Red Chapel of Hatshepsut

last update: 03.01.2012

Today, the tourist district the temple at Karnak includes the "Open Air Museum" (OAM) that, however, it is separated from the other parts of area and the admission costs extra. To find the OAM one has to enter the great court yard with the column of Taharqa between 1. and 2. Pylon, leave the courtyard to the left and follow the way towards the public lavatories. Among others several barqueshrines, e.g. the "White Chapel" of Senwosret I, the "Alabaster Shrine of the Amenhotep / Thutmosis I, the "Kiosk" of Thutmosis IV., and also the so-called "Red Chapel (Chapel rouge)" of Hatshepsut have been re-erected and can be visited in the OAM.

Red Chapel (North side) - "The favorite place of Amun"

Some years before her death Hatshepsut started the building of this barqueshrine which was built by blocks of quartzite and diorite. Because none of the stone blocks was found in situ, the original location has been discussed controversially. However, with great certainty  the Red Chapel had been erected in the central area of the Amun district at Karnak. The archaeological findings of French excavators gave evidence that the Red Chapel had been built in the middle of the building complex, which Hatshepsut had erected in front of the Amun temple from the Middle Kingdom.
Initially, the Red Chapel was positioned into this building complex in such a way that it projected from to the west-side of the complex. In the meantime French archaeologists reconstruct the position of the chapel in the middle of the building complex in such a way that it precisely fits into the front of the complex (Burgos, Larché, 2006).

Current assumption about the original location of the Red Chapel (detail taken from Burgos, Larché, 2008, plan page 254). Above in yellow-brown the wall of the courtyard from the MK, in red the building complex of the Hatshepsut with the Red Chapel inside.

When Red Chapel was re-erected at the "Open Air Museum" the chapel was turned by about 90° in comparison with its original location i.e. the main entrance, which was originally aligned to the west - to the Nile - today points southward to Luxor temple. However, all directions given herein always refer to the original adjustment of the chapel.

After the death of Hatshepsut the decoration of the chapel was continued by Thutmosis III and probably changed with the intention to usurp it for himself. Finally however the barqueshrine was dismantled by Thutmosis III, whereby he re-used some blocks in the holy shrine of Amuns that he erected in the heart of Karnak temple. The remaining blocks were stored elsewhere for a further use. In modern time some blocks were found in the foundations of the temple of Ptah (in the eastern part of Ipet Isut) and in the proximity of the 9. Pylon. The majority of the blocks, however, were used by Amenhotep III (3 generations after the chapel had been taken down) as filling for the 3. Pylon at Ipet Isut - within they got perfectly conserved.

Some hundred blocks were discovered between 1898 and 1999, examined, and stored in the Open Air Museum on concrete benches for many years. Its reconstruction started in 1997 nearly one century after its initial discovery.

The egyptological investigation of the blocks by the "Centre franco-égyptien d'étude des temples de Karnak (= CFEETK)" under the direction of Nicolas Grimal and Francois Larché (see also Larché, F.," The Reconstruction of the So-Called "Red Chapel" of Hatshepsut & Thutmosis III in the Open Air Museum at Karnak", kmt, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1999-2000) resulted in a hypothetical  reconstruction of the Red Chapel.

But before the final rebuilding the architectural details of each block were studied. The construction was led by the CNRS stonecutter Franck Burgos and architect François Larché and ended in 2001 and was extensively published in 2006.

Some pages in the www address the reconstruction of the Red Chapel, e.g.:
Red Chapel of Hatshepsut reconstructed
Chantier au temple de Karnak

Architectural details are presented on a separate page.

In accordance with its position the Red Chapel is a barqueshrine dedicated to Amun or to its ithyphallic manifestation of Amun. Beside several portrayals in the relief also the decoration with lettuce friezes points to Amun. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) was the holy plant of Min, the god of fertility, probably because it was assumed to have an aphrodisiac effect. During the processions of Min a lettuce patch was carried along.

Mostly, the blocks show Hatshepsut alone or together with Thutmosis III during different ritual actions (e.g. during the Opet festival, during the adoration of Amun or Amun , during the cult run on the occasion of the "heb-sed" celebration, etc.).

Hatshepsut - and behind her her coregent Thutmosis III - follow the barque of Amun during the Opet festival. The cartouche of Maat-ka-Ra is presented twice in the upper register (above the head of Hatshepsut and on the right top above the last one of the priests carrying the bark), the cartouche of Thutmosis III is shown left above his head. I n this scene both carry the Khepresch- or Blue Crown.

Some blocks show tracks of destruction, e.g. on the following block the figure and the cartouche of Hatshepsut were erased in the right register. However, the attempts were executed rather incompletely, as shown in the left register.

The block above shows Hatshepsut offering in front of  Amun (left register) and his ithyphallic manifestation (on the right; the strange plants behind Amun probably represent are lettuce, the holy plant of the god of fertility, Min). In the right register figure and cartouche of Hatshepsut were erased.

These destructions which are also to be seen at other monuments of Hatshepsut are often interpreted as an example of the "Damnatio memoriae" of Thutmosis III.
Concerning the Red Chapel Meyer (Meyer, Chr., 1989) interprets the destruction as an attempt Thutmosis III to usurp the chapel for himself. In her opinion the sporadic deletions indicate that the attempt to decorate the blocks with new relief failed either because the required large number of stone-cutters was not available or type and quality of the stone material stopped the work. The extraordinary quality of red quartzite was surely a reason for the attempt to re-use the blocks but the hardness of the stone made it more difficult to erase the old relief, smooth the surface and thereafter to cut a new relief.

The distribution of the destroyed blocks on the southern wall, which is now recognizable again after reconstructing the Red Chapel, does not indicate a systematic reworking - in contrast,  Dorman interprets the more or less "random" distribution of destroyed blocks as a hint that the decoration of these blocks was erased after the Red Chapel had been taken down.  
The above figure of Lacau and Chevrier, 1979 (fig. taken from: Dorman, 1988), shows the southern wall of the Red Chapel. The blocks found are numbered, those, on which the number is encircled, show an intact representation of the Hatshepsut, while dashed blocks had been changed.
Unignorable blocks with undestroyed representations lie beside such with destructions. In addition, the investigation of the preserved blocks showed that 87 completely reached through the walls and had been decorated, hence, on two sides showed (the inner and the outer side). 32 of them had been changed intentionally, among them 11 blocks on which Hatshepsut had been depicted o both sides  - but only one sides had been destroyed. On farther 11 blocks her representations  had been extinguished on both sides.
Furthermore, Loeben (personal communication, 2002) referred to the fact that the blocks had been provided during the production with a "workshop signatures". These were attached so that they were no longer accessible after the blocks had been finally used up in the building. But also some of these "workshop signatures" had been destroyed - this can have taken place only after the Red Chapel had been dismantled.

Some blocks show Thutmosis III acting alone, e.g. the following block.
The picture was taken from below as one detects by the boundary to the next, left block, i.e. this block is positioned something below the half height of the wall. Thus, this block does not belong to the upper series of blocks, which were - due to the current knowledge - added by Thutmosis III after the death of Hatshepsut for the completion of the Red Chapel (see below).
The block shows Thutmosis III, wearing the Blue or Khepresch-Crown, offering alone in front of Hatshepsut, who, depicted as Osiris, stands in front of one of her way-stations between Karnak and Luxor temples (the edge of the way-stations is to be seen on the right behind her figure).
However, this cannot be interpreted in that way that this block would have been decorated after the death of Hatshepsut. It is just a representation within the framework of the usual "program". This also testified by another block, which shows Hatshepsut offering in front of her own Osiride figure - this scene also shows the Osiride figure of Hatshepsut standing in front of one of the way-stations.

The right register shows Thutmosis III (his cartouche "Men-Cheper-Ra" is directly above his head) offering in front of Hatshepsut depicted as "Osiris", who carries the Double Crown (horizontally over the head of the Osiride figure there is the cartouche of Hatshepsut)

After the current status of the research it is assumed that Thutmosis III had added the final series of the upper blocks and continued with the decoration at three blocks of the 7th and at all blocks of the 8th register. On these blocks he is always depicted alone. Most likely, some years after the death of Hatshepsut the work on the Red Chapel was stopped  and the chapel was finally dismantled (see also Meyer, Chr., loc. cited).

Beside the different religious decorations an inscription of the Red Chapel also mentions a palace located on the north side of the temple of Amun at Karnak - in the plan below at the left side. Probably, the palace was built an an open courtyard, where later on Amenhotep III erected the 3. Pylon (Stadelmann, "Temple Palace and Residential Palace.", 1996). Most likely, the palace was used for ritual or ceremonial purposes only, even if some kings stated to have been born at Ipet Isut (= temple of Amun at Karnak). It is possible that an older palace had been erected in the time of Sesostris I.

Furthermore, the circulating - but incomplete - base of the Red Chapel made of Grano-Diorite blocks shows in numerous scenes ("Procession Géographique") the building activities of Hatshepsut. The blocks of the southern wall are shown on a separate page (Monuments of Hatshepsut on the Base of the Red Chapel). Some of the red quartzite blocks above show the Way-stations of the Opet-Festival which are also presented on a separate page.

Also the erection of two obelisks is reported on one of the blocks of the Red Chapel. Regarding this report is rather sure that it shows the second pair of obelisks, the Hatshepsut had erected between the 4. and 5. Pylon.

The inscription of the block belongs to the series of "donation scenes", in which Hatshepsut praises herself donation to her "father" Amun. This is interpreted by some scholars as being a part of her program to legitimate her accession to the throne.

With some exceptions blocks of the south wall can be viewed singly using the pages:
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks of the South Wall
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks of the North Wall.
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the West Gate
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the East Gate
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the inner north-wall of the vestibule
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the inner south-wall of the vestibule
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the inner north-wall of the sanctuary
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the inner south-wall of the sanctuary
Red Chapel - Distribution of the Blocks on the gates of the sanctuary

Copyright: Dr. Karl H. Leser (Iufaa)