Medinet Habu

last update: 19.01.2007

History of the small temple of Amun

However, excavations of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago (directed by U. Hölscher),  during the thirties of the last century suggest that the small temple of Amun (blue frame) erected by Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III had replaced older buildings which were probably raised during the Middle Kingdom.
According to Hölscher these investigations show that at least the foundations of two earlier buildings lay beneath the eastern part of the temple which was built by Hatschepsut and Thutmosis III with several alterations of its original plan.
Furthermore, Hölscher (1930) could prove that stone blocks from an elder construction had been re-used in the temple erected in the 18th Dynasty.

The drawing above shows the floor plan of the "earliest" building as reconstructed by Hölscher (1930). From the "earliest" chapel or the platform on which it had been erected, only few of the lowest foundation stones of the west side have been preserved. Chapel and court had been enclosed by a mud-brick wall (1 m in thickness). A fragment (= Brick) of the rear (west) wall has been preserved.
Half under the pillared gallery of the Thutmosis III and half to the east in front of it Hölscher excavated the remains of a small building. About 180 cm beneath the pavement of the pillared gallery rests the lower course of the foundation blocks of sandstone on a layer of sand. Upon the surface of these blocks the alignment of the walls which formerly stood upon them could be traced.
On the west side of the building, i.e. under the pillared gallery, sandstone blocks from the 2nd course were found. Two blocks of the 3rd course which lay above the pavement of the pillared hall were found in situ concealed by the masonry of the 18th dynasty temple.
The east side disappeared completely. The size of the building could only be estimated based on the surface of the sand bedding upon which the lowest course was laid. From this it appears that the dimensions were approximately 8 (length) x 7.15 m (width).
With the help of these findings Hölscher reconstructed a chapel with three rooms on the west side of the building. Chapel and court were (see floor plan above) surrounded by an enclosure wall of mud bricks, approx. 1 m in thickness. A fragment (= Brick) of the rear (west) wall has been preserved.
Furthermore, Hölscher discovered fragments of another structure made of limestone which had been re-used in the 18th dynasty temple (see photo below). These fragments and the finding of 4 limestone pieces of a rounded parapet wall led Hölscher to the assumption that these fragment had been part of a peripteral temple (i.e. a temple surrounded by pillared gallery). It was not possible to determine where this peripteros stood or whether it had any connection with the "earliest" chapel but Hölscher assumed that the the structure which he called "earliest" peripteral temple stood in front of this chapel.
However, the relief of this peripteral temple were not completed when it was torn down by Hatshepsut together with her later erected chapel. Based on the fact that the relief were unfinished Hölscher assumed that the peripteros was probably begun by one of the immediate predecessors of Hatshepsut. 

Limestone block of the eldest peripteral temple re-used in the southern wall of the barque shrine. The block shows on the left a standing god (most likely Amun) und behind him a vertical band which was intended for inscriptions. On the destroyed right side of the block (left of the repaired crack) one recognizes the back-side of a figure together with a bull's tail, i.e. the representation of a king. Obviously, this block had been part of a row of scenes depicting from left to right a king standing in front of a god.

According to Hölscher the "earliest" chapel (i.e. platform and chapel) as well as the peripteral temple may be dated "before Hatshepsut" but based on the findings a more precise dating is not possible.

During the excavations Hölscher discovered the remains of 4 brick walls (see drawing above; Hölscher, 1930). The remains of the thickest wall (approx. 2.70 m) were directly found on the west side running parallel to 6 cult chambers of Hatshepsut. Beside the brick wall mentioned already above which presumably surrounded the "earliest" chapel and her court, the remains of 2 other walls which were approx. 1.3 m in thickness were found beneath the pillared gallery of Thutmosis III, i.e. left of the chambers of Hatschepsut.
The most eastern of these two walls lay directly beside (to the west) of the old enclosure wall and contained bricks stamped with "Maat-ka-Ra". Hölscher supposed that Hatshepsut had built this wall in the first period of her reign. Although remains of the wall were found only beneath the pillared gallery of Thutmosis III, he supposed that this wall enclosed the all buildings of that time (the "earliest" chapel and the "earliest" peripteros).

This wall was torn down by Hatshepsut and a new one erected approx. 3 m to the west to to make place for her shrine (see the next picture).

Below a reconstruction outlined by Hölscher (1930) which shows on the east side the platform (sandstone; approx. 8 x 7.2 m), on which the "earliest" chapel (also made of sandstone) had been erected, and on the rear (west) side the shrine built by Hatshepsut. The  front of the shrine rest half upon the platform of the "earliest" chapel. The observation that a few sandstone blocks of the "earliest" chapel were found in situ below the east wall of the temple led Hölscher to the assumption that at least some part of the "earliest" chapel was still present when Hatshepsut began to build her shrine. 

Reconstruction of Hölscher (1930) which shows in front the platform (approx. 8 x 7.2 m) on which the earliest chapel was erected. Behind it a small shrine had been erected by Hatschepsut in the first period of her reign. The hatched blocks have been preserved, everything else is a reconstruction.
The platform of the "earliest" chapel and the shrine of Hatshepsut can still be recognized in the floor plans on the right (eastern) side of the temple half covered by the later buildings of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III..
The 2nd enclosure wall was torn down later and moved further to the west by Hatshepsut who made way for further extensions of the temple.

The photo above shows the foundation blocks at the west-south corner of the temple unearth in 2005 by the Epigraphic Survey Project.

The investigations of Hölscher revealed additional foundations which indicated that Hatshepsut extended the building on its west side by 6 chapels and a transverse hall (on the east front of the chapels). The central foundation below the transverse hall indicates that the hall should be supported most likely by a row pillars, perhaps 4 in number (see drawing below). These building operations resulted in a square place with her shrine in the center, this place was converted into a peripteral temple.
However, according to Hölscher, probably Hatshepsut did not begin with these chapels before the 2nd half of her reign.

The reconstruction above shows the temple after Hatschepsut had built her (from west to east) 6 chapels, the transverse hall (Width approx. 11 m, Depth approx. 4.3 m) and the shrine (approx. 5.25 m) enclosed by a pillared gallery (by: Hölscher, 1930). With regard to the columns drawn in the transverse hall recent investigations of the Oriental Institute did not prove the presence of bases, i.e. this reconstruction is most likely wrong, these columns had never been erected.

Except for some minor details, the construction of the 6 cult chambers and the transverse hall were most likely completed under Hatshepsut. The relief finished by her showed here and again Thutmosis III, but as a coregent. After he became sole ruler he added relief and inscriptions where these were missing (see the following drawing). In rooms L and M the completion of the relief had probably been delayed under Hatschepsut, because the front sides (door passages) were been left open.

Thutmosis III has changed the construction again (see floor plan below). The peripteros and its shrine became enlarged at the expense of the transverse hall in front of the cult chambers which was taken down. The new shrine was twice as long as the previous one (10 x 20 Egyptian ells, approx. 5.25 x 10.5 m) of Hatshepsut.
At the time of Thutmosis III the shrine was about 1 m lower than it is today. The upper two stone layers were added in the Ptolemaic period. Originally the ceiling was on the same level as the ambulatory. Whether the chamber received light through an opening in the roof is not known. 
The outer walls of the shrine were decorated directly when it was built. With the exception of the eastern wall which was worked over in the Ptolemaic period the decoration of these walls was preserved including the destructions of the Amarna period. The inner walls were completely reworked in the Ptolemaic period. However, an attempted was obviously made to keep closely to original decoration - even a note of restoration added by Sethi I was correctly reworked.

The floor plan above shows the parts of the small temple of Amun which were built during the reign of Hatshepsut (I-----I) or Thutmosis III (I-----I). The red lines in the chapels built by Hatshepsut mark the walls which had been decorated by Hatshepsut - all other parts of the walls were either decorated by Thutmosis III or sketched by Hatshepsut but carved for Thutmosis III.

Above a reconstruction of the small temple of Amun after the temple had been extended by Thutmosis III (Hölscher, 1930)

The decoration of the temple of Amun was changed several times and completed in later time. 

Above: View of the entrance to the gallery from the forecourt, which was raised during the reign of Kushite kings between the bark shrine and the pylon (s. a. the following drawing)

In the 20. dynasty the small temple of Amun became part of the precinct of the temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu. It was during the reign of Rameses III that the outer walls of the temple (with exception of the western rear wall) were decorated all around with the typical scenes showing the king before various gods.
Since the location of the small temple of Amun was regarded as a "holy place" Rameses III had integrated the temple into his temple, most likely in order to achieve a more "holy" appearance for his own building.

Djeser set, the small temple of the Amun in Medinet Habu was enlarged at the time of the Kushite kings (25th Dynasty, approx. 715-664 B. C.) - probably during the reign of Taharqa. The drawing above (Hölscher, 1958) shows a windowless pillared mud-brick hall raised in front of the Thutmosid shrine and a demarcating small pylon with 4 flagpoles.
Recent investigations of the Epigraphic Survey Project of the Oriental Institute, Chicago, showed that this reconstruction of Hölscher (see drawing above) was wrong. Instead of a narrow hall a colonnade with 6 columns on both sides had been built. However, the columns were not freestanding elements but were connected by intercolumnar walls. Between the colonnade and the pylon a vestibule was directly built to the west side of the pylon (see the following drawing; OIC, Epigraphic Survey - Annual Report 1996-96).

In the Ptolemaic period this colonnade was altered. The intercolumnar walls and the vestibule were removed, the number of columns on each side was increased to 8. Together with new flanking walls the colonnade now formed a triaxial hall which had two gates shortly before the pylon (see below).

In Persian (Saite) period the temple was extended by a barque station in front of the Kushite pylon. The builder can not be ascertained anymore, in scraped out cartouches Nectanebos I. has immortalized itself.
Hölscher (1958) reconstructed here a barque station formed by two rows of 4 columns on each side which were connected by intercolumnar walls. Most likely this barque station resembled that of Taharqua (Great Colonnade) at Karnak temple. These intercolumnar walls were sufficient high to conceal the interior from the exterior.
During the Ptolemaic and Roman (2nd century AD) times - apart from additional modifications - a 2nd pylon (see photo below), the side wings at the peripteros of Thutmosis III and the "Roman" gate (originally a portico with 8 columns and a forecourt were planned but never finished) were added.

Above the pylon built during the reign of Ptolemaios VII and the "Roman" gate in front of itI; the view follows the axis through the Kushite pylon to the entrance of the gallery (far back)

During the Ptolemaic and Roman extensions obviously numerous stone blocks from the Ramesseum had been re-used whereby the blocks were partly built in so that there original decoration were adjusted to the core of the walls.

The photo above shows the "bedroom scene" which is part of the "Myth of Birth". The scene shows the "sexual intercourse" of Amun (left) with the elected queen (right). Both are carried on the "lion bed" by two goddesses (lower right: Neith, see also Brunner, H., Die Geburt des Gottkönigs., 1986). This block was built upside down into the southern Ptolemaic wing added to the peripteros of Thutmosis III. Several other blocks were re-used in this wall, among them one shows the cartouches of queen Tujj, mother of Rameses II, i.e. these blocks were taken from the Ramesseum.

Room P contains a Ptolemaic naos (= shrine) which was brought in after the rear wall had been taken down. Some stones of the rear wall still show today the demotic signs which had been used to mark the position of stone which laid next to each other. These marks  were used during the re-erection of the rear wall (see photo below).

Demotic markers on two stones which were located in the rear wall next to each other.

Description of the Monument


Copyright: Dr. Karl H. Leser (Iufaa)