LUXOR, Egypt – The most sacred sanctuary dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun Ra, inside the massive temple built by order of the legendary woman pharaoh Hatshepsut some 3,500 years ago in Thebes, opened its doors to the public on Sunday, after a 55-year-old restoration process.
The four inner chambers of this small but profusely decorated sanctuary were officially inaugurated on Saturday by Egypt’s minister of Antiquities, Jaled al Anani, and the Polish archaeological mission that led the restoration project.
As from today the public visiting Hatshepsut’s funerary (although she was not buried there) temple complex at Deir el-Bahri, on the western Nile Bank, facing Luxor, will no longer find a long piece of string that for decades kept visitors from entering the sanctuary of Hatshepsut’s -Mansion of Millions of Years- carved at the base of Deir el Bahri’s towering granite cliffs, now accessible up the ramp connecting the three open terraces leading to the funeral complex.
However, tourists will still be barred from entering the enclosure’s last, innermost, chamber to avoid damaging the remaining pigment and gold leaf still visible on some of its reliefs, warned Minister Al Anani during the opening ceremony and all the official pomp and circumstance reserved for such occasions.
Hatshepsut ordered the construction of this sanctuary soon after she proclaimed herself pharaoh, after seizing the crown that belonged to her nephew and stepson Thutmose III, who would later succeed her in the throne.
The first chamber, the largest and most magnificent of all the complex has a domed ceiling where one can still see the painted stars representing Goddess Mut’s celestial kingdom and three small niches in each wall.
Here is where a very important ceremony, dedicated to the Sun-God, took place: the placing of the Amun-Ra celestial sun-boat which arrived carried on the shoulders of priests from the Temple of Karnak, on the Nile river’s Eastern bank.
Images of the procession and a relief of the Sun-boat appear on the vestibule’s walls, where the remaining image of the Royal family in Hatshepsut’s temple can be seen.
The queen appears with a Pharaoh’s ceremonial beard although dressed in women’s clothes, standing beside her father Tuthmosis I, her half-brother and husband Tuthmosis II, one of her daughters Nepherute and her nephew and godson Tuthmosis III.
The Chamber of columns is next and in line with the Egyptian standards it is smaller than the previous one; it was dedicated to Amun-Ra and according to the archeologists, the most sacred rites honoring the Supreme God took place here.
The last chamber, with the lowest ceiling and the narrowest, is also the best conserved, its polychrome bas-reliefs are in a nearly perfect state, time seems to have stopped in its tracks.
This chamber is also known as the Ptolomeic hall as it was used for prayers during the Graeco-Roman era and later by Coptic monks.
This major restoration undertaken by the Polish archaeological mission to Egypt began in 1961, led then by the archeologist Kazimierz Michalowski, in virtue of an agreement signed by the Polish Peoples Republic and the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser, then within the Soviet sphere of influence.