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Sunday, March 7, 2010



The Temple of Hetshepsut was built in the 18th dynasty, in the 15th century BC. Hetshepsut is a very well known pharaoh, partially because she was a woman and reigned for 22 years, partially because she was a prolific builder, and partially because she represented herself as a man at court, in temple depictions, and in her statuary. This particular temple was designed by Senemut, Hetshepsut’s favorite architect. Statues of Hetshepsut’s sarcophagus are positioned in front of every column on the second floor, showing her arms crossed in the typical male pharaonic pose.

First thing in the morning, we rolled up to the foot of this magnificent palace, emerging from the surrounding sheer limestone cliffs. Even in the morning, the sun was hot, and the air completely dry. It was staggering to imagine the manpower necessary to assemble such a structure. I found it difficult to imagine that a temple that immense could have been organized in such a brutally hot climate. As we ascended the central stair, we began to make out the colors on the temple walls, faded, but extant, even after some 3000 years. It was interesting to see a great deal of scenes of daily life depicted on the walls of the temple, especially in places like Punt (modern day Somalia), where Hetshepsut had established strong trade routes during her reign. Appearing next to the offering tables were ‘living’ representations of wildlife of the Red Sea--fish, birds. The wartime scenes depicted on so many temples we’ve seen were nearly absent from Hetshepsut’s temple walls.
When her husband, Pharaoh Tuthmoses II died while in power, Hetshepsut proclaimed herself pharaoh, so as not to allow young Tuthmoses III to ascend to the throne. To legitimize this action, Hetshepsut declared herself the daughter of the god Amun, and reiterated this theme throughout many of her construction projects. However, when she died, and vengeful Tuthmoses III took power, he had every representation of his stepmother carved into the temple walls defaced, leaving either blank silhouettes of her figure or his own image superimposed in her place.

After this visit to the temple, we headed to the fabled Valley of the Kings, where Zahi Hawass, the Head of Antiquities in Egypt, told us he had made some fantastic discoveries recently, to plumb the depths of some incredibly ornate (and some surprisingly bare) underground tombs. This was a very interesting exploration; the colorful walls portrayed especially dreamlike scenes in the tomb of Ramses III.

Finally, we visited the Luxor temple, which I found astonishingly beautiful. The entire temple, built around 1280 B.C., exhibited the influence of Egyptian architecture on both plaza and even mosque design so clearly and potently I couldn’t believe it. Especially in the way it was lit, the entire atmosphere was enthralling and lovely even though it was swarming with tourists. It was a graceful, fluid system of structures and portrayed the different column capitals—palm, lotus and papyrus--developed throughout the Middle Kingdom.

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