March 11, 2011

Temple of Hatseptsup and The Ramesseum, Luxor, Egypt

One of the most spectacular ancient sites in all of Egypt, purely in terms of its awe-inspring scale is the Temple of Hatseptsup. This monument, built into and against the wall of a huge cliff, was built as a mortuary site for the famous Pharoah Hatseptsup. It is considered the first truly great monument of perfect symmetry, predating one of the other great symmetrical structures, the Parthenon, by over 1000 years.

What makes this site even more amazing is who it is honoring. You see, Pharoah Hatseptsup was a woman. Not only that, but she ruled Egypt for 32 years (she lived from 1508–1458 BC) and is considered among most Egyptologists to be among the most successful Pharoahs ever! While she undoubtably engaged in some military excursions, it appears as though her reign was mostly a peaceful one, with her focus on trade and diplomacy with her neighbors.

One of her most important achievements was the establishment of trade with the Land of Punt (thought by scholars to be an area near Somalia) where they traded for myrhh, frankencense, and gold. Her trade missions brought back myrhh trees to be planted in Egypt. This is the first officially documented transplanting of "agricultural" plants known.

When you get to the temple, the view of the landscape is amazing. From the temple, you can look back toward the Nile Valley. Certainly, this location was chosen so that people in the valley could look up and see this temple and so that her spirit could continue to look down on them.

Inside the temple are numerous painted walls and reliefs. While there is no official explanation of her death, a mummy thought to be her has been examined and medical evidence indicates she had diabetes, arthritis, and bone cancer. Perhaps this is not a surprise given she was in her 50's, which was elderly even for the nobility of the time.

If you ever make the trip to Egypt and down to the Valley of the Kings, then the Temple of Hatseptsup is a must see stop in the Luxor area.

Next on our tour of Ancient Thebes is the Ramesseum. This mortary temple was built in honor of the Pharoah Ramesses II. This temple of typical of the New Kingdom period (around 1200 BC). It contains a number of large columns in the shape of a papyrus, one large entry wall, and several colossi.

Ramesses II is widely considered by Egyptologists as the most successful and powerful Pharoah ever. He took the throne in his teen years and ruled Egypt for over 66 years! He is believed to have lived to the age of 91, which is great for today and was virtually unheard of in that era.

Early in his reign, he worked to suppress outer-tribes (such as against the Nubians and Hittites) and to stop the attacks on the Mediterranean coast by pirates. He also invaded Syria and Libya to establish control of the entire southern Mediterranean basin.

One thing you will notice is that all of the colossi are missing their heads. The Ramesseum has suffered a great deal of damage over the past 3200 years. Much of it is due to its location on the Nile floodplain, with inundation by floods undermining the base. In addition, it served as a church in the early Christian period and has suffered the effects of vandalism and treasure hunters for hundreds of years.

Linda standing by the fallen Colossus of Ozymandius
One of the largest statues ever built is the Colossus of Ozymandius (another name for Ramesses). It took over 18 meters high (60 feet) before it toppled to the ground.

Jeff in front of one of the large wall reliefs

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