Sunday, September 26, 2010

Queen Hatshepsut King of Upper and Lower Egypt

Al Ahram Weekly (Jill Kamil)

Framed by steep cliffs and poised in elegant relief is the mortuary temple of Deir Al-Bahri, known in ancient times as the "Most Holy of Holies". We now know more than ever before about the plans and ideas of the remarkable woman who built it, says Jill Kamil

Hatshepsut, as the offspring of the Great Royal Wife Ahmose, was the only lawful heir to the throne of Tuthmosis I. Custom, however, prevented her as a member of the female sex from succeeding as Pharaoh. So she took the only step open to her: she married her half-brother Tuthmosis II.

"She came to the throne at a crucial time in Egyptian history," said Zbigniew Szafranski, director of the Polish Institute in Cairo at an illustrated talk at the institute last month. "The 18th-Dynasty (1567-1320 BC) emerged from a long-awaited liberation from Hyksos rule; Nubia had become the core of an independent African kingdom; and innovative ideas came from Persia, Palestine, northern Mesopotamia and the Minoan kingdom."

For several years Hatshepsut acted as a typical co- regent, allowing the young Tuthmosis to take precedence in all activities, already there were signs that Hatshepsut was not afraid of flouting tradition. She adopted a new title, "Mistress of the Two Lands", in clear reference to a king's time-honoured title "Lord of the Two Lands"; she commissioned a pair of obelisks to stand in front of the gateway to the Karnak temple complex; and, by the time her obelisks were cut and transported from the quarries at Aswan, she had become a king. She assumed the throne name Makere, "one of many", and she was depicted in relief and statues wearing a royal skirt and ceremonial beard.

The Polish - Egyptian mission has been excavating and restoring the temple of Deir Al-Bahri for 30 years and has recently come upon remarkable evidence on which to hypothesise more about Hatshepsut's life and times. Back in 1969, the team unearthed a small temple built by Tuthmosis III to the south-east of the upper terrace of Hatshepsut's stepped structure, and a year later they found another terrace. Scattered around were hundreds of blocks and fragments of statues from the temple of Hatshepsut, along with plaster casts of blocks from the temple that were taken to the Metropolitan Museum between the years 1911-1931. This enabled enthusiasts to set about reconstructing 26 colossal Osirid statues, many bearing traces of the bright colours with which they were originally painted.

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