Dayr al-Bahri

or Deir el-Bahari (Arabic: الدير البحري‎ al-Dayr al-Baḥrī “the Monastery of the Sea”) is a complex of mortuary temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Luxor in Egypt. This is a part of the Theban Necropolis.

In addition to numerous rock tombs, including the most spectacular find, the Royal Cache (TT320) in which over 40 mummies were found, the necropolis is known for the most important mortuary temples of Egypt after the pyramids.

The mortuary temples of Dayr al-Bahri

In total, there are three mortuary temples on the ground of the valley of Dayr al-Bahri.

Dayr-al-Bahri today
fig 1 – The temples of Dayr al-Bahri in the present state
(click on it for a larger view)

All three temples were built to worship various gods and as a site for the mortuary cult of the respective pharaoh and his family. However, only one of these temples was also used as a burial ground for its builder.

The Mortuary Temple of Mentuhotep II

Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (11th dynasty) was the first King, who build his mortuary temple with his own burial ground here. An avenue lined with painted sandstone statues depicting the king and shaded by trees led from the Nile valley to this amazing building. Mentuhotep called the place Akh-sut-Amun (Ancient Egyptian: 3ḫ-swt-Jmnḏ “Transfigured are the places of Amun”) and buried his Queens, soldiers and senior officials inside and around his temple and was even buried there.

This temple also stands out because of its unique architecture and because the fact that it is the only monumental complex in Thebes West from the time of the Middle Kingdom.

The temple was reached from a valley temple on the edge of the fertile Nile Valley, on a 46-meter-wide and 1.2-kilometer-long paved avenue, which was enclosed by walls and led into a large forecourt. In this forecourt was an access ramp located, leading to a tunnel. This tunnel leads to a chamber in which the canvas-wrapped Ka-statue of Mentuhotep and an empty wooden coffin were found.

The many architectural innovations of the temple mark a break with the Old Kingdom tradition of pyramid complexes and foreshadow the Temples of Millions of Years of the New Kingdom. As such, Mentuhotep II’s temple was certainly a major source of inspiration for the nearby but 550-year later temples of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III.

However, the most profound innovations of Mentuhotep II’s temple are not architectural but religious. First, it is the earliest mortuary temple where the king is not just the recipient of offerings but rather enacts ceremonies for the gods (in this case Amun-Ra). Second, the temple identifies the king with Osiris, a local Theban god which grew in importance from the 11th Dynasty onwards. Indeed, the decoration and royal statuary of the temple emphasizes the Osirian aspects of the dead ruler, an ideology apparent in the funerary statuary of many later pharaohs.

Finally, most of the temple decoration is the work of local Theban artists. This is evidenced by the dominant artistic style of the temple which represents people with large lips and eyes and thin bodies. At the opposite, the refined chapels of Mentuhotep II’s wives are certainly due to Memphite craftsmen who were heavily influenced by the standards and conventions of the Old Kingdom. This phenomenon of fragmentation of the artistic styles is observed throughout the First Intermediate Period and is a direct consequence of the political fragmentation of the country.

The choice of the location in the cliff at Dayr al-Bahri on the west bank of Thebes is certainly related to the Theban origin of the 11th Dynasty: Mentuhotep’s predecessors on the Theban throne are all buried in close-by saff tombs. Furthermore, Mentuhotep may have chosen Dayr al-Bahri because it is aligned with the temple of Karnak, on the other side of Nile. In particular, the statue of Amun was brought annually to Dayr al-Bahri during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, something which the king may have perceived as beneficial to this funerary cult. Consequently, and until the construction of the Djeser-Djeseru five centuries later, Mentuhotep II’s temple was the final destination of the barque of Amun during the festival.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

also known as the Djeser-Djeseru (Ancient Egyptian: ḏsr ḏsrw “Holy of Holies”) is a mortuary temple of Ancient Egypt located in Upper Egypt built for a Eighteenth Dynasty female pharaoh. Hatshepsut (/hætˈʃɛpsʊt/; also Hatchepsut; ancient Egyptian: ḥꜣt-šps.wt “Foremost of Noble Ladies”; 1507–1458 BC) came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Her rise to power was noteworthy as it required her to utilize her bloodline, education, and an understanding of religion.

fig 2 – Maat-Ka-Re Hatshepsut
(click on it for a larger view)

Her bloodline was impeccable as she was the daughter, and sister, and wife of a king. Her understanding of religion allowed her to establish herself as the God’s Wife of Amun. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne the previous year as a child of about two years old. Hatshepsut was the chief wife of Thutmose II, Thutmose III’s father. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. According to J. H. Breasted she is also known as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.”