Granite statue of Queen Hatshepsut
It is common knowledge that Pharaohs of ancient Egypt excelled in building incredible monuments and temples both for the gods they worshipped and for themselves as a display of power and to ensure that they would be remembered forever throughout the Egyptian Pharaonic Empire. Today, tourists from all parts of the world travel to this part of Africa and reserve guided tours to see the legacy of the pharaohs in the form of the most impressive monuments including the Pyramids & the Great Sphinx in Giza, the Temples of Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Karnak. However, only a few of the average 14.7 million annual tourists realize that the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings were commissioned by an Egyptian female ruler and Pharaoh, who is none other than, Queen Hatshepsut.
Born to Thutmose I and his queen, Hatshepsut was Thutmose’s only child by his principal wife and thus, she was expected to be queen. When her father died, 12-year-old Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II who inherited his father’s throne around 1492 BC. Around 1479 BC, Thutmose II died leaving behind a daughter, Neferu-Ra and an infant son from a secondary wife, Thutmose III. Hatshepsut’s stepson officially inherited the throne, but she became his regent and handled the affairs of the state until he came of age. However, about seven years later, Hatshepsut assumed the title and full powers of a pharaoh and with Thutmose III, she became co-ruler of Egypt.
Hatshepsut’s new position was highly controversial, since the pharaoh and king of Egypt was believed to be the living embodiment of the male God, Horus. And so, she had to fight to defend her legitimacy and assert her authority. She worked on reinventing her image and ordered to be represented as a male pharaoh in statues and paintings of that time. She sometimes referred to herself as “Hatshepsu”, with a masculine word ending, and she also adopted the throne name, Maatkare derived from “Maat” which means “Truth”. Hatshepsut undertook elaborate building projects, especially in the Thebes area (the present day Luxor).
A map of Pharaonic Egypt showing the location of Deir el-Bahri & Valley of the Kings in Thebes
The temple of Queen Hatshepsut
One of her greatest achievements is the enormous memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, which is considered to be one of the architectural wonders of ancient Egypt. Hatshepsut had her mortuary temple designed to mirror that of Mentuhotep II’s but on a much grander scale. It was a way to elevate her public image by linking herself to the grandeur of the past while at the same time surpassing the previous monumental constructions in every respect. The scale and elegance of Hatshepsut’s temple is evidence of this. The whole structure was designed to organically blend with the surrounding landscape and the towering cliffs. It was the most remarkable tomb complex in Upper Egypt and the most elaborate since the Old Kingdom.
The temple of Hatshepsut was designed by her steward and confidante, Senemut who was also the tutor of her daughter, Neferu-Ra. The temple is built partly into the rock and partly free standing using limestone instead of sandstone which was more accustomed to temples of the New Kingdom. The temple consists of three levels of terraces with a height of 29.5 meters. Each terrace is connected by long ramps that were surrounded by lush gardens filled with plants and trees. Each terrace has a double colonnade of square piers and the temple itself is located on the top terrace.
The walls of the temple are covered with relief sculptures telling stories of events that took place during Hatshepsut’s reign. On the 1st terrace, scenes tell the story of the transportation of the Queen’s two obelisks (the tallest in the world at the time) to the Temple of Karnak. Another scene shows Hatshepsut offering four calves to the God, Amon Ra.
The walls on the southern side of the 2nd terrace show scenes of the expedition to the Land of Punt. Through a court lined with columns, one can reach the shrine of the Goddess Hathor. On the northern side, there is a scene that shows the birth of Hatshepsut who claimed that she was a divine daughter of Amon Ra. On the same terrace lies the chapel of Anubis, the God of mummification.
The 3rd terrace has seen the most damage supposedly by Thutmose III. The structure known as the Djeser-Djeser that lies atop the series of terraces is considered the focal point of the entire complex. It is a colonnaded structure that was built into the cliff and rises sharply above it. It is a sanctuary that consists of two small chapels. During the Ptolemaic period, a third chapel was constructed. In the cliff above the temple, a tomb was discovered that contained a number of royal mummies that have been moved from the Valley of the Kings during the 21st dynasty to avoid them being violated.
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is the most famed collection of elaborate tombs. During Egypt’s New Kingdom (18th to the 20th dynasties) it served both as a public monument and as a royal burial ground filled with hidden underground mausoleums. For centuries, the Valley of the Kings has been combed by archaeologists, treasure hunters and tomb robbers, yet it continues to unravel surprises.
It all started when Hatshepsut built her complex at Deir el-Bahri. Her building was the first and largest in that location. Later on, many pharaohs chose to associate their own complexes with the grandeur of Hatchepsut’s, and so it became known as the Valley of the Kings.
More than 70 tombs of pharaohs such as (Tutankhamun and Ramses II) and powerful nobles were discovered in the East Valley and West Valley together. Each discovered tomb was denoted a number after the initials “KV” which stand for Kings’ Valley referring to tombs in the East Valley where the majority of the open tombs are located, and “WV” which stands for the Western Valley.
Expedition to the Land of Punt
During her reign, Hatshepsut also authorized an ambitious trading expedition to a distant land known as Punt (historians debate the exact location of Punt, but it is most likely to be in the coastal region of Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea). The expedition came back to Egypt with vast riches of ivory, gold, ebony, leopard skins and incense. Details of the expedition were depicted on the walls of the temple of Hatshepsut in hieroglyphics which translates as the following:
“The loading of the ships very heavily with marvels of the country of Punt; all goodly fragrant woods of God’s Land, heaps of myrrh-resin, with fresh myrrh trees, with ebony and pure ivory, with green gold of Emu, with cinnamon wood, Khesyt wood, with Ihmut-incense, sonter-incense, eye cosmetic, with apes, monkeys, dogs, and with skins of the southern panther. Never was brought the like of this for any king who has been since the beginning.”
Queen Hatshepsut was one among seven unique women who have ruled the most powerful nations of their era. The other six female rulers are;
- Empress Theodora of Byzantine (500 – 548)
- Empress Wu of China (624 – 705)
- Töregene Khatun of the Mongol Empire (1241 – 1246)
- Queen Isabella I of Castile (1474 – 1504)
- Nur Jahan, Mughul Empress (1577 – 1645)
- Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)
Among these women, Hatshepsut was the only one to have fought alongside her soldiers in battle during Nubian campaigns. Stories of such events are recorded by herself on the walls of her mortuary temple and the Red Chapel.
Around 1456 BC, Hatshepsut died when she was in her mid-40s. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings, where she also had her father’s sarcophagus reburied in her tomb in yet another effort to legitimize her reign by having them lie together in death.
During her reign, Hatshepsut strengthened Egypt and left the financial affairs of the kingdom in a good state to fund military expeditions since the enemies from the North were still un-eliminated. For 30 years after her death, Thutmose III ruled with a powerful military where he managed to extend the domains of Egypt by conquering Crete, the Middle East and parts of Nubia.
However, in his later years of reign, he eradicated almost all of the evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule including the images depicting her as a pharaoh on the monuments that she built. This was probably a political effort done to decrease the gap in the line of male succession and erase Hatshepsut’s example as a powerful female ruler to ensure that no one rivaled his son, Amenhotep II for the throne. As a result historians knew little of Hatshepsut’s history up until 1822 when they were able to decipher and read the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri.
Another theory suspects that the desecration of Hatshepsut’s monuments and statues was a result of criminal attacks by tomb looters. The two ancient documents that make up the Mayer Papyri from the 20th dynasty contain evidence of the occurrences of such events. The papyrus Mayer A discusses the cross-examination of tomb robbery that occurred at Deir el-Bahri. Moreover, political records and court records of tomb robberies are documented in the Abbott Papyrus and the Amherst Papyrus.
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- Strudwick, Nigel; Strudwick, Helen (1999). Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor (1. publ. ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8014-3693-1.
- Reeves, Nicholas; Richard H. Wilkinson (1996). The Complete Valley of the Kings. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05080-5. – Details of all the major tombs, their discovery, art and architecture