Tricky name, fantastic place, can’t be missed

January 18, 2017

The author and wife Helen outside the temple of Hatshepsut, one of the great buildings of ancient Egypt and one of the most outstanding of the ancient civilisations.

Continuing to wander through the Nile no trip would be complete without a visit to the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. If you don’t know the name you should. In the world of ancient queens she was the first of the heavy hitters

EVERYONE knows about Cleopatra, the last great queen, or king for that matter, of Pharaonic Egypt.

But how many of you know she apparently didn’t have a drop of Egyptian blood running through her veins?

If her husband was her brother (more common back then than you would think) she would have been pure Greek/Macedonian. There is some suggestion to think the genetic purity might have been sullied around the time of her grandfather – but no proof.

Cleo (actually Cleopatra VII) was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty – the Greek rulers placed on the Egyptian throne by all-conquering Alexander the Great.

And the last Pharaoh of any kind, with the Romans ending all that.

But go back to 1507–1458 BC and you bump into a name that doesn’t roll as easily from the tongue, and may not know at all.

Hatshepsut was supposed to be regent of Egypt (on behalf of her stepson Thuthmosis III) but decided she liked running the show and declared herself Pharaoh.

Right down to adding the metaphorical beard to any statues of her, so people would acknowledge she was the boss and there would be no complaints about her gender issues.

But that is all from millennia ago.

In there here and now Hattie has achieved something topped probably only by the Great Pyramid for impact because her mortuary temple has to be seen to be believed.

And once you do there will be no arguments that it is one of the most beautiful of all of the temples of temple-centric civilisation.

While it’s not quite in the Valley of the Kings, it’s just around the corner at Deir el-Bahri and its location, at the bottom of a steep hill face makes it seem part of the geological structure – not unlike Petra but on a pretty big scale.

Because it is set directly against the rock, which all but forms a natural amphitheatre around it so the temple itself seems to grow from the living rock.

And brother; is it alive today. People, like ants, swarm over it, agog that after thousands of years this still stands as such a stunning monument to such a stunning civilisation.

Loosely speaking, Hatshepsut means Foremost of Noble Ladies, and she was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. As much as I love Egyptian history as an amateur I admit getting a little lost in all the dynasties which ruled this desert empire.

But according to one of those historical know-it-alls – in this case Egyptologist James Benstead, Hatshepsut is widely recognised as the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.

So Boadicea, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I and even Victoria can eat their hearts out.

This woman was the poster girl for future female monarchs.

The thing about doing the Egypt thing is everything is one colour – from Cairo south.

The Nile is a dirty brown and all the land around it – bar crops – is that desert yellow. The cliffs that soar above it, the land in the wadis and on the plains. It is basically shades of the same colour, made glaring by the relentless sun.

How much sun?

Our guide Mohammed, whom you might recall from last week, could not remember ever seeing rain.

End of story.

It also explains how so much mud construction has lasted so long, with only the wind and sandstorms its enemy.

But our girl went for rock, sheltered by more rock, and there it stands today. No longer a place of tribute and worship, but a haven for tourists – and generator of massive foreign exchange earnings.

Mostly, though, it is just one of those jaw-dropping places not many people will ever get to see.

And to be a jaw-dropper in Egypt, when you compete with the pyramids, the sphynx, the Nile, Abu Simbel, the temples, the endless chain of ancient sites, you have to be something special.

Hatshepsut clearly was.

Her memorial definitely is.

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