Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Seti Temple Historical Information
Temple of Sety I, called The Domain of Amen in the West of Thebes, lies at the northern end of the Theban Necropolis, directly across the Nile from the Temple of Karnak. The location is lovely; there is a fine view of a large palm grove and the Theban Hills from atop the temple enclosure walls. The temple is very well preserved and was a favorite subject of nineteenth century watercolorists.
The name of the Sety I temple is nearly identical to that of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, and the two sites were linked both physically and functionally by their ceremonial roles in major festivals.
In antiquity, a canal led here from the river, and during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley and other festivals, processions of sacred barks sailed here from the Temple of Amen at Karnak and then continued in other West Bank memorial temples. The temple of Sety I, sometimes called the Qurna Temple, was where nineteenth century tourists began their West Bank tour.
(More precisely, travelers started from here in the summer and autumn months, when the annual flood made impassable the route from the Nile west to the Colossi of Memnon.) A century ago, the Nile flowed several kilometers farther west than it does today, and tourists moored their boats near the temple beside a huge sycomore fig tree and a water wheel that soon became famous landmarks mentioned in every tourist guidebook. The sycomore tree has disappeared, but pieces of the water wheel still stand in the garden of the Abdel Kassem Hotel and Alabaster Factory three hundred meters east of the temple. In dynastic times, this area was called Hefet-hernebes, a phrase meaning that it laid “in front of its lord,” the Temple of Amen at Karnak. Three thousand years ago, there was a large village of the same name immediately north of the temple. There is still a village there today, called Naj’ Junayna, and it is the site of a lively Tuesday morning market. It is great fun to visit: noisy and colorful, a dusty field that covers several hectares is filled with people who gossip, drink sticky sweet tea, quarrel over prices, and sell vegetables, hardware, sandals, sheep, and goats.
Farther north, a large First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom cemetery called al-Tarif is surrounded by modern village houses. Beyond it lays New Thebes, a recently-built settlement where families who lived in and around the Qurna tombs have been relocated.
The temple of Sety I was badly damaged in November 1994, when torrential rains in the nearby Theban hills sent floodwaters cascading through desert wadis. The storm dumped thousands of liters of water into Hefet-her-nebes. The floodwaters rose to over 1 meter (3 feet) deep and poured into the temple compound at 20 kilometers (12 miles) an hour.
Today, Sety I’s temple seems a small structure, but it originally extended 160 meters (520 feet) from pylon to rear wall. One enters the temple through a small door in the northeast corner of the enclosure wall and proceeds into the First Courtyard. The First Pylon stood to the left (east) and the remains of sphinxes and inscribed blocks, badly damaged by the flood, stand along the temple’s main axis. Originally the pylon measured 69 meters (224 feet) wide and 24 meters (78 feet) high. Directly ahead, on the south side of a courtyard known as the Festival Court of the Subjects, the remains of the king’s palace have recently been cleared. On the north side of a large hypostyle hall with twelve pillars, a broad set of steps leads up to the Window of Appearance from which the king observed ceremonies and processions in the courtyard. The palace is similar in plan to the better-preserved palaces of Rameses II at the Ramesseum and Rameses III at Madinat Habu; it is the earliest example of a palace built within a memorial temple. There are numerous stelae, inscribed temple blocks, and damaged sphinxes in the courtyard. Originally, the temple causeway was lined with dozens of large sphinxes and the whole area was filled with outbuildings and orchards of persea trees. The Second Pylon originally cut in half what now looks like a single courtyard. The pylon itself has vanished, but its position is marked by a low mudbrick wall and a gate. It was small, not more than 7 meters (23 feet) high.
The west facade of the temple was laid out as a portico with a row of ten papyrus-bundle columns. Texts on the architrave were written by Sety I’s son, Rameses II, who describes how he completed work on the temple after his father’s death. On the wall behind, scenes include personifications of Upper Egypt on the left (south) side and of Lower Egypt on the right (north). Above them on the left, priests carry the sacred bark of Amen into the temple and the king makes offerings of incense.
Three doorways lead through this wall into three separate parts of the temple. This tripartite plan is typical of most memorial temples on the West Bank: the center rear part of the temple is devoted to the cult of Amen; the left to the king and his ancestors; and the right side to the solar cult.
The doorway in the center leads into the Hypostyle Hall, with six columns and three small chapels on each side that are dedicated to the Theban Triad (Amen, Mut, and Khonsu). The carving on the walls was begun by Sety I and completed by Rameses II. It is easy to identify who did what: the work of Sety I’s craftsmen is of fine quality; that of Rameses II’s is hastily done and heavy-handed. Scenes show one or the other of the two kings offering to various deities, including Thoth, Osiris, Amen, Mut, Ptah, and Sekhmet.
Chambers in the rear part of the temple are devoted to the Beautiful Festival of the Valley and the god Amen. Behind the hall and a small vestibule, five doorways lead into rooms that housed the sacred barks of Amen (in the center), Mut (on the left, south), and Khonsu (on the right, north). At the far ends, two other chambers served purposes unknown to us. The central shrine for Amen is particularly well decorated with scenes of the elaborately furnished sacred bark being offered to by the king. Behind the central shrine stands a room with four pillars decorated with scenes of the king and various gods. To the rear (west), a false door (now gone) gave the ka of the king access to the netherworld.
The doorway at the left (south) end of the portico leads to a room with two columns. Behind them stand three small chapels. These were dedicated to Rameses I by his son Sety I in an act of filial piety done because Rameses I reigned only briefly and had no memorial temple of his own. Rameses I, Sety I, and Rameses II are all shown here in scenes before Amen. A double false door for Rameses I was carved on the rear (west) wall of his chapel the doorway at the right (north) end of the portico leads into a damaged court dedicated to the solar cult.
Storerooms built of mudbrick lie between the temple and the right (north) enclosure wall. This is the first time that storerooms were included as part of a memorial temple. Earlier, foodstuffs would have been shipped to temples from the storerooms at Karnak. A small well was dug on the left (south) side of the temple and has been partially cleared.
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