This brief article doesn't pretend to expose by any means all aspects of the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in detail, but to provide a photographic panorama of the restored monument.
Maat-Ka-Re Hatshepsut (XVIIIth Dynasty, circa 1479-1457 BC) was the daughter of Aa-kheper-ka-Re Thutmosis I, and the wife of Aa-kheper-en-Re Thutmosis II.
She was the third woman in Egyptian history to take up the Pharaoh's throne, not that it didn't raise problems of succession and politics, that we will not be covering here, but that were the origin of a "damnatio memoriae" that was pursued as far as not being represented on the King List of Abydos.
Be that as it may, Queen Hatshepsut was a great builder sovereign, who showed evidence of an outstanding originality.
The temple of Deir el-Bahari is the most spectacular example of it, but one can also note the injection to the innovative excavation plan in the Valley of the Kings (and it is probable that Hatshepsut was the first Egyptian sovereign to be buried in this Valley).
The Red Chapel is part of these outstanding buildings: original in concept, it is unique in creation since it is probably the first "prefabricated" in stone in history. Recently, the Red Chapel was restored by the care of the "Centre of French-Egyptian Studies of the Temples of Karnak" (CFEETK) by anastylosis (created from various sources and materials) for about 300 of the essential blocks come out of the infill of the 3rd pylon of Amenhotep III and that were preserved until now in scattered form in the Open Air Museum of the temple.
This reconstruction permitted the solving of some of the questions that the monument had raised. In particular, it is now certain that the Red Chapel has been well erected in antiquity. Hatshepsut began the creation of the building at the end of her reign (between the year 17 and 20). The
"place of the heart of Amon", or less correctly
"favourite place of Amon") was intended to act as resting place for the sacred barque of the dynastic and guardian God of Thebes. It would be finished and raise, slightly modified, by her successor and nephew Thutmosis III. who will subsequently dismantle it to pursue his own architectural program.
The Red Chapel was initially destined to replace a building dating from Amenhotep I, the Alabaster Chapel (). The erection of the Red Chapel comes within the framework of a vast political program of the Pharaoh-queen, essentially centred on her concern of recognition.
Hatshepsut proceeds with the progressive occupation of the main sites of Karnak: planning within the heart of the offering chapels of the temple, planning of the Western and Southern extremities of the temple, and construction of the Red Chapel. The initial place of the construction remains under debate, but it is probably round about the "Court of Feasts" of Thutmosis II, between the two obelisks that Hatshepsut erected in this place, in front of the set of rooms called
"The Palace of Maat" ().
Another hypothesis on the position of the red Chapel can be found on the .
The reconstitution required the collaboration of several specialities: architect, stone mason, designer, epigraphist, photographer, …because the understanding of the monument remained difficult. So for example, the decoration of the blocks was little contributive, because it hardly ever depends on the vertical joints, and even the horizontal joints.
The reassembly took place therefore thanks especially to the survey of the notches of control levers and dovetails used in the manipulation and assembly of the blocks ().
Fortunately, the walls contained a windfall which permitted one to distinguish the elements of the internal and outside facings.
The Red Chapel is constructed with the help of blocks of red quartzite (originating from the Djebel Akhmar, the "red mountain" situated close to Heliopolis) and of grey diorite ().
The building was entirely preassembled on the ground, "prefabricated". It is interesting to note that this process of assembly wouldn't be resumed subsequently in Egypt, for what reason no one really knows.
A possible explanation for the present case would be the will not to deprive the temple of one of its most sacred festivals and its functionality during months of works.
The Chapel has the form of a rectangle of 17.30 x 6.30 metres ( and ).
Here are various internal and lateral views: (, , )
The facade of the vestibule is 7.70 metres high, while that of the sanctuary is only 5.77 metres. It contains three doors in the same dimensions and installed at the same level. See the external lateral North views ( and ) and South () ; the front facade () ; the interior (, and ).
The chapel was not covered.
Its paved floor is perfectly abutted, except around the central blocks, which are surrounded by a gully. The central part was therefore clearly intended to receive the water of purification used at the time of the ritual ceremonies ().
In the centre of the vestibule sits a vat in diorite, recently excavated (, ), but which was probably originally a full block, intended to act as a support to the Sacred Boat.
From the vestibule, it is necessary to descend a step of 20 centimetres to enter into the sanctuary and which is therefore slightly lower (), and similarly it will be necessary to go back up a step at the other extremity to reach the doorstep of the rear door of the sanctuary. The separation is made evident by an advance of the internal wall ().
It is especially rich, and emphasised by the tricolour used (, ). One indeed observes the association of the grey-black of the diorite, of an ochre-red of the quartzite used as the standard, and of a gold-yellow in the hollows of the engraving. Indeed, and even though it may seem amazing, all blocks of red quartzite were painted with this yellow, which permitted the colour of the rock to be standardised while concealing its veining, and to concentrate the attention on the representations. The disappearance of the painting shows effectively the difficulty that would have been presented in reading () Every scene occupies the face of only one block, which represents therefore an decorative unity (, ). It is probable that the decoration has not been made in a workshop because of the subsequent risks of damage to the blocks during their manipulation, but an assembly in horizontal registers could allow the sculptors to work before the assembly of the chapel was completed.
In diorite, it presents a surrounding wall of reds. It is decorated with a procession of women and androgynous men, or fat and with drooping breast (of the "Nile-Gods"), symbol of prosperity (, ). These entities are identified by a name over their heads: names of the Nomes (administrative divisions), names of royal Theban foundations, names of some geographical entities ("Upper Egypt"). Thus, all Egypt comes to offer its produce to Amon. Inside, a frieze of lettuces mentions the garden of Amon-Min.
Here one finds the scene of the enthronement of Hatshepsut. Also represented is the queen's entry into the temple, the oracle of Amon confirming the divine choice of Hatshepsut as sovereign of the Double-Land, and the vow of enthronement. She is crowned then places the first brick of the building, ().
In the south, the representation of the Opet festival, with its main event: the transportation of the consecrated barque of Amon from the temple of Karnak to that of Luxor. In the north, it is the Beautiful Feast of the Valley that is illustrated, with the transfer of the boat of Amon to the "Temple-of-a-Million-Years" of the queen in Deir el-Bahari, ().
Here one finds scenes of offerings to the divinities, notably to Amon, at Amon-Min (, , ), and to the Ennead as well as consecration of the obelisks which Hatshepsut had erected in Uadjit, between the 4th and the 5th pylons (). The consecration of the sanctuary and the inauguration of the queen receiving various crowns complete this iconographic program (, ).
Here is represented the return of the sacred bark "Userhat" at the time of the Opet Festival. Also represented is the return of the boat at the time of the Beautiful Feast of the Valley ().
The altar of rest was situated inside the temple of the divinity, the Red Chapel's first vocation is to shelter the boat of Amon. One either transports the God's "mobile" statue here in his sacred boat ("Userhat") by inland waterway, or toward another alter of rest outside the temple.
Access to the internal altars of rest of the temple was reserved only for the priests who carried out there a whole series of rites on the divine statue. On the contrary, outside of the surrounding wall of the temple, altars of rest were a part of the public route of the God, of which the ceremonial processional exit at the time of the main festivals such as the Opet festival, or the Beautiful festival of the Valley, represented one of the high times of the Theban liturgy and was done in general jubilation.
Hatshepsut chose to mix intimately the divine and political aspects in the Red Chapel. And so the evocation of the solemn festivals of Amon (Opet festival, Beautiful festival of the Valley) are intimately involved with the setting of the stage of Hatshepsut's on-going progress towards her coronation () which occupies the highest course (of blocks).
Problems of legitimacy are obviously the origin of the decision to undertake the construction and in the choice of the decorative program.
Hatshepsut thus showed her devotion to the Dynastic God, Amon, and thanked him for having expressly appointed her, and one could say dubbed her, as legitimate Pharaoh in front of all the people. This is how it is necessary to understand the rekhyt frieze of the 4th row of the vestibule (). It represents in fact a real text, to be read: dw3-rekhyt. (w) t-nb. (w) t ("Adoration on behalf of all People").