Profane Landscapes, Sacred Spaces - Miroslav Bárta

Profane Landscapes, Sacred Spaces - Miroslav Bárta

The Pyramid of the Theban Mountain

Profane Landscapes, Sacred Spaces - Miroslav Bárta

Andrzej Ćwiek [+-]
Adam Mickiewicz University
Andrzej Ćwiek, Egyptologist and Archaeologist, assistant professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University and curator in the Archaeological Museum in Poznań. His research interests cover the ideology of kingship, architecture and iconography, focusing mainly on the Old Kingdom and the reign of Hatshepsut. He is also interested in issues of landscape, geology and rock materials. Since 1993 working with Polish expeditions in Egypt (Tell Atrib. Saqqara, Deir el-Bahari), currently he is the director of the Polish Archaeological Mission at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna.


El-Qurn, dominating the Valley of the Kings on the south, was long ago recognized by scholars as a landmark bearing symbolic value. Called ‘a natural pyramid’, it is assumed to replace somehow the pyramids of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. However, the New Kingdom royal burial customs and the related architecture, are interpreted as distinctive in comparison to earlier periods, thus the choice of the Valley of the Kings is usually attributed to its desolate character. The ‘pyramid’ is seen as being barely a fortunate feature, an additional motive at the best. The role of the Theban gebel, although stressed in relation to private mortuary sphere, is – paradoxically – underestimated concerning the royal burials. It seems that some outside perspective is needed. Recently D. Polz pointed out the fact that Mentuhotep Nebhepetra’s tomb, at the end of the long passage starting in his mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari, is in fact located in the Valley of the Kings, and thus this king was the first royal occupant of the site. It was, however, Hatshepsut who made a decisive step, locating her (and her father’s) KV 20 in the Valley proper. In fact, she did much more, creating a mortuary complex, which itself was a part of a world ‘cosmological machine’, extended between Karnak and the western mountain. In this respect the close spatial and functional relations of Deir el-Bahari and Karnak, on both sides of the Nile, along the main world axis, parallel the relations of the royal pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom to Heliopolis. An overall scheme of Hatshepsut’s mortuary complex: tomb-upper temple–causeway–valley temple, copies the structure of the Old Kingdom pyramid complexes. Certainly, her Djeser-Djeseru was not merely a mortuary temple, but a ‘Mansion of Millions of Years’, where divine was as important as royal. It has often been assumed that the case of Hatshepsut provides one of the earliest examples of a separation of the tomb proper from the ‘Mansion of Millions of Years’ related to it. But in fact it is not the case! There exists a serious difference between what would become a standard for the rest of the New Kingdom, and the spatial organization of Hatshepsut’s mortuary complex. The tomb of Hatshepsut and her temple are sharing the same space – the rock massif separating Deir el-Bahari from the Valley of the Kings that can be perceived as part of a gebel pyramid. Hatshepsut’s complex is thus exactly similar to the Old Kingdom pyramid complexes: the tomb is located inside the massif, and the mortuary temple is built against its eastern side. And although all later mortuary temples were really separated from the ‘pyramid’, since they were located at the edge of the cultivation, the gebel continued to fulfil the role of a pyramid. It seems that the pyramidal peak together with the massifs of rock surrounding the Valley of the Kings constituted a generic superstructure for all its tombs. One might imagine that the peak itself was thus a ‘pyramidion’ only, the bottom of the valleys being the ‘base’ level of this imaginary pyramid. The tombs were therefore hewn in and under the ‘pyramid’. How much this ‘natural pyramid’ was a ‘true’ pyramid and how much it was a return to some primeval ideas, should be a matter of future research.

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Ćwiek, Andrzej . The Pyramid of the Theban Mountain. Profane Landscapes, Sacred Spaces. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 18-32 Apr 2020. ISBN 9781781794098. Date accessed: 24 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29016. Apr 2020

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