Ancient Egyptian Temples

Two principal kinds of ancient Egyptian temples can be distinguished—cult temples and mortuary or funerary temples. The former housed the images of deities, the recipients of the deity cult; the latter were the monuments for the funerary cults of dead kings.

Cult Temples

It is largely accepted fact that the Egyptian cult temples of the Old Kingdom were inspired by and indebted to the cult of the sun god Re at Heliopolis, which was possibly open in plan and lacking a shrine. Sun temples were distinctive among cult temples; worship was focussed on a cult object, the benben, a squat obelisk placed in full sunlight. Among the scarce temples surviving from the Old Kingdom are sun temples of the 5th-dynasty kings at Abū Jirāb (Abu Gurab). Sun temple of Neuserre (sixth king of 5th dynasty) reveals the essential layout.

The cult temples reached the epitome of development in the great sanctuaries erected over many centuries at Thebes. Architecturally the most significant is the Luxor Temple, started by Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty. The original design comprises of a grand open court with colonnades of graceful lotus columns, a comparatively smaller offering hall, a shrine for God’s ceremonial boat, an inner sanctuary for the cult image, and a room meant to celebrate the divine birth of the king. Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, Horemheb and Ramses II all contributed to the grandeur of this cult temple. Most of the indispensable elements of an Egyptian temple are present at Luxor.

Mortuary Temples (Funerary Temples)

Majority of the New Kingdom funerary temples were built in western Thebes along the desert edge. An exception, and by far the most stunning and original, was Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, designed and constructed by her steward Senenmut in proximity to the tomb of Mentuhotep II at Dayr al-Baḥrī. Funerary temple complex of Amenhotep III was possibly the largest conventionally planned funerary temple complex can now be judged chiefly from the two enormous quartzite statues, the Colossi of Memnon. These and other royal sculptures discovered in the ruins of the temple’s halls and courts provide evidence of the magnificence now lost. Ramses II used design of this funerary temple for his own funerary temple.

Madīnat Habu based funerary temple of Ramses III contains the best-preserved of Theban mortuary shrines and chapels, and also the main temple components. In most New Kingdom temples including that at Madīnat Habu, the mural decorations on the outer walls dealt mainly with the military campaigns of the king, while the inner scenes were majorly of ritual significance. A whole community of priests and state officials stayed within the temple precinct.

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