Deir el Bahri

Deir el Bahri: the mortuary temples of Montuhotep and Hatshepsut, copyright Roland Unger

Deir el-Bahri (Arabic for “The Northern Monastery”) is a complex of mortuary temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile. It is separated from the Valley of the Kings by the peak of el-Qurn (Arabic for “The Horn” known to the Egyptians as “Dehent”) and lies directly across the water from the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor in Thebes. The mountain formed a natural pyramid towering over the Valley of the Kings and Deir el-Bahri, and was sacred to Hathor and Meretseger.

  1. Montuhotep’s Mortuary Temple
  2. Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple
  3. Mortuary Temple of Thuthmosis III
  4. Tomb of Senenmut (TT353)

Middle Kingdom

The first pharaoh to build at Deir el Bahri was Nebhepetre Montuhotep II, of the Eleventh Dynasty, who reunified the country after the First Intermediate Period. He chose to build his Mortuary Temple and tomb at Deir el Bahri instead of alongside his predecessors at Dra Abu el Naga. He also pioneered a new architectural style which, despite its fresh look, seems to have been inspired by the form of Old Kingdom pyramid complexes.

Montuhotep's mortuary temple, from Italian Wikipedia. [GFDL (]

He constructed a Valley Temple (now completely destroyed) connected by a long causeway to a Mortuary Temple which he named “Akh Sut Nebhepetre” (“Splendid are the places of Nebhepetre”). The Mortuary Temple consisted of a terrace perched against the cliff with a large stone edifice (described as a mastaba by some and a pyramid by others) above it and a deep shaft to his tomb below it.

The tombs of six princesses were found within the enclosure of the Mortuary Temple of Montuhotep. The tombs were excavated during the first phase of construction but their entrances were covered with masonry when the temple was enlarged. Each tomb contained a sarcophagus formed out of six large slabs joined together with metallic strips. Each sarcophagus was beautifully decorated with scenes of daily life and the presentation of offerings.

Many of Montuhotep’s officials were buried in tombs excavated from the cliffs around his Mortuary Temple including; the chancellor Akhtoy, viziers Dagi (TT103 Sheikh Abd el-Qurna) and Ipi (TT315 Deir el Bahri), the treasurer Khety (TT311 Deir el Bahri), royal guardsman Horhotep (TT314 Deir el Bahri) and chief steward Henenu (TT313 Deir el Bahri). There is also a mass grave in which sixty soldiers were interred. It is thought that they all died during active service in Nubia and were given the honour of being buried close to their pharaoh.

Middle Kingdom Tombs

  • Montuhotep’s Mortuary Temple
  • TT308: Kemsit (sole adornment of the king)
  • TT310: Unknown official
  • TT311: Khety (treasurer)
  • TT313: Henenu (high steward)
  • TT314: Horhotep (royal guard and seal-bearer)
  • TT315: Ipi (vizier and governor)
  • TT316: Neferhotep (head archer)
  • TT319: Neferu and Iah (daughter and wife of Montuhotep II)

New Kingdom

Amenhotep I built a temple at Deir el-Bahri and buried his Great Royal Wife (Ahmose-Meritamun) nearby in Theban Tomb 358. However, Amenhotep’s temple was in the prime spot chosen by Hatshepsut for her Mortuary Temple, so it was dismantled to allow her monument to be constructed. It seems that the original plan was to build her mortuary temple beside his, but the addition of the lower terrace meant that it had to be removed in its entirety. The only remaining evidence that the temple existed are a few bricks inscribed with Amenhotep’s name. The statues of the pharaoh were moved to Montuhotep’s Mortuary Temple.

Hatshepsuts mortuary temple copyright JG Howes

Hatshepsut built the largest, best preserved and arguably the most impressive temple at the site, her Mortuary Temple named “Djeser-Djeseru” (“Holy of Holies”). Her Mortuary Temple is clearly inspired by that of Montuhotep and was built so that the colonnades at each side of the central ramp to her temple correspond with the two levels of Montuhotep’s Mortuary Temple. After her death her temple was vandalized by Thuthmosis II and then by Akhenaten (because of his antipathy towards Amun).

Senenmut (who was Hatshepsut’s adviser, tutor to her daughter and possibly her lover) was given the honour of having a tomb (TT353 Deir el Bahri) constructed within the precinct of her Mortuary Temple. He also had a tomb built in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna (TT71) and so the tomb at Deir el Bahri is known as the “secret” tomb. It was badly damaged in antiquity, but some of the decoration is still visible. It is an unusually large tomb but it was not finished and Senenmut was buried in his other tomb. Unfortunately for him, his other tomb was also vandalized.

Thuthmosis III also built a temple complex here which he dedicated to Amun. It was intended to replace Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple as the focus of the “Beautiful Festival of the Valley” but was badly damaged during the Twentieth Dynasty. After that time it was used a source of building materials and in Christian times became the site of a Coptic cemetery.

During the 1870’s a number of items from ancient tombs appeared for sale in Egypt. Following investigations by Maspero and his assistant Brugsch it was confirmed that a family living in the village of Qurna had discovered a tomb and had been looting items over a period of years. Ironically, the tomb (listed as TT320 or DB320) turned out to house a number of pharaohs who had been moved there in order to protect them from tomb robbers. The cache held over fifty mummies including those of King Seqenenre Taa II, Ahmose I, Amenhotep I, Tutmosis I, II and III, Seti I and Ramesses II, III, and IX, Pinudgjem I and II and Siamun.

A cache of 163 reburied mummies of the Priests of Amun were also found in a tomb at Bab el Gasus. It is thought that these priests were the ones who organised the reburial of the pharaohs mummies in TT320.

New Kingdom Tombs

  • Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple
  • Thuthmosis Mortuary Temple
  • TT320: Deir el-Bahri Cache
  • TT353: Senenmut High Steward of Hatshepsut
  • TT358: Ahmose Meritamun Daughter of Thutmose III and wife of Amenhotep II

Ptolemaic, Roman and Late periods

During the Ptolemaic period, Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple was adapted to form a shrine to Amenhotep, son of Hapu and Imhotep. In the Late Period the place was frequented by a group of iron workers from Hermonthis.

Copyright J Hill 2010