Temple of Hatshepsut
As we said in previous articles, the pharaoh woman Hatshepsut had several monuments erected, some of which were usurped by the pharaohs that followed.
On others, the ax of the damnation of memory fell, fortunately, it was a light ax that did not completely erase the memory of the sovereign.
Most of its most impressive and majestic construction, the temple of Hatshepsut ( Deir el-Bahari), was saved. To build his temple, Hatshepsut did not entrust the task to the royal architect Ineni, who had already worked under the previous sovereigns but called Senenmut, who in the meantime had fully entered into his graces.
What Senenmut built, inspired by the nearby temple of Mentuhotep II, can still be seen today in the Deir el-Bahari valley.
“The Djeser–Djeseru“, (Sublime of the sublime or Wonder of wonders), this is the name given to it, the funerary temple of Hatshepsut is considered one of the “incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt”.
Built-in honor of the solar divinity Amon-Ra in the cliff of Deir el-Bahari which looms over the whole complex presents a colonnade whose perfect harmony was matched only about a millennium later by the Parthenon in Athens.
It consists of three colonnaded terraces, 35 meters high, accessible by ramps that were originally thought to have been decorated with incense and myrrh plants from the village of Punt.
Each level is dotted with a double row of columns with a square base, on the intermediate level there is, in the south side, a chapel dedicated to the goddess Hator consisting of a hypostyle hall, whose capitals represent the head of Hator, a vestibule that precedes the sanctuary carved into the rock and a room for the sacred boat.
The goddess is represented in the form of a heifer that licks Hatshepsut’s fingers sitting under a canopy. On the north side, a smaller chapel is dedicated to the god with the head of a jackal, Anubis.
From the last terrace, on whose columns there are 24 statues that portray the queen as a man in Osiria style, you enter the main sanctuary. This included a hall for the sacred boat, going down three steps to the hall of the statue of the god Amon and finally to the table for the offerings to Hatshepsut.
Discovered in the mid-nineteenth century, the temple was in complete ruin also due to repeated repeated devastation, apparently by Tuthmosis III, presumably as a revenge against the memory of his stepmother (supposition of some scholars, however, lacking evidence).
In the twentieth century, it was the subject of a rather unsuccessful restoration after which the original architecture was considerably modified due to an erroneous reconstruction, almost all the columns are not original and, unfortunately, many bas-reliefs have not been adequately recovered.
Fortunately, perhaps due to a kind of reverence for this great queen, the damnation of memory was not so destructive, the hammering of the name and figure of Hatshepsut was not ordered (or was not performed), in its entirety. In the temple of Deir el-Bahari, the texts on the walls were spared.
This allowed nineteenth-century Egyptologists to interpret them. Immediately their translations seemed meaningless, the depictions of an apparently male pharaoh were commented on in female terms. Since the name of Hatshepsut does not appear in the real lists of the pharaohs, even Jean Francois Champollion, who decoded the hieroglyphics, confessed to feeling confused in being faced with a similar discrepancy between the reliefs and the descriptions:
<< …… I was even more astonished to discover, reading the inscriptions, that, every time they referred to this bearded king and the usual Pharaohs’ dress, names and verbs were feminine, as if it were a queen. I noticed the same peculiarity elsewhere ……… >>.
We cannot, however, talk about the true architect of such great wonder, the architect Senenmut. Of modest origins, he made a rapid career, covering at least twenty different functions, some scholars believe that the architect had become the lover of the queen.
On the wall of a chapel on the upper terrace, dedicated to the cult of Thutmose I, we find, to great surprise, the representation of a man on his knees, in the act of adoration, the name that accompanies the graffiti is that of Senenmut. He, who was not of royal lineage, had the audacity or was granted, to pass on the memory of himself in this way. Senenmut also appears elsewhere in the building, as he prays to Hathor.
In the temple, Senenmut is depicted in various stelae inserted in special niches. Some statues show him holding the queen’s daughter wrapped in his cloak. We will talk more about Senenmut in another article where we will describe his mysterious tomb.
In conclusion, that of Hatshepsut was a happy kingdom, years of peace and serenity, the beauty of a civilization embodied by the temple of Deir el Bahari: the balance of the work accomplished by Hatshepsut is more than positive. But already in the distance, the echo of arms resounds. The hour of Thutmose III has arrived.
The Cachette of El Deir Al Bahri
In my previous articles I have repeatedly mentioned that the mummies of a large number of pharaohs were found in the “Cachette” in the temple of Hatshepsut (Deir el-Bahari), (Tomb DB320 – Deir Bahari 320, today TT320 – Theban Tomb 320).
In the doubt that some do not know the history of this discovery, I want to tell you about it with the hope that something will be appreciated by someone. “Cachette” is a French word that means hiding in Italian, and it is a hiding place. But let’s face the story from the beginning.
Unfortunately, the activity of the grave robbers has roots that are lost in the mists of time and reach our days, in Egypt it spread even more after Napoleon’s expedition following which the interest in this land fascinated Europeans more and more, and not only.
The explorers, who invaded Egypt in the nineteenth century to discover this civilization, too often without any scientific objective but only to pre-sell antiquities and resell them in what was then a flourishing market, are the basis on which a hunt was created to the Egyptian find.
So this practice conditioned the mentality of the Egyptians that to scrape together some money to survive they went in search of finds and then resell them. In those days there was a saying: “What fools these Europeans give you money for a piece of stone”.
Over time, these “poor Egyptians” became clever and immediately learned what were the “pieces of stone” or others that Europeans wanted most. But let’s get to the point, in the village of Sheik Abd el-Qurna, a small cluster of houses located opposite Luxor, a couple of kilometers from the western shore of the Nile, lived the family Abd el-Rassul, father, mother and three children.
They had even built their house above the grave of a royal dignitary. They justified themselves by saying that both the tomb was empty, this was true since the tomb had already been robbed, (perhaps with their contribution), but inside the walls, there were splendidly well-preserved paintings that were displayed in what is now it was their cellar.
But this is not the story, what I tell you is one of the many versions that circulate about the story. One day Ahmed, the second of the three brothers Abd el-Rassul, went out to graze his flock on the mountain overlooking the temple of Hatshepsut, at a certain point he saw one of his goats sink into a hole. Immediately he gets ready to rescue her and to do this he moves some stones.
The hole appears to be more than a meter in diameter, the hole is very deep and dark, the temptation would be to lower oneself but without adequate equipment, he does not trust, returns home and confides in his brother Soliman.
The two decide to go to the place the next day in great secrecy. The surveillance ordered by Auguste Mariette, who with Heinrich Brugsch are carrying out excavations in the area, added to the rivalry between bands of grave robbers advise to adopt the maximum caution.
The next day they arrive and Ahmed, a candle in his teeth, descends into the well. At the bottom he sees a long corridor that goes under the mountain for over seventy meters through which he proceeds to make his way through the cobwebs, cautious for the fear of encountering poisonous snakes or scorpions but even more, as an expert grave grabber, possible pitfalls prepared by the ancients Egyptians to make the path to the profaners more difficult.
At one point he meets a wall, but the air is heavy and unbreathable so he decides to give up and go back. Returning the next day with a pickaxe, despite the difficulty in breathing, Ahmed makes a hole in the wall, passes by and goes through another corridor that gives access to a room, enters and almost faints from fright finding himself in front of a human figure standing, calmed understands that it is a mummy.
The room is better lit up and its astonishment rises to the stars, inside there are dozens of sarcophagi, mummies, vases, furnishings and many jewels. As soon as he took a breath Ahmed takes everything he can take, retraces his steps and goes back to the surface. The brothers sell the pieces to a receiver without suggesting that that will be the beginning of a market that will have a long following over the years.
In fact, the thing goes on for years thanks to the astuteness of the brothers who take some finds from time to time thus avoiding clog the market, something that the authorities would have always been very careful.
Even their receiver Mustafà Aga Ayat has understood that the brothers must have found something really big but he also prefers not to raise suspicions as it also enriches him. Meanwhile, Mariette and Brugsch continue their excavations and the restoration of the temple of Hatshepsut without suspecting anything.
Several years later, with the death of Mariette, Gaston Maspero succeeded him and was more than ever willing to stop the theft in the tombs. Maspero goes to a hotel frequented by many foreigners and pretends to be interested in buying artifacts. When a seller offers him a find, Maspero asks to talk to his boss as he is interested in buying more valuable finds.
Invited to a party by Mustafà Aga Ayat, who is a Turkish consul in Cairo, he meets Mohammed Abd el-Rassul who offers him more precious objects. Maspero notes that each object bears the seal of different pharaohs and smells that there must be something big behind it. Denounces and has the three brothers arrested, but in the absence of concrete evidence, they are released.
Maspero then makes them constantly follow until Mohammed, frightened and feeling hunted, cannot bear it anymore and confesses. Finally, on 5 July 1881, in the absence of Maspero, Emile Brugsch, brother of the other Brugsch who had worked with Mariette, enters the “cachette” and the surprise makes him jump, inside there are dozens and dozens of sarcophagi, jewels and over fifty mummies, mummies of dignitaries, princes and princesses.
But the most surprising thing is that there are the mummies of numerous pharaohs including, Ahmose, the three Thutmoses, Amenhotep I, Ramesses I, II, III and IX, Seti I and the queens Ahhotep, Ahmose-Nefertari, Hatshepsut, and others which many of strangers.
But why were all those mummies there instead of in their graves? The human pity of some priests, in order to preserve them from the high number of looting and profanations that occurred they thought to save them by assembling them in that unusual tomb that the French called a closet, “cachette“.
All the contents of the cachette are loaded on a boat and transported to Cairo. As for the tomb, a Russian-German team, headed by the Egyptologist Erhart Graefe, has been carrying out restoration work since 1988.
It is nice to point out a curious fact, it seems that during the transport of the mummies of the pharaohs all the fellahin in the area gathered along the path and when the coffin passed the women tore their hair and cried while the men fired rifles in the air. Some said it was for lost riches, I love to think that it was the last goodbye to their ancestors who made Egypt great.
Sources and bibliography:
Christian Jacq, “Egypt of the Great Pharaohs”, Oscar Mondadori, 1999
Alessandro Roccat, “The Theban Area, Quaderni di Egittologia”, Rome, Aracne, 2005
Sergio Donadoni, “The great discoveries of archeology”, Geographical Institute De Agostini, 1993
Christian Jacq, “The Valley of the Kings”, (translation by Elena Dal Pra), Milan, Mondadori, 1998
Mario Tosi, “Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Divinities of Ancient Egypt”, Ananke, 2004
Edda Bresciani, “Great Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt”, De Agostini. 2005
Maurizio Damiano, “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Ancient Egypt and Nubian Civilizations”, Mondadori 1996)