gods. Accounts of their battle exploits are carved around the outer walls. It was Rameses who added a roof of stone slabs to the hall and we can imagine the dim, mysterious atmosphere it would have had, lit only by the high clerestory windows. The pillars are very close together and it’s difficult to get an overview of the hypostyle hall. When it was in use the spaces between the columns would have been filled with statues of gods and kings. Looking back at the hypostyle hall from beyond the third pylon we can see just how high it must once have been.

The third pylon was built by Amenhotep III and beyond this to the east, we move towards the older part of the temple, built in early Dynasty XVIII. Many reused blocks have also been found inside the third pylon from buildings which are now being reconstructed in the open-air museum. One of a pair of obelisks of Tuthmose I is still standing in the area between the third and fourth pylon and the bases of a pair belonging to Tuthmose III can also be seen. The north-south axis of the temple branches off from this court.

It seems that each successive pharaoh was compelled to build bigger and better than his forebears. As we get closer to the sanctuary area, the original Temple of Amun, the pylons get smaller and closer together. The fourth and fifth pylons, built by Tuthmose I are much smaller than the third and the area between them is the oldest extant part of the temple. This area was once a pillared hall containing wide papyrus columns – perhaps the prototype of the hypostyle hall and had huge Osirid statues of Tuthmose I lining its walls. It was later restored and added to by various pharaohs, including his daughter Hatshepsut who built two red granite obelisks here, one of which still remains, and the pyramidion of the other lies on its side near the sacred lake. The texts on Hatshepsut’s obelisk give important details of the building of the monument from a single piece of granite and gilded with the finest gold. It is dedicated to her father Amun and it attempts to legitimise her claim to the throne.

Not much remains of the sixth pylon which was built by Hatshepsut’s successor, Tuthmose III, apart from texts giving details of captured prisoners on its lower walls. The area before the sanctuary contains two beautiful pillars, sometimes called the pillars of the north and south, erected by Tuthmose III. The northern pillar shows the emblem of Lower Egypt, the papyrus, and the southern one is the lily (or Lotus) of Upper Egypt.

The sanctuary now standing is a granite barque shrine which was built by the Greek Philip Arrhidaeus and replaces an earlier shrine of Tuthmose III. The rooms surrounding the shrine were built by Hatshepsut, who had constructed an even earlier shrine here. If we walk around the passage we can see a statue pair representing Amun and Amunet, dedicated by Tutankhamun and thought to show the face of the boy-king.

The open area behind the granite sanctuary is the oldest part of Karnak Temple where the earliest sanctuary once stood, right at the heart of the Temple. In the Middle Kingdom a shrine of Senwosret I stood here but the area was robbed for its stone and all that remains is a large alabaster slab which would have had a shrine built on it. The central court is surrounded by various semi-ruined chambers which contain a wealth of fragmentary but interesting reliefs if you have time to explore them.

Following a paved path along the south side of the central court, the visitor will come to a building known as the Festival Temple of Tuthmose III, anciently called ‘Most splendid of Monuments’ and built as a memorial temple to Tuthmose and his ancestral cult. The pillars inside the hall are said to imitate the ancient tent poles of a pavilion, unique in Egyptian architecture, and still show good remains of the coloured decoration. One of the rooms to the southwest of the pillared hall once contained a table of kings which listed the names of 62 kings and is now in the Louvre in Paris. There are several ruined statues to the north of the hall, in an area which was used as a church in the Coptic era. Behind the columned hall is a suite of rooms dedicated to Amun. A larger room to the north is sometimes known as the Zoological Garden, or Botanical Garden because it contains superb delicate carvings representing plants and animals which Tuthmose encountered on his Syrian campaigns.

A flight of wooden stairs lead over the wall behind the festival temple. In the area leading towards Karnak’s east gate is a small ‘Temple of the Hearing Ear’, built by Rameses II. Here local inhabitants of Thebes would bring their petitions to the gods of Karnak, or rather to the priests who would intercede. This was a tradition suggested by earlier niche shrines built against the back of the Tuthmose complex.

Also just inside the crumbling eastern walls are various remains of later temple structures such as a Colonnade built by Taharqo. The Eastern gate must have been once imposing but is now in quite a ruinous state. Beyond this gate and outside the main temple walls, the scant remains of Amenhotep IV’s (Akhenaten) Karnak temple buildings were discovered. These were excavated in the 1970s and many of the colossal statues of Akhenaten now in the Luxor and Cairo museums came from here.

Following the walls round to the north, we come to the Temple of Ptah. The original three sanctuaries were constructed by Tuthmose III and dedicated to the Memphite god, Ptah. It was restored by the Nubian king Shabaqo and later much added to by the Ptolemies and Romans. There are Ptolemaic screen walls and flowered columns in front of the original sanctuary area. The north and centre sanctuaries were dedicated to Ptah and the southern one to Hathor. Today, in the southern shrine which is usually now kept locked, is a beautifully restored statue of the lioness goddess Sekhmet.

Beyond the temenos wall to the north is the derelict Precinct of Montu, who was the earlier falcon-headed god of the Theban area before Amun gained prominence. The temple was originally built by Amenhotep III and his cartouches can still be seen on some of the blocks in the compound. Several later kings added to the temple and a large propylon gate was built by Ptolemy III in the quay area to the north. There were many smaller adjoining chapels and shrines dedicated to various deities, as well as an avenue of human-headed sphinxes to the north.
Moving west, past the shrines of the ‘God’s Wives of Amun’, we come to the Open Air Museum which houses various blocks and reconstructed shrines found in other parts of Karnak. Most of the fragments here were found inside the second and third pylons or in the floor of the court of the seventh pylon.

The limestone barque shrine of Senwosret I is an airy structure, built as a ‘way-station’ for the king’s jubilee. On its beautifully carved square pillars, we see the king offering to Amun in his ithyphallic form. Next to this is a shining white alabaster shrine built by Amenhotep II, a much simpler construction, and also a similar shrine built by Tuthmose IV. Also here, archaeologists are reconstructing parts of a Temple of Tuthmose IV towards the back of the museum, which are showing some very fine reliefs. One of the most recent reconstructions in the open-air museum is the ‘Red Chapel’ of Hatshepsut which was the original Sanctuary of Amun at the heart of Karnak. It was dismantled by Tuthmose III who rebuilt his own sanctuary, reusing Hatshepsut’s door jambs. Later Amenhotep III made use of the red chapel’s blocks as part of the filling of his third pylon, which is why they have survived in such good condition. French archaeologists have spent the past few years rebuilding the chapel from the available blocks – a very difficult task due to the original construction techniques.
On the other side of the Temple of Amun, to the south, the visitor comes to the Sacred Lake. The area in the foreground was originally a fowl yard and the domesticated birds belonging to Amun were driven from here through a stone tunnel into the lake each day. The lake is overlooked by seating for the Sound and Light show today, but underneath here the remains of priests’ houses were found.

Pylons seven, eight, nine and ten run on a north-south axis to the main temple, called the transverse axis. When the court before the seventh pylon was excavated, a treasure store of 751 stone statues and stelae were found, along with over 17,000 bronzes which now form a large portion of the Cairo Museum collections. Some of the statues can now be seen in the Luxor Museum. They were probably buried in the Ptolemaic Period, but no-one knows exactly why.

The way through the eighth to tenth pylons is blocked due to work in progress. The ninth pylon at present is being painstakingly taken down and reconstructed. Blocks from local Aten temples were used as infill here and we can see some of these talatat blocks of Akhenaten now in the Luxor Museum. To the east of the ninth pylon is a chapel commemorating Amenhotep II’s jubilee, restored after the Amarna Period by Seti I.

In the south-west corner of the Amun precinct, we come to the Temple of Khonsu – ‘son’ of Amun and Mut, a well-preserved small temple from the late New Kingdom, built towards the end of the Ramesside Period. The temple has the feeling that it is built in miniature, with squat pillars and low ceilings, which seems appropriate for Khonsu, the child. Reliefs in the rooms to the back of the temple still have some good colour, including this unusual depiction of a lion-headed ithyphallic god.

A doorway from the Khonsu Temple leads through to a later structure adjacent to it. This is a temple dedicated to the hippopotamus goddess Apet, or Opet (not to be confused with the festival of Opet). She is said to have helped women in childbirth, possibly a later aspect of the goddess Tauret. Reliefs inside the temple, however, depict the funeral rites of Osiris, in the Graeco-Roman tradition.

Karnak can be a confusing place, its buildings spanning a long period in Egyptian history. Most visitors on guided tours have very little time to see much of the temple, and many visits are needed to get even a brief idea of the temple as a whole.

How to get there

Karnak Temple is on the northern edge of the town of Luxor. It is within walking distance from the Corniche, but visitors may prefer to take a taxi or a caleche (horse-drawn carriage) each way from the centre of town. Karnak temple is open from 6.00am to 4.30pm in winter and tickets cost EGP 65. To visit he open-air museum and extra ticket costing EGP 25 is required.

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Ra

Ra – Egyptian Sun God. To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created. The sun disk was either seen as the body or eye of Ra.

Ra was thought to travel on two solar boats called the Mandjet (the Boat of Millions of Years), or morning boat and the Mesektet, or evening boat. These boats took him on his journey through the sky and the underworld. When Ra travelled in his sun boat he was accompanied by various other deities including Sia (perception) and Hu (command) as well as Heka (magic power). Sometimes members of the Ennead helped him on his journey, including Set who overcame the serpent Apophis and Mehen who defended against the monsters of the underworld.

Apophis, an enormous serpent tried to stop the sun boat’s journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it in its tracks with a hypnotic stare. In the evening the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Atum or in the form of a ram. The Mesektet or Night boat would carry him through the underworld and back towards the east in preparation for his rebirth. These myths of Ra represent the sunrise as the rebirth of the sun by the sky goddess Nut, thus attributing the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra and strengthening his role as a creator god.

Ra (Re) was the primary name of the sun god of Ancient Egypt. He was often considered to be the King of the Gods and thus the patron of the pharaoh and one of the central gods of the Egyptian pantheon. He was also described as the creator of everything. Ra was so powerful and popular and his worship was so enduring that some modern commentators have argued that the Egyptian religion was, in fact, a form of veiled monotheism with Ra as the one god. This seems to be somewhat of an overstatement but underlines his primary position within religious texts throughout Egyptian history.

It is sometimes proposed that the pyramids represent the rays of light extending from the sun and thus these great monuments connected the king with Ra. The Egyptians also built solar temples in honour of Ra. Unlike the standard type of Egyptian temple, these temples were open to the sunlight and did not feature a statue of the god because he was represented by the sunlight itself. Instead, the temple centred on an obelisk and altar. The most significant early solar temple is thought to be the one erected in Heliopolis, sometimes known as “Benu-Phoenix”. Its location was thought to be the spot where Ra first emerged at the beginning of creation, and the city took its name (“Iwn”) from the word for a pillar.

Ra was an ancient god, but not the oldest of the gods; the first references to Ra date from the Second Dynasty. However, by the Fifth Dynasty, he was a powerful god who was closely associated with the pharaoh. The Pharaoh was already seen as the embodiment of Horus and so the two gods became linked, sometimes as the composite deity Ra-Horakhty (“Ra (is) Horus of the Horizon”). Ra also came to be associated with Atum (the creator god of the Ennead in Heliopolis) as Atum-Ra. By the Fifth Dynasty, the pharaoh was referred to as the son of Ra and the name of Ra was incorporated into the throne name of every king from that point onwards. Many Old Kingdom pharaohs built sun temples in which to worship Ra.

The Middle Kingdom saw the rise to prominence of Amun of Thebes. Although Ra kept his association with the pharaoh, he was to some degree absorbed by Amun as Amun-Ra. However, the priests of Amun became very wealthy and influential and so some of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom chose to elevate Ra in his stead, perhaps partly because he was already closely associated with the pharaoh. For example, Thuthmosis promoted Re-Horakhty as his favoured god while Amenhotep III took the epithet “the dazzling sun” and named his wife´s pleasure boat “the Aten Gleams”. His successor (and probable son) Akhenaten went one step further and rejected Amun and many of the other gods in favour of The Aten (a solar god).

The worship of the Egyptian God Ra was at its peak during the New Kingdom. Many of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings (dating from this period) included depictions of Ra’s journey through the underworld over twelve “hours” or stages. In the fifth hour, Ra dies and is reunited with Osiris in the underworld, but in the twelfth hour, he is reborn as the scarab (Khepri). Sun temples were again constructed during the New Kingdom (although those of the Armarna Period are dedicated to The Aten).

Amun-Ra was also popular in Nubia and was the chief deity of the Nubian Kingdom of Napata during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The Greeks associated Ra with Zeus and so he remained popular during the Ptolemaic Period. However, after this point, Egypt was governed by a series of foreign rulers who were not associated with the god of the pharaohs and so his popularity declined.

Associations with other gods

Ra was often described as the father of the gods. He was sometimes thought to be married to Hesat or Hathor although the latter is usually referred to as his daughter. As his worship was pre-dated by that of some of his “children” (such as Hathor and Horus) it seems likely that he took on this role when he was associated with the creator god Atum.

According to the Pyramid Texts, Ra (as Atum) emerged from the waters of Nun as a benben stone (an obelisk-like pillar). He then spat forth Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), and Tefnut in turn gave birth to Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Ra tried to separate Geb and Nut by placing Shu between them and decreed that Nut could not give birth on any day of the calendar. However, Thoth won an extra five days from the moon so that Nut could give birth to Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys and Horus the Elder.

It was thought that Ra “died” or was swallowed by Nut every evening as the sun dipped below the horizon. He travelled through the world of the dead by night and was then reborn in the morning (making Nut both his granddaughter and his mother). At sunset, he was linked to Horakhty (Horus on the Horizon) and Atum and at dawn, he was linked to the scarab beetle, Khepri (“the Emerging One”) and Nefertum

Ra-Horakhty-Atum was associated with Osiris as the manifestation of the sun at night. When Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, he became the God of the Underworld. Thus the Pharaoh was the son of Ra who ruled as the living Horus and who became Osiris on his death.

According to another myth, Ra ruled on earth as Pharaoh until he became old and weary. The people had lost respect for him and no longer obeyed his laws and so Ra decided that they should be punished. He sent his “Eye” to teach them a lesson but then had to arrange to get her drunk to prevent her killing everyone. Once the danger had been averted, Ra decided it was time for him to leave the world to Horus ( who took his place as the king) and travel across the sky on Nut’s back.

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Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut – Foremost of Noble Ladies. Hatshepsut was born in the 18th Dynasty. This Dynasty is also referred to as the New Kingdom. Hatshepsut entered this world as the daughter of royal parents. Her father was Tuthmosis I and ruled Egypt for approximately 12 to 14 years. Her mother was Ahmes. Ahmes was the sister of Amenophris I (Pharaoh who ruled Egypt for 21 years). In addition to Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis I and Ahmes had a son. They named him Anenemes. By birthright, Anenemes should have inherited the throne as the son of Tuthmosis I and Ahmes; however, he never became king.

Hatshepsut, on the other hand, went on to rule Egypt in later years for approximately 21 years. Hatshepsut ruled Egypt between 1479-1458/57. She ruled in a time when women were allowed to own property and to hold official positions. They were given rights to inherit from deceased family members and were allowed to present their cases in court. Women of Ancient Egypt had more freedom than other ancient cultures such as Greece where women were expected to stay home.

Hatshepsut Bust. Image: Dailymail

After the death of Hatshepsut’s father (Tuthmose I), her half-brother (Tuthmose II) succeeded the throne. As it was customary in royal families, the oldest daughter of the pharaoh would marry a brother to keep the royal bloodlines intact. Therefore, Hatshepsut married her half-brother. Tuthmose II was the son of one of her father’s lesser wives (Mutnofret); however, his reign would be short and his life short-lived. It may have been that Tuthmose II died of an illness and thus held the throne only for 14 years.

During their marriage, Hatshepsut and Tuthmose II were not able to produce a male heir but rather had a daughter whom they named Neferure. In later years, it appears that Neferure may have been married to her half-brother (Tuthmose III); much like her mother had married a half-brother in previous years. Tuthmose III was the son of Tuthmose II (Hatshepsut’s husband) and one of his royal concubines named Isis. This bloodline made Tuthmose III a stepson to Hatshepsut. Because Tuthmose III was very young when his father died, Hatshepsut became a co-regent and ruled right alongside the young stepson. It appears that within the second or third year of this co-regency reign, Hatshepsut proclaimed herself king with complete titles. She would be known as Maatkare (Matt is the ka of Ra) and also Khnemet-Amun-Hatshepsut (She who embraces Amun, the foremost of women). After this proclamation, Tuthmosis III would no longer reign as co-regent with Hatshepsut. In order to make Hatshepsut’s proclamation to king more official and more accepting to the Egyptian citizens, she invented a co-regency with her father Tuthmosis I. She even went as far as incorporating this fabricated co-regency into texts and representations. These were found decorating her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. In addition, and also to make things still more official, Hatshepsut dedicated a chapel to her father in her mortuary temple. She hoped to acquire more acceptance as the new ruler of Egypt by changing the beliefs of her people.

Hatshepsut was a very unique and intelligent individual. She used various strategies to legitimize her position as pharaoh. Not only did she proclaim herself as pharaoh and fabricate a co-regency with her father (Tuthmose I), but she also tried to make herself more god-like by the invention of stories with the attachment to gods. She did this by making it appear as if the gods had spoken to her and her mother while in she was still in her mother’s womb. Hatshepsut misled her subjects and the uneducated public by indicating that Amon-Ra had visited her pregnant mother at the temple in Deir el-Bahri in the Valley of the Kings.

Hatshepsut was unique because she took on several male adornments while she ruled Egypt. Unlike most women of that time, she attached a false beard, wore male clothing, and was depicted in statutes as a pharaoh. She might have done this to make her transition to kingship and the acceptance of the priesthood more convincing. It may be that if she had ruled strictly with a more feminine-looking disposition she may not have been so readily accepted by the masses. Her strategy seemed to work and the priests supported her reign as pharaoh.

There were many prominent figures during her reign but there appears to be one person in particular who was probably foremost in her circle. This prominent person was Senenmut who was born of a humble family in Armant. He came to be known as Hatshepsut’s spokesman and steward of the royal family. In addition, he was known as superintendent of the buildings of the God Amun. During the later years, Hatshepsut had obelisks installed in the Temple of Amon-Re at Karnak. Senenmut supervised the transport and erection of these obelisks as well as the mortuary temple that was built for Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. 

It appears that he must have been very well favored by the Queen as he had a separate tomb constructed close to Hatshepsut’s tomb for himself. He had this second tomb dugout in front of Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb in spite of owning another tomb at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. During Hatshepsut’s reign, gossip followed the pair as it was suggested that his good fortune was due as a result of his intimate relations with the Queen. To add to this deduction, it was further fueled by the fact that he played a heavy role in the education of Hatshepsut’s only daughter Neferure. His brother, Senimen, also acted as nurse and steward to Neferure and this caused more gossip to run rampant. Several statues were found associating Senenmut with the Princess Neferure. History shows that Senenmut was a prominent figure during three-fourths of Hatshepsut’s reign and possibly after the death of Neferure (it appears that she died around the 11th year of Hatshepsut’s reign), that he fell out of graces with the queen for unknown reasons. Speculation has it that he may have had some kind of alliance with Tuthmosis III (Hatshepsut’s stepson) and this could have led to the demise of their relationship.

History also shows that the construction of the famous temple of Deir el-Bahri was most probably started by Tuthmose II and later finished by Queen Hatshepsut. The walls of the temple depict major achievements such as the expedition to Punt near the Red Sea. This trading expedition brought back many riches for the country.

To this day, the death of Hatshepsut remains a mystery. It appears that she reigned for fifteen years and her stepson took the throne after her disappearance. It’s also believed that the hatred for his stepmother pushed him to erase the memory, existence, and any depictions of Queen Hatshepsut by destroying any monuments erected during her reign. Although her temple still stands, neither her tomb nor her mummy has ever been found. She has now come to be known as having been the only female pharaoh to erect the most monuments during her reign.

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Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple – Luxor East Bank, Upper Egypt. Within the center of Luxor is the temple once known as ‘Ipet-resyt’ or ‘the southern Opet’ which served as a focal point for the Opet festival. Once a year the divine image of Amun with his consort Mut and their son Khonsu would journey in their sacred barques from Karnak Temples to the temple at Luxor to celebrate the festival which was held during the inundation. Opet’s primary function was religious but the festival was also significant in maintaining the king’s divine role.

The earliest remains found at Luxor Temple date to Dynasty XIII and it is possible that there was a shrine or temple on this site during the Middle Kingdom, but it became more prominent in Dynasty XVIII. It would seem that Hatshepsut first began the overland processional way which linked Karnak and Luxor temples, with barque stations along the route. It was Amenhotep III who constructed the colonnade and court in the heart of the temple which was added to by other pharaohs. Reused blocks of Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II from earlier destroyed structures have been found.

Unusually, the temple does not face the river, but its main axis faces Karnak with the remains of an avenue of sphinxes pointing to the professional way. This remaining 200m avenue of human-headed sphinxes was erected by Necatnebo I to replace the original ram-headed sphinxes of Amenhotep III when Nectanebo built an enclosure wall around the precinct. A Roman shrine with a headless statue of Isis can be seen in the north-western corner of the forecourt.

The modern entrance to the temple is to the west and after descending the new stone steps the visitor faces the massive first pylon, 21m high, which was a later addition by Rameses II. Six statues of Rameses stood before the pylon, but only three remain today with one of an original pair of tall obelisks. The northwest obelisk now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The pylon is decorated on its outer face with scenes of the battles of Rameses II and the famous ‘battle poem’. This is best seen in the early morning sun. The inner face has a dedication text and records of the battle of Kadesh as well as festival scenes. On the south face of the east tower in the first courtyard is a relief showing the exterior of the temple when it was first built, with flags flying on the flagpoles.

Beyond the first pylon is the court of Rameses II which would have been the original forecourt of Amenhotep III’s building. On the north-western side is a triple barque shrine of Amun, Mut and Khonsu constructed in sandstone with features belonging to the earlier structure of Hatshepsut retained in the rebuilding. Rameses’ great court features a colonnade around each of its sides interspaced with colossal statues, many of which the king usurped from Amenhotep III.

When entering the colonnade of Amenhotep III you may notice a slight change in the axis of the earlier part of the temple. This colonnade with its 14 tall papyrus columns was unfinished at Amenhotep’s death and its decoration only completed during the reign of Tutankhamun (and finally completed in the reign of Seti I). Here you can see superbly executed reliefs of the Opet procession to and from karnak on its west and east walls, but Tutankamun’s name has been altered throughout the texts to that of Horemheb. These are best viewed at night when the temple is floodlit, the lighting at the base of the walls throws the decoration into sharp relief.

The colonnade leads into the elegant columned court of Amenhotep III with barque shrines of Mut and Khonsu at its southern end. In 1989 during restoration work, a spectacular cache of statues was found beneath the floor of the eastern side of the court and these can now be seen in the Luxor Museum. Beyond the portico on the south side of the court is a room which was transformed into a cult chapel of the Roman legion based at Luxor during the third century AD. The room was plastered over and this has served to preserve the painted reliefs of Amenhotep III. A niche-shaped shrine is now a modern entrance to a small offering hall or vestibule, with pharaonic scenes of sacrifices and offerings to the gods. Within the sanctuary or barque shrine beyond, a free-standing shrine was built by Alexander the Great in which the Greek king appears as Pharaoh.

A doorway to the east leads to the ‘birth-room’ with its scenes illustrating the myth of the divine birth of Amenhotep III on the west wall. After scenes of the union of Amun with the king’s mother Mutemwiya, the creator god Khnum can be seen fashioning the baby king Amenhotep III with his ka behind him. Mutemwiya is shown giving birth and the newborn king is presented to the gods. These interesting scenes which claim the legitimacy of the king and his divine right to rule are also best seen when lit up at night.

Behind the sanctuary is a private antechamber known as the ‘Opet (harem) suite’, a broad hall with 12 columns which opens into a number of smaller chambers behind. These chambers are said to have a special significance relating to the creation and solar mythologies of Amun and Re at Luxor. The central chamber at the back of the temple was the original holy of holies which still has the remains of the pedestal on which the image of the god rested. It would seem that it was in these rooms that the real mysteries of the temple were enacted.

The exterior walls are also worth a look. The western side depicts the battles of Rameses II including the Syrian and Libyan wars, with details of named fortresses.

During the Roman occupation of Egypt, Luxor Temple was surrounded by a vast military encampment which may have housed as many as 1500 men. By this time the temple would have ceased to have a religious function and it is likely that many blocks from the outer temple buildings were used to supplement the mudbricks of the Roman barracks. Remains of stone pillars and avenues can still be seen all around the temple enclosure.

A Christian basilica was built in the north-eastern corner of the temple and later a mosque dedicated to the Muslim saint Abu’l Hagag was built over the site. This is now a monument in its own right and is a dominant feature of the eastern side of the Rameses court.

How to get there

Luxor Temple is on the Corniche in the central part of the town, opposite the ferry dock. Winter opening hours are 6.00am to 9.00pm and tickets cost EGP 50. In the evening the temple is floodlit and many of the reliefs which are indistinct during the day can be clearly seen.

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The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors

Big Question for 2012: The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors. Will the mystery over the Great Pyramid’s secret doors be solved in 2012?

I dare say yes. After almost two decades of failed attempts, chances are now strong that researchers will reveal next year what lies behind the secret doors at the heart of Egypt’s most magnificent pyramid.

New revelations on the enduring mystery were already expected this year, following a robot exploration of the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum.

But unrest in Egypt froze the project at its most promising stage after it produced the first ever images behind one of the Great Pyramid’s mysterious doors.

Now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), once led by the controversial yet charismatic Zahi Hawass, is slowly returning to granting permits for excavations and archaeological research.

Zahi Hawass, the famous Egyptian archaeologist

WIDE ANGLE: BIG QUESTIONS FOR 2012

“As with other missions, we have had to resubmit our application to be allowed to continue. We are currently waiting for the various committees to formalize the approval,” project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News.

“Once we”re allowed to continue, I have no doubt that we can complete our work in 2012,” he added.

Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.

Two shafts, extend from the upper, or “Kings Chamber” exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called “Queen’s Chamber” disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.

Widely believed to be ritual passageways for the dead pharaoh’s soul to reach the afterlife, these 8-inch-square shafts remained unexplored until 1993, when German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot through the southern shaft.

After a steady climb of 213 feet from the heart of the pyramid, the robot came to a stop in front of a mysterious limestone slab adorned with two copper pins.

NEWS: Giza Pyramids Align Toward City of Sun God

Nine years later, the southern shaft was explored on live television. As the world held its breath, a tomb-raiding robot pushed a camera through a hole drilled in the copper pinned door — only to reveal what appeared to be another door.

The following day, the robot was sent through the northern shaft. After crawling for 213 feet and navigating several sharp bends, the robot came to an abrupt halt in front of another limestone slab.

As with the Gantenbrink door, the stone was adorned with two copper pins.

BLOG: The Great Pyramids’ Amazing Non-Mysteries

The current Djedi project, a joint international-Egyptian mission named after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the pyramid.

The project began with an exploration of the southern shaft, which ends at the so-called “Gantenbrink’s door.”

A robot, designed by Rob Richardson at the University of Leeds, was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a “micro snake” camera that can see around corners.

Unlike previous expeditions, in which camera images were only taken looking straight ahead, the bendy camera was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.

This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond — one that had not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. Images of 4,500-year-old hieroglyphs written in red paint began to appear.

According to some scholars, the markings are hieratic numerical signs that record the length of the shaft. The theory has not been confirmed by the researchers.

“Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work,” Whitehead said.

The Djedi team was also able to scrutinize the two puzzling copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber.

NEWS: Pyramid Hieroglyphs Likely Engineering Numbers

Images showed that the back of the pins curves on themselves, possibly suggesting an ornamental purpose.

Equipped with a unique range of tools which also included a miniature “beetle” robot that can fit through a 0.74-inch diameter hole, a coring drill, and a miniaturized ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness of the stone, the Djedi team was ready to continue the pyramid’s exploration last August. But the political turn of events in Egypt halted the project.

Whitehead is confident that the robot will reveal much more once the team is allowed to resume their research.

“The plan is the same as it always was. We will completely survey the shafts leading from the Queens Chamber and look beyond the first and second blocking stones in at least one shaft,” Whitehead said.

“Even if we do not look further beyond the blocking stones, accurately mapping the shafts will be a fantastic result and will provide significant clues to determine the purpose of these unique archaeological features,” he concluded.

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Amenhotep III

Amenhotep III 1390 – 1352 BC. Amenhotep III’s long reign of almost 40 years was one of the most pros­perous and stable in Egyptian history. His great-grandfather, Tuthmosis III, had laid the foundations of the Egyptian empire by his campaigns into Syria, Nubia and Libya. Hardly any military action was called for under Amenhotep III, and such little as there was, in Nubia, was directed by his son and viceroy of Kush, Merymose.

Colossal Amenhotep III British Museum

Colossal Amenhotep III British Museum

Amenhotep III was the son of Tuthmosis IV by one of his chief wives, Queen Mutemwiya. It is possible [though now doubted by some) that she was the daughter of the Mitannian king, Artatama, sent to the Egyptian court as part of a diplomatic arrangement to cement the alliance between the strong militarist state of Mitanni in Syria and Egypt. The king’s royal birth is depicted in a series of reliefs in a room on the east side of the temple of Luxor which Amenhotep III built for Amon. The creator god, the ram-headed Khnum of Elephantine, is seen fashioning the young king and his ka (spirit double) on a potter’s wheel, watched by the goddess Isis. The god Amun is then led to his meeting with the queen by ibis-headed Thoth, god of wisdom. Subsequently, Amun is shown standing in the presence of the goddesses Hathor and Mut and nursing the child created by Khnum.

The early years of Amenhotep III

Amenhotep III’s reign falls essentially into two unequal parts. The first decade reflected a young and vigorous king, promoting the sportsman image laid down by his predecessors and with some minor military activity. In Year 5 there was an expedition to Nubia, recorded on rock inscriptions near Aswan and at Konosso in Nubia. Although couched in the usual laudatory manner, the event recorded seems to have been rather low key. An undated stele from Semna (now in the British Museum) also records a Nubian campaign, but whether it is the same one or a later one is uncertain. A rebellion at Ibhet is reported as having been heavily crushed by the viceroy of Nubia, “King’s Son of Kush”, Merymose. Although the king, ”mighty bull, strong in might, the fierce-eyed lion” is noted as having made great slaughter within the space of a single hour, he was probably not present; nevertheless, 150 Nubian men, 250 women, 175 children, 110 archers, and 55 servan a total of 740 – were said to have been captured, to which was added the 312 right hands of the slain.

The opulent years of Amenhotep III

The last 25 years of Amenhotep III’s reign seem to have been a period of great building works and luxury at court and in the arts. The laudatory epithets that accompany the king’s name are more grandiose metaphen than records of fact: he took the Horus name ”Great of Strength who Smites the Asiatics”, when there is little evidence of such a campaign, similarly, ”Plunderer of Shinar” and ”Crusher of Naharin” seem singularly inappropriate, particularly the latter since one of his wives, Gilukhepa, was a princess of Naharin.

The wealth of Egypt at this period came not from the spoils of con­quest, as it had under Tuthmosis III, but from international trade and an abundant supply of gold (from mines in the Wadi Hammamat and from panning gold dust far south into the land of Kush). It was this great wealth and the booming economy that led to such an outpouring of artistic talent in all aspects of the arts.
Since the houses or palaces of the living were regarded as ephemeral, we, unfortunately, have little evidence of the magnificence of a place such as Amenhotep’s Malkata palace. Fragments of the building, how­ever, indicate that the walls were once plastered and painted with lively scenes from nature. Many of the temples he built have been destroyed too. At Karnak he embellished the already large temple to Amun and at Luxor he built a new one to the same god, of which the still standing colonnaded court is a masterpiece of elegance and design. Particular credit is owed to his master architect: Amenhotep son of Hapu.

On the west bank, his mortuary temple was destroyed in the next (19th) dynasty when it, like many of its predecessors, was used as a quarry. All that now remains of this temple are the two imposing stat­ues of the king known as the Colossi of Memnon. (This is in fact a com­plete misnomer, arising from the classical recognition of the statues as the Ethiopian prince, Memnon, who fought at Troy.) Of the two, the southern statue is the best preserved. Standing beside the king’s legs, dwarfed by his stature, are the two important women in his life: his mother Mutemwiya and his wife, Queen Tiy. A quarter of a mile behind the Colossi stands a great repaired stele that was once in the sanctuary and around are fragments of sculptures, the best of which, lying in a pit and found in recent years, is a crocodile-tailed sphinx.

A peak of artistic achievement of Amenhotep III

Some magnificent statuary dates from the reign of Amenhotep III such as the two outstanding couchant rose granite lions originally set before the temple at Soleb in Nubia (but subsequently removed to the temple at Gebel Barlzal further south in the Sudan). There is also a proliferation of private statues, particularly of the architect Amenhotep son of Hapu, but also of many other nobles and dignitaries.

It is in the great series of royal portraits, however, that the sculptor’s art is truly seen. Largest of them all (after the Colossi of Memnon) is the huge limestone statue of the king and queen with three small standing princesses from Medinet Habu. There are many other representations of the king, all of which project the contemplative, almost ethereal, aspect of the king’s features. Magnificently worked black granite seated statues of Amenhotep wearing the nemes headdress have come from excavations behind the Colossi of Memnon (by Belzoni) and from Tanis in the Delta. A number of statues of the king were reworked by later rulers, often by simply adding their cartouches, or occasionally altering the features or aspects of the body, as with the huge red granite head hitherto identified as being Tuthmosis III from Karnak (also found by Belzoni) and reworked by Ramesses II [now in the British Museum). Several portraits in statues, reliefs and wall paintings show the king wearing the helmet-like khepresh, the so-called Blue or War Crown.

One of the most incredible finds of statuary in recent years was made in the courtyard of the Amenhotep III colonnade of the Luxor temple in 1989. It included a superb 6-ft (1.83-m) high pink quartzite statue of the king standing on a sledge and wearing the Double Crown. The only damage the statue had sustained was under Akhenaten when, very carefully, the hated name of Amon was removed from the cartouch when it appeared as part of the king’s name. The inscriptions on the statue and its iconography suggest that it is a work from late in the despite the idealized youthful features of the king. It may possibly have been a cult statue.
The two most widely known portraits of Queen Tiy are the small ebony head in Berlin which, in the past, caused many authorities to sug­gest that she came from south of Aswan, and the petite-faced and crowned head found by Petrie at the temple of Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai which is identified as the queen by her cartouch on the front of her crown. Other fine reliefs of her come from the tombs of some of the courtiers in her service such as Userhet (TT 47) and Kheruef (TT 192).

Death and burial of Amenhotep III

Inscribed clay dockets from the Malkata palace carry dates into at least Year 38 of Amenhotep’s reign, implying that he may have died in his 39th regnal year when he would have been about 45 years old.

His robbed tomb was rediscovered by the French expedition in 1799 in the western Valley of the Kings (KV 22). Amongst the debris, they found a large number of ushabtis of the king, some complete but most­ly broken, made of black and red granite, alabaster and cedar wood. Some were considerably larger than normal. Excavations and clearance by Howard Carter in 1915 revealed foundation deposits of Tuthmosis IV, showing that the tomb had been originally intended for that king. Despite this, the tomb was eventually used for Amenhotep III, and also for Queen Tiy to judge from the fragments found of several different ushabtis of the queen.
Queen Tiy survived her husband by several years – possibly by as many as 12, since she is shown with her youngest daughter, Beket­ Aten, in a relief in one of the Amarna tombs that is dated between Years 9 and 12 of her son’s reign. (Beket-Aten is shown as a very young child and must have been born shortly before Amenhotep died, or even posthumously.) We know from polite enquiries about Tiy”s health in the Amarna Letters (p. 126) that she lived for a while at Akhetaten (modern el-Amarna), the new capital of her son Akhenaten. It has been suggested that there was a period of co-regency between the old king and his successor, but the argument is not proved either way. An inter­esting painted sandstone stele found in a private household shrine at el-Amarna shows an elderly, rather obese Amenhotep III, seated with Queen Tiy. Whether he actually lived for a time in this city is a matter of conjecture; Tiy certainly did and may well have died there, to be taken back to Thebes for burial.

Amenhotep III’s mummy was probably one of those found by Loret in 1898 in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35), although recently it has been suggested that this body was wrongly identified by the ancient priests when it was transferred to the new tomb. On biological grounds, profes­sors Ed Wente and John Harris have proposed it to be the body of Akhenaten, or possibly Ay. A previously unidentified female mummy (the Elder Woman) from the same cache has been tentatively identified as Queen Tiy, based on the examination of her hair and a lock of hair in a small coffin from the tomb of Tutankhamun inscriptionally identified as Tiy”s.

Amenhotep III Names and Burial

Birth name: Amen-hotep (heqa-waset) (Amun is Pleased, Ruler of Thebes)
Throne name: Nub-maat-re (Lord of Tuth is Ra)
Burial: Tomb KV 22, Valley of the Kings, Thebes

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King Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun 1333 – 1323 BC.

King Tut Life and Times

In 1323 B.C., a young Egyptian king died. His name was Tut.ankh.Amum – “the living image of Amun”. Tutankhamun is the best-known pharaoh of ancient Egypt. He was probably the son of Akhenaten, the heretic king of the eighteenth dynasty. His mother was probably Queen Kiya, one of the king’s secondary wives. Ankhesenpaaten (or Ankhesenamum), his older half-sister, became his queen. He ascended the throne in 1333 B.C., at the age of nine, and reigned until his early death at the age of about eighteen. Some speculate that he was murdered and others think he may have been deliberately sent into battle to be killed. However, the exact cause of his death is unknown. Those who believe he was murdered point to the hole in his skull as evidence, but some experts believe the hole was made after his death. His mummified body was so badly preserved that we may never know the true fate of this minor pharaoh.

Not all scholars agree on the identity of Tutankhamun”s parents. One theory suggests that he was the son of Amenophis III and his principal wife Tiy or his secondary wife Meritre. When the results of DNA testing on the pharaohs become available, we may get a clearer picture of the royal lineage.

Tutankhamun Tomb

Tutankhamun was buried in a tomb that was small relative to his status. His death may have occurred unexpectedly, before the completion of a grander royal tomb, so that his mummy was buried in a tomb intended for someone else. This would preserve the observance of the customary seventy days between death and burial.

King Tutankhamun”s mummy still rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. November 4, 2007, 85 years to the day after Carter”s discovery, the 19-year-old pharaoh went on display in his underground tomb at Luxor, when the linen-wrapped mummy was removed from its golden sarcophagus to a climate-controlled glass box. The case was designed to prevent the heightened rate of decomposition caused by the humidity and warmth from tourists visiting the tomb.

Discovery of tomb

Tutankhamun seems to have faded from public consciousness in Ancient Egypt within a short time after his death, and he remained virtually unknown until the 1920s. His tomb was robbed at least twice in antiquity, but based on the items taken (including perishable oils and perfumes) and the evidence of restoration of the tomb after the intrusions, it seems clear that these robberies took place within several months at most of the initial burial. Eventually, the location of the tomb was lost because it had come to be buried by stone chips from subsequent tombs, either dumped there or washed there by floods. In the years that followed, some huts for workers were built over the tomb entrance, clearly not knowing what lay beneath. When at the end of the twentieth dynasty the Valley of the Kings burials were systematically dismantled, the burial of Tutankhamun was overlooked, presumably because knowledge of it had been lost and his name may have been forgotten.

Significance

Tutankhamun was nine years old when he became pharaoh and reigned for approximately ten years. In historical terms, Tutankhamun”s significance stems from his rejection of the radical religious innovations introduced by his predecessor and father, Akhenaten. Secondly, his tomb in the Valley of the Kings was discovered by Carter almost completely intact — the most complete ancient Egyptian royal tomb ever found. As Tutankhamun began his reign at such an early age, his vizier and eventual successor Ay was probably making most of the important political decisions during Tutankhamun”s reign.

Tutankhamun was one of the few kings worshiped as a god and honored with a cult-like following in his own lifetime. A stela discovered at Karnak and dedicated to Amun-Re and Tutankhamun indicates that the king could be appealed to in his deified state for forgiveness and to free the petitioner from an ailment caused by wrongdoing. Temples of his cult were built as far away as in Kawa and Faras in Nubia. The title of the sister of the Viceroy of Kush included a reference to the deified king, indicative of the universality of his cult.

Tutankhamun Domestic policy

In his third regnal year, Tutankhamun reversed several changes made during his father”s reign. He ended the worship of the god Aten and restored the god Amun to supremacy. The ban on the cult of Amun was lifted and traditional privileges were restored to its priesthood. The capital was moved back to Thebes and the city of Akhetaten abandoned. This is also when he changed his name to Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun Health and appearance

Tutankhamun was slight of build, and was roughly 180 cm (5 ft 11 in) tall. He had large front incisors and the overbite characteristic of the Thutmosid royal line to which he belonged. He also had a pronounced dolichocephalic (elongated) skull, although it was within normal bounds and highly unlikely to have been pathological. Given the fact that many of the royal depictions of Akhenaten often featured such an elongated head, it is likely an exaggeration of a family trait, rather than a distinct abnormality. The research also showed that the Tutankhamun had “a slightly cleft palate” and possibly a mild case of scoliosis, a medical condition in which a person’s spine is curved from side to side.

Cause of death

There are no surviving records of Tutankhamun”=s final days. What caused Tutankhamun”s death has been the subject of considerable debate. Major studies have been conducted in an effort to establish the cause of death.

Although there is some speculation that Tutankhamun was assassinated, the consensus is that his death was accidental. A CT scan taken in 2005 shows that he had badly broken his leg shortly before his death and that the leg had become infected. DNA analysis conducted in 2010 showed the presence of malaria in his system. It is believed that these two conditions (malaria and leiomyomata) combined, led to his death.

Check Monuments Section for King Tut Tomb!

Aftermath of death

Although it is unknown how he met his death, the Amarna letters indicate that Tutankhamun”s wife, recently widowed, wrote to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I, asking if she could marry one of his sons, saying that she was very afraid, but would not take one of her own people as a husband. However, the son was killed before reaching his new wife. Shortly afterward Ay married Tutankhamun”s widow and became Pharaoh as a war between the two countries was fought, and Egypt was left defeated.

Tutankhamun’s Treasures

Over 3,000 treasures were placed in the tomb to help Tutankhamun in his afterlife, and the walls of the burial chamber were painted with scenes of his voyage to the afterworld. The chamber contained four gilded shrines, inside which was a red quartzite sarcophagus containing three nesting coffins. Tutankhamun”s mummy rested in the innermost coffin, which is made of solid gold and weighs approximately 110.4 kilos (242.9 lbs.). His body was wrapped in linen and over his face was placed an exquisite gold mask.

Three models of luxury ships (left) were found in Tutankhamun”s tomb. The baldachins at the bow and stern are decorated with symbols of the Sphinx and the bull. Thirty-two model boats were placed in the tomb for Tutankhamun”s use in the afterworld. At right is one of seven similar model barges found in the Treasury room. Barges transported people and goods across the Nile. Since they were equipped with steering oars rather than sails, they would have been towed across the river in a flotilla.

Curse!!

For many years, rumors of a “Curse of the Pharaohs” (probably fueled by newspapers seeking sales at the time of the discovery) persisted, emphasizing the early death of some of those who had first entered the tomb. However, a recent study of journals and death records indicates no statistical difference between the age of death of those who entered the tomb and those on the expedition who did not.

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Pyramid of Khufu

Pyramid of Khufu – Giza, Lower Egypt. The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) has been known as an immense impressive structure since ancient times and is the only one of the original seven wonders of the world still in existence. Khufu, whose monument ‘Akhet Khufu’ (Horizon of Khufu), known today as The Great Pyramid, was the son of Snefru and he reigned for about 23 years. He was the first pharaoh to construct a pyramid on the Giza Plateau – his father had built three great burial monuments at Meidum and Dashur to the south – and at the height of Dynasty IV, Giza became the new extension to the Memphite necropolis.

The base of the pyramid measures 230.37m and its height was originally 146.6m, with an angle of slope of 51° 50′ 40”. The structure consists of an enormous quantity of limestone blocks (estimated at around 2,300,000), quarried from an area south-east of the pyramid and transported over a ramp to the construction site. The casing blocks were of fine white limestone, probably from the Tura quarries on the east bank of the river. There are, and probably always will be, many arguments and debates on the subject of the method of pyramid construction, and even whether they were built by human hands at all, but the precision of the design and perfection of its construction has always fascinated scholars and visitors.

The pyramid’s northern entrance was built at the level of the nineteenth layer of core blocks, but today visitors enter by a tunnel cut into the core, so Arabic legend tells us, by Caliph el-Ma’amun in the 9th century AD, which is below the original. The cave-like tunnel connects to a passage which the first time visitor almost expects to be lit with blazing torches – such is the atmosphere evoked – but is now lit by electric light. The passage splits into two parts, a lower corridor leading down into the pyramids bowels in the bedrock of the plateau and a subterranean chamber which was abandoned, perhaps due to lack of air, or for ritual reasons. This is usually kept locked.

The other passage ascends in a corridor so low that you almost have to crawl on your hands and knees towards a high processional way leading upwards into the Grand Gallery and the heart of the pyramid. My first experience of the Great Pyramid was at a time before the recently improved lighting and ventilation, when I could feel the pressure of millions of tons of stone bearing down on me from above, its high limestone walls leaning inwards to form a corbelled vault about 8.5m above the stair ramp. Higher and higher you go (the Great Pyramid is not for the faint-hearted or unfit visitor) until the entrance to the cathedral-like Grand Galley is reached. A horizontal passage at the bottom of this hall leads south into the so-called Queen’s Chamber.

The Queen’s Chamber is a small room with a gabled ceiling and lies exactly on the pyramid’s vertical east-west axis. This chamber seems not to have been intended for the burial of a queen and was left unfinished when the pyramid was sealed, suggesting that it was originally designed as the king’s burial chamber or a serdab (statue chamber) for the king’s ka, or spirit. The black-walled room at the heart of the pyramid produced an eerily solemn feeling when I entered the chamber alone and evokes a feeling of the insignificance of man and a strong sense of infinity.

Onwards and upwards into the Grand Gallery, another ascending passage, 47m long, which is so narrow that you wouldn’t wish to encounter a party of fifty Egyptian schoolboys (as I did) coming in the opposite direction. This is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of ancient Egypt and its corbelled roof is a stupendous achievement in architecture and engineering from any age. At the top of the gallery, another very low passage leads to the room known as the King’s Chamber, built entirely of red granite, where Khufu’s uncovered sarcophagus still stands against the western wall. The room is undecorated and contains no inscriptions, so how do we know who was the owner of the pyramid? The weight of the masonry above the ceiling of this chamber is relieved by five compartments covering the same area as the floor below. These are believed to have been constructed to relieve the stress of the enormous mass of stone above the burial chamber. The highest of these chambers has a cantilevered roof, and it was in this chamber that the early excavators Vyse and Perring found a graffiti left by the pyramid workmen, which included the cartouche of Khnum-Khuf (Khufu).

One interesting phenomenon I discovered in the king’s chamber, is the distortion of sound. If you hum a single note very quietly, it is amplified as it would be in the soundbox of a musical instrument and is thrown back at you from each of the walls. I would recommend that you are alone for this experiment!!

There has been an enormous amount of discussion and theorising about ‘air shafts’ in both the King’s Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber. The significance of these structures which lead steeply upwards, though not in a straight line, is still unknown and recent investigations with robot cameras have not really clarified their purpose.

The Great Pyramid continues to retain its many mysteries. On a first visit, it is better to just experience the awesomeness of this mighty structure rather than look for explanations of its secrets. It is almost a relief to get back into the sunlight and fresh air and the hassle of guides and hawkers for which the plateau is renowned. You may feel however, as I did, like an astronaut returning from a trip to another galaxy!
Pyramid Complex

Khufu’s pyramid complex has all of the elements of the traditional pyramid, though many are now long gone. Around the pyramid’s walls there are five large boat-shaped pits. In 1954 the pit on the south-eastern side was found to contain a completely dismantled wooden boat, the ‘Solar Boat’, thought to be used in the king’s funerary procession. This boat has now been reconstructed and is now on display in a purpose-built museum near where it was found. Although it has not yet been excavated, in 1987 the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation examined the second boat pit on the south-east, using a special probe. This was also found to contain a boat similar to the first.

The mortuary temple on the eastern side of the pyramid today consists only of the remains of a large rectangular courtyard covered with basalt paving, which must have been over 50m wide. It was destroyed in antiquity and its plan is now difficult to reconstruct, but of the few fragments of reliefs found there, motifs include the sed-festival and the festival of the white hippopotamus.

Khufu’s causeway has now virtually disappeared and has only been partly examined. Its original length has been estimated at around 810m, abruptly changing direction before it reached the valley temple. The ruins of the valley temple, which was mostly destroyed in antiquity, are now engulfed by the modern village of Nazlet es-Simman to the north-east. Recent excavations by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in 1990 have revealed the remains of a dark green basalt paving and the continuation of the causeway at the base of the escarpment. At the edge of the pavement a mudbrick wall thought to be 8m thick, suggests that a pyramid-town may have existed near the valley temple.

Better preserved are Khufu’s three small queens’ pyramids on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid and across the road running around the monument. The first pyramid to the north (G1-a), belongs to Khufu’s mother Hetepheres which was excavated by American Egyptologist George A Reisner in 1925. Hetepheres was the wife of Snefru and probably the mother of Khufu. Reisner’s team found Hetpheres’s beautiful funerary furniture and other burial equipment in a shaft tomb (G7000x) to the north of the queen’s pyramid. Her empty coffin, gold jewellery and sealed canopic chest was found with dismantled wooden furniture now reconstructed and on display in Cairo Museum. The queen’s remains were missing, however, and this has puzzled Egyptologists and has led to many theories about the location of her actual burial.

The second queen’s pyramid (G1-b) probably belongs to Meretites who lived during the reigns of Snefru, Khufu and Khafre according to an inscription in the nearby mastaba of Kawab, Khufu’s son. The third small pyramid (G1-c) may have belonged to Henutsen, daughter of Snefru and Khufu’s half-sister. Her name is known only from an inscription in the pyramid’s chapel which was converted to a Temple of Isis during Dynasties XXI to XXVI. The goddess Isis (or Isi) was worshipped as ‘Lady of the Pyramids’ at Giza until Roman times.

The pyramids of Khufu’s queens opened for the first time ever in 1998 after the restoration of the exterior masonry and the removal of black spots and salt stains from the chamber walls, by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. Wooden staircases, new lighting and ventilation were installed.

Recent excavations at the south-east corner of Khufu’s pyramid have revealed a destroyed satellite pyramid with T-shaped inner chambers and a descending corridor ending in a rectangular vaulted burial chamber. A large limestone block with three sloping sides was found on the satellite pyramid’s south side which proved to be the base of its pyramidion. Other stones of the pyramidion were found a year later on the northern side of the pyramid.

Not a single image of King Khufu has been found in the whole of his pyramid complex. The only known figure of the builder of one of the world’s greatest monuments is a small ivory statuette only 7.6cm high, which was found at Abydos. The figurine of the king on his throne bears the Horus name of Khufu, Hor-Mejedu.

Entrance

Only 150 visitors per day are allowed to enter the Great Pyramid and tickets are sold in two lots at 8.00am and 1.00pm. Tickets for the Great Pyramid cost EGP 100. The three main pyramids are open on an annual rotation with one of them being closed for restoration each year.

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Making a boat fit for a Pharaoh

Making a boat fit for a Pharaoh | Giza plateau was crowded on Monday as journalists, TV anchors, photographers and antiquities officials flocked to the northern side of King Khufu’s Great Pyramid to witness Japanese scientists and archaeologists taking samples from different parts of Khufu’s second solar boat, which is still buried in sand after 4,500 years.

The boat’s wooden beams are to be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine the types of fungi, insects and viruses that are affecting the boat, as well as the amount of deterioration that has taken place, so that an appropriate method can be selected to restore it and place it on display beside King Khufu’s first boat, which is on display in a museum especially constructed for it on the plateau.

“This is the third phase of the five-year project to restore Khufu’s second boat,” — Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim who told journalists.

The first phase began 20 years ago, when in 1992 a Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University in collaboration with the Japanese government, offered a grant of $10 million to remove the boat from its original pit, restore and reassemble it and put it on show to the public.

The team cleaned the pit of insects, but found that water had leaked from the nearby museum which housed the first solar boat. This had affected a small part of the wood, hence the necessity quickly to finish the studies and restore the wood. The Japanese team, under the direction of Professor Sakuji Yoshimura, inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small TV monitor on the site. Images screened showed layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster. The camera allowed an assessment of the boat’s condition and the possibility of restoration.

A large hanger has been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hanger inside to cover the top of the boat itself. The hangers were designed to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A laser scanning survey also documented the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit.

According to Yoshimura while the fillings around the sides of the covering stone were being cleaned the team uncovered the cartouche of King Khufu of the Fourth-Dynasty inscribed on one of these blocks, and beside it the name of the crown prince Djedefre. This, he argued, meant that this boat was constructed during the reign of King Khufu and not, like the first boat now on display at a special museum on the plateau, during the reign of his son and successor Djedefre.

Yoshimura said that restoration and reconstruction work would last for five years. A special small museum will be constructed for it at the entrance of the Giza plateau on the Cairo-Fayoum road, while the first boat will be transferred to the planned Grand Egyptian Museum.

The second boat was in a much better state of preservation than was the first when it was discovered in 1954, when Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh together with Zaki Nour were carried out routine cleaning on the south side of the Great Pyramid. The first boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of the master of restorers Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat. The second boat remained sealed in its pit up until 1987, when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian office for historical monuments. They bored a hole into the limestone beams that covered it and inserted a micro camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements taken, after which the pit was resealed.

It was thought that the pit had been so well sealed that the air inside would be as it had been since ancient Egyptian times, but sadly this was not the case, as air had leaked into the pit and mixed with the air inside it. This had allowed insects to thrive and affect some parts of the wooden beams.

Author: Nevine El-Aref | Source: Al-Ahram Weekly

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Pyramid of Menkaure

Pyramid of Menkaure – Giza, Lower Egypt. On the south-western corner of the Giza Plateau, the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) stands in alignment with its larger neighbours. Menkaure was Khafre’s son and his monument, by far the smallest of the three Giza pyramids, was called ‘Menkaure is Divine’.

The pyramid appears to have been unfinished at the death of the king and was completed in mudbrick by Menkaure’s son Shepseskaf, and later additions were built to his temples during Dynasties V and VI, suggesting that his mortuary cult was still flourishing then. The king ruled for around eighteen years and an inscription in the pyramid’s entrance (thought to have been carved by Khaemwaset, son of Rameses II) gives the day and month of his death. The casing blocks on the upper parts of the pyramid were probably of white limestone, but the lower courses were sheathed in rougher pink granite. This suggests that the final casing was done from the top, downwards and adds to the theories of the pyramid being unfinished. The granite casing blocks can still be seen around the modern entrance.

A great gash was made in the northern side of the pyramid during the Mamaluke era, in the 12th century AD, but the first Europeans to enter the monument were Perring and Vyse in 1837, who found a basalt sarcophagus which was shipped off to England in the Beatrice – only to meet with the disastrous fate of being lost at sea when the ship was wrecked in the Mediterranean. The pyramid was later properly excavated by Reisner and the Harvard University Expedition from 1906 to 1924.

The entrance to Menkaure’s pyramid, on the northern side about 4m above ground level, leads to a descending corridor opening into a short horizontal passage and a decorated chamber with carved stone panels, reminiscent of palace façade motifs, but the significance of this unusual decoration is unknown. A horizontal corridor leads into a large rectangular antechamber, oriented east to west, which seems to have undergone a number of changes before being completed and may have been intended as an earlier burial chamber. This room was also reached by another descending passage (known as the upper corridor) which runs above the lower corridor from the pyramid’s base. When the plan was changed, the floor of the large antechamber was lowered which meant that the upper corridor came out near the ceiling and so was abandoned. Vyse discovered remains of a wooden anthropoid coffin in this room, which bore the name of Menkaure and contained human remains, but these have subsequently proven to be of a much later date than the pyramid. Another passage leads down from the floor of the antechamber to the burial chamber. Before the burial chamber is reached there is another room which has six deep niches – four in the east and two in the north – which may have been used to hold funerary goods, or the canopic jars of the king.

The rectangular barrel-vaulted burial chamber in the bedrock below the pyramid is lined with pink granite and oriented north to south and it was here on the west wall that Vyse found the beautiful basalt sarcophagus of the king. The lost sarcophagus had carved panel decoration in a recessed ‘palace-façade’ design.

Menkaure built three queen’s pyramids on the southern side of his monument, though the largest eastern one (G3-a), which has a T-shaped substructure, was perhaps first intended as a satellite cult pyramid, but later presumably used for the burial of a queen, as were all three satellite pyramids, which had mudbrick chapels attached. The rock-cut burial chamber in G3-a once contained a pink granite sarcophagus embedded into the floor, and charred remains of wood and matting were found there. It was possibly the burial place of Menkaure’s Chief Wife, Khamerernebty II, who is thought to be buried at Giza. The central queen’s pyramid (G3-b) was found to contain a pink granite sarcophagus and the bones of a young woman, while the third pyramid (G3-c) was unfinished and had no traces of a burial.

The remains of the king’s mortuary temple are still visible on the eastern side of the pyramid and this was also found to have been hastily completed. It appears that it was begun in locally quarried massive blocks of limestone, with the intention of facing the inner and outer walls with black granite, but in fact they were mostly finished in painted plaster over mudbrick, presumably by Shepseskaf. The structure was built around a rectangular courtyard, leading to a portico with a double colonnade flanked to the north and south by store-rooms and niches and to the inner sanctuary. The temple is actually better preserved that Khafre’s mortuary temple and Reisner’s team found the evidence of construction techniques very interesting. Fragments of royal statues were found in the temple.

Menkaure’s causeway was apparently completed by Shepseskaf, in mudbrick rather than limestone, but never reaching as far as his valley temple. Reisner’s excavations of the sand-covered valley temple revealed several very fine statues of Menkaure which display the superb quality of Egyptian art from this period. Three complete triads and one fragmentary, showing the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt with the goddess Hathor and four different nome deities (now in Cairo and Boston Museums), were uncovered in 1908 and the famous perfectly preserved dyad depicting Menkaure with an unnamed queen (possibly his Chief Wife Khamerernebty II), were found in 1910 (Cairo Museum). Two different phases of construction were found in the valley temple, the earlier parts built from stone and the later parts in mudbrick. An inscription in the valley temple indicated how Shepseskaf completed the temple in memory of his father. It was completely rebuilt during Dynasty VI, probably by Pepy II.

Reisner found evidence of huge clay walls, workshops and lodgings of the pyramid-builders in front of Menkaure’s valley temple and houses which later invaded the temple walls. It is not surprising that recent excavations by Mark Lehner’s team have again begun to uncover this vast city of workers who built and maintained the pyramids for generations afterwards. Since 1988 excavations have been concentrated around the area about 300m south of the Sphinx and the gigantic structure known as the ‘Wall of the Crow’, near to a recently discovered ‘worker’s cemetery’. So far they have uncovered bakeries, a copper workshop, and worker’s houses which, in the year 2000 were found to belong to a vast royal complex comprising huge galleries or corridors, separated by a paved street. The royal palace?

Other recent excavations around the pyramid of Menkaure have been conducted by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in search of evidence of the king’s funerary boats and the pyramid’s construction ramp. They have discovered an unfinished double-statue of Rameses II, sculpted from a single block of stone and measuring over 3m tall – the first large New Kingdom statues to be discovered at Giza, and yet another mystery.

Entrance

The three main pyramids are open on an annual rotation with one of them being closed for restoration each year. Tickets on sale at 8:00am and 1:00pm and cost EGP 25.