18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III was the king of Egyptian kings. Under his rule, from around 1391 to 1353 BC, Egyptian civilization reached its very apex all powerful, influential beyond compare, rich beyond dreams and basking in opulent artistic splendour. In a list compiled by American business and financial bible Forbes in 2008, Amenhotep was ranked as the 12th richest person in human history.
His funerary temple was therefore never going to be a modest affair. As we discover in a new video interview shot by Nico Piazza with the highly-respected German-Armenian archaeologist leading the excavation of the site, Dr Hourig Sourouzian, it was bold, groundbreaking, and very, very big. It was something extraordinary, as Sourouzian puts it.
Erected in the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor, the temple was 700 metres long and 500 metres wide, and covered an area of 350,000 square metres. It was ten times bigger than any other mortuary monument in Egypt, and the biggest religious complex at Thebes, dwarfing even Karnak (despite the fact that Karnak had been added to substantially by Amenhotep).
Inside and out were huge stele, papyrus columns and beautiful statues of animal deities such as the lioness goddess Sekhmet. No expense was spared when it came to selecting building materials. All the quarries of Egypt were at the kings disposal, says Sourouzian, so we can find some rare and beautiful stones, like quartzite.
Sadly, little of this splendour is reflected in the temples modern condition. For all the thought and industry that went into its construction, little consideration was given to its location. Built closer to the river than any other temple at Thebes right on the edge of the floodplain after less than 200 years it had collapsed into the desert. Many of its great stones were subsequently pilfered for building projects of later pharaohs, such as Ramesses II and Merneptah.
All that stands today are the ruined Colossi of Memnon two eighteen metre-high stone statues of Amenhotep (father of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten) that once imposingly flanked the entrance to the temple. The fact that so little remains of the monument in the 21st century makes Sourouzians job all the more important. The work we do here is not only about advancing our historical knowledge, she says, but also saving the last remains of a temple that was once very prestigious that was unfortunately managed very badly.
Since 1998, the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III has been on the World Monument Funds list of the planets 100 most endangered monuments, and Sourouzian and her multinational team have been working hard to keep it there, as well as source funding from other bodies. Their project which has been ongoing since 2004 is one of the most ambitious ever staged in Egypt, and still has about two decades left to run. I believe that in less than 20 years we will have achieved our objectives here, she says.
The goal, Sourouzian explains while gangs of Egyptian labourers are seen dragging a massive stone by rope across the desert, in what could almost be a scene from the age of the pharaohs is to eventually restore every object found at the temple to its original position, and create detailed maps and models of how the building might once have looked.
They wont try and rebuild the temple, that would be foolish to try and impossible to do, says Sourouzian. But we can do virtual reconstructions using modern tools like the computer, she adds (check out Heritage Key’s King Tut Virtual for a great example of a digitally reconstructed ancient world). The final stage of the project will be to create an open-air museum, where the public can view first hand the splendour of Amenhoteps funerary monument something truly magnificent and never seen before, beams Sourouzian. With it, visitors will be able to witness the remarkable ambition, skill and ingenuity of ancient Egyptian civilization at its very peak.
For more great archaeovideos, be sure to check out Heritage Keys Youtube Channel. Watch Dr Zahi Hawass speaking about the search for KV64, Dr Salima Ikram discussing the fascinating subject of Egyptian animal cults and Dr Vassil Dobrev describing the hunt for the tomb of the lost pharaoh Userkare. Were adding new movies all time sign-up to the Heritage Key RSS feed and find out as soon as theyre posted.