Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut, who ruled from about 1493 to 1479 BCE, was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. She was the second confirmed female pharaoh to rule Egypt and she was the daughter, sister, and wife of a king. Thutmose I was her father and Thutmose II (her half-brother, ew) was her husband. Originally, she ruled jointly with her step-son, Thutmose III—who ascended to the throne when he was just two years old—but she later assumed the full powers of a pharaoh herself.
She directed artists to depict her as a male—sometimes with a beard and large muscles—in many of her images and sculptures. This, coupled with the fact that Thutmose III had almost all of the evidence of his step-mother’s rule eradicated (like a typical man), meant that she remained largely unknown to scholars until the 19th century.
Hatshepsut extended Egyptian trade and lead ambitious building projects, the most notable of which is her Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahri, located on the west bank on the Nile, near Luxor. The necropolis includes several mortuary temples and tombs, but the centerpiece is the tiered colonnaded structure, designed and built by Hatshepsut’s royal steward, architect and possible-lover, Senenmut. The 97-foot-tall structure comprises three terraces, connected by long ramps and is built into a steep cliff.
Like Abu Simbel, the temple is striking not only in scale but in its placement, both things that photos can’t possibly convey. What I’ll remember most about our visit to Deir el-Bahri is how blazingly hot it was—temperatures exceeding 100 F in the midday sun are not the ideal conditions in which to focus, but we did our best. There is a café located near the temple and they had reasonably priced cans of Pringles and blessedly cold drinks, which was a godsend for me at this point in our trip (never underestimate the restorative powers of a cold soda and a salty snack).
The Mortuary Temple had been largely destroyed over time, and The Polish Academy of Sciences has done extensive restoration work on the site. Most of the statue and ornamentation has been stolen or destroyed, but so much statuary was produced during her reign that almost every major museum has a piece of Hatshepsut in their collection—the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an entire room dedicated to her.
There are two temples on each end of the second terrace, one dedicated to Anubis and one to the goddess Hathor. Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess usually shown as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or as a literal cow (check out that necklace on the cow relief above). She is one of the only gods depicted as front facing, instead of in profile, and she was especially important to Hatshepsut, a woman in power.
Hatshepsut died when she was in her mid-40s or early 50s and she was buried behind Deir el-Bahri in the Valley of the Kings. In 1903, Howard Carter discovered Hatshepsut’s sarcophagus but it was empty. In 2007, a mummy, that had been discovered in the tomb of Hatshepsut's royal nurse, was removed from the Valley by Dr. Zahi Hawass. It was missing a tooth, Hatshepsut's existing molar fit and DNA evidence confirmed the match. Her mummy currently resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
In November of 1997, 62 people—mostly foreign tourists—were killed at Deir el-Bahari. Members of an Egyptian Islamist organization, armed with automatic weapons and knives, killed two armed guards and then trapped the tourists inside the temple, where they were eventually killed. Bad people and evil acts exist everywhere, but it’s awful to think that such a horrific act could occur at such an impressive and sacred place. Men had once tried to erase Hatshepsut from the history books and men have since tried to scare tourists away from visiting the wonders of Egypt, but luckily, neither have succeeded.