Saturday, June 18, 2011

Page 23: Old and Middle Kingdom Development of Ancient Egyptian Temples

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One of the earliest examples of Middle Kingdom temple architecture and one of the few not substantially destroyed in later rebuilding is the combined mortuary temple and tomb of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep (2061 - 2010 BC) at Deir el-Bahri in Thebes. This innovative, terraced building with its colonnades and central monumental superstructure (the exact form of which is not known) was set at the back of the natural 'bay' in the Theban mountains  and was the inspiration for several later mortuary temples of the same type - including the famous and much better preserver temple of Hatshepsut in the same location.

Senwosret (Sesostris) I (1971 - 1926 BC), the second king of the 12th Dynasty, was the first monarch of the Middle Kingdom to institute an extensive building programme, constructing a number of temples from the Delta to at least as far as Elephantine in the south. At Thebes, he constructed a monolithic shrine and massive limestone shrine walls, as well as the beautifully decorated 'White Chapel' which provides a fine example of the expanded use of hieroglyphic inscription and representational art in Middle Kingdom temples.

The solitary obelisk bearing Senwosret's name is now all that remains of what may have been an extensive temple complex at Heliopolis, but the foundation of a number of smaller temples of this king and his successors remain to show a temple style which incorporated a pillared court before a sanctuary with separate - frequently tripartite - shrines at the temple's rear. Sometimes, as in the small temple of Amenemhet I and Senwosret III at Ezbet Rushdi, near Qanatir in the eastern Delta, the pillared hall is fronted by an open courtyard so that we see an incipient grouping of the three elements of court, pillared hall and sanctuary which form the basis of later New Kingdom temple design.

While there were many archaizing tendencies in the architecture of this period, developments in certain aspects of temple design and structure can be seen throughout the Middle Kingdom. For instance, building in stone became increasingly common. While some ancient Egyptian temples contained only a few elements (such as doorways and pillars) of stone, the temple of Amenemhet III and Amenemhet IV at Medinet Madi in the Fayum, although only a little more than 8 by 11 m (26 x 36 ft) in size, consisted of a sanctuary with multiple chambers and a small pillared court, all of which were constructed of stone.

Architectural symmetry also increased in the Middle Kingdom, and the temple of Montu built by Senwosret I at Tod provides one of the clearest examples of the developed Middle Kingdom temple, with its precisely symmetrical design and the incorporation of various cult chambers adjacent to the main sanctuary. And as well as being beautifully decorated, Senwosret's 'White Chapel' on the processional route from the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak provides an example of an equally symmetrical and exquisitely fashioned barque chapel or way-station of this same period.

The richly decorated 'White Chapel' of Senwosret I at Karnak shows the expanded use of inscriptions and representational art which developed in Middle Kingdom temples. The details below shows Senwosret before Amun.

Senwosret before Amun.

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