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Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Deir el-Bahri

Hatshepsut's Temple in Egypt


Deir el-Bahri, Hatshepsut's Temple in Egypt

Deir el-Bahri, Hatshepsut's Temple in Egypt

Oscar Dahl
Woman in Hatshepsut's Temple, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt

Woman in Hatshepsut's Temple, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt

Oscar Dahl

The Deir el-Bahri Temple Complex (also spelled Deir el-Bahari) includes one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt, perhaps in the world, built by the architects of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC. This lovely structure is found in a steep half-circle of cliffs on the west bank of the Nile River and guarding the entrance to the great Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut (or Hatshepsowe) ruled for 21 years [about 1473-1458 BC] during the early part of the New Kingdom, before the vastly successful imperialism of her nephew/stepson and successor Thutmose (or Thutmosis) III.

Although not as much of an imperialist as the rest of her 18h Dynasty relatives, Hatshetsup spent her reign building up the wealth of Egypt to the greater glory of the god Amun. One of the buildings she commissioned from her beloved architect (and probable consort) Senenmut, was the lovely Djeser-Djeseru, temple of Hatshepsut, rival only to the Parthenon for architectural elegance and harmony.

Deir el Bahri Temple and Palace Complex

Djeser-Djeseru, or "Sublime of the Sublimes" in the ancient Egyptian language, is part of a complex of buildings known collectively as Deir el-Bahri, Arabic for Monastery of the North. The first temple built at Deir el-Bahri was 500 years earlier during the 11th dynasty, a mortuary temple for Neb-Hepet-Re Montuhotep; little is left of this structure. Hatshepsut's temple was built with some of the aspects of Mentuhotep's temple, but on a grander scale.

The walls of Djeser-Djeseru are illustrated with Hatshepsut's autobiography, including stories of her fabled trip to the land of Punt, considered by some scholars likely to have been what is today Eritrea or Somalia. The murals depicting the trip include a drawing of a grotesquely overweight Queen of Punt--somewhat ironic given the recent identification of Hatshepsut herself as a somewhat, uh, plump individual at the time of her death.

Also discovered at Djeser-Djeseru were the intact roots of frankincense trees, which once decorated the front façade of the temple. These trees were collected by Hatshepsut in her travels to Punt; according to the histories, she brought back five shiploads of goodies, including flora and fauna.

After Hapshetsut

Hapshetsut's beautiful temple was damaged after her reign ended, when her nephew/stepson/whatever he was Thutmose III had her name and images chiseled off throughout the temple. Thutmose III built his own temple to the west of Hatshepsut's damaged temple at the same time. Additional damage was done at the orders of the 18th dynasty heretic Akhnaten, who tolerated only images of the Sun god Aten.

In the 21st dynasty, priests, alarmed at the unchecked plundering of the ancient tombs, collected 48 mummies from around the Valley of the Kings, identified the pharaohs, rewrapped them and stored them at Deir el Bahri. The mummy cache of Deir el Bahri is extremely interesting, and will be discussed in detail at a later date.

Archaelogy at Deir el-Bahri

Archaeological investigations of the Deir el-Bahri complex were begun in 1881, after objects belonging to the missing pharoahs began to turn up in the antiquities market. Gaston Maspero [1846-1916], director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service at the time, went to Luxor in 1881 and began to apply pressure to the Abdou El-Rasoul family, residents of Gurnah who had for generations been tomb robbers.

Excavations at the temple began in the 1890s led by French archaeologist Edouard Naville [1844-1926]. In 1911, Naville turned over his concession on Deir el-Bahri (which allowed him sole excavator's rights), and the legendary Herbert Winlock began what would be 25 years of excavation and restoration. Today, the beauty and elegance of Hatshepsut's temple is open to visitors from around the planet.


Harris, James E. and Fawzia Hussien 1991 The identification of the eighteenth dynasty royal mummies: A biological perspective. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 1:235-239.

Naville, Edouard. 1907. The XIth Dynasty Temple at Deir El-Bahari. Egypt Exploration Fund, Memoir 28. London.

Ray, John 1994 Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh. History Today 44(5):23-29.

Roehrig, Catharine H., Renée Dreyfus and Cathleen A. Keller. 2005. Hatshepsut, from queen to pharaoh. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Vernus, Pascal and Jean Yoyotte. 2003. The Book of the Pharaohs. Translated from the French by David Lorton. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

For Middle Schoolers

Andronik, Catherine M. 2001. Hatshepsut, his majesty, herself. Atheneum Press, New York.

Baker, Rosalie F. and Charles F. Baker III. 2001. Hatshepsut. Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids. Oxford University Press.

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