Medinet Habu, the memorial temple of Ramses III, is one of the most beautiful places on the west bank that doesn’t get enough attention. In front are the Theban highlands, and in the back is the peaceful town of Kom Lolah. This was one of the first places in Thebes that had a solid link to the god Amun, who was worshipped there. During its heyday, the city of Medinat Habu had several religious buildings, storage areas, workshops, administrative buildings, a royal palace, and places for officials and priests to live.
Over many centuries, it was the economic hub of the city of Thebes. Even though Ramses III’s tomb temple is the most famous building in the complex, both Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III built temples while in power. After that, all the way up to the Ptolemies, every king who came after he changed and added to them. Even after pagan rites were banned and the town became an important center for Christianity, people still lived there until the ninth century A.D., when a terrible disease was said to have wiped it out.
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On top of the walls that surround the area are mud-brick ruins that are all that is left of the medieval town that gave the place its name (the word “medina” means “town” or “city”). Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III had built the old Temple of Amun. Still, it was overshadowed by the massive Funerary Temple of Ramses III, which was the most critical part of Medinat Habu. After you pass through the main gates, you can still see a church on the right from Hatshepsut’s time.
When building his temple, Ramses III was inspired by the Ramesseum, which his famous ancestor Ramses II had created. The vast outer walls of the complex surround the temple of Ramses III and a smaller one dedicated to Amun. The temple that Ramses III built was for Amun.
The Tomb Chapels of the Divine Adorers are to the left of the Gate, right inside the entrance. The most critical priestesses of Amun had these chapels built for them. Just past the eastern Gate, one of the only two ways into the city, there used to be a dock for a canal connecting Medinat Habu to the Nile.
You can get to the site through the unique Syrian Gate, a big building that looks like a Syrian fortress. This is a reference to the famous battles between Egyptians and Hittites, especially during the reign of Ramses II. If you follow the wall to the left, you will find a staircase that leads to the upper floors. Even though the chambers themselves don’t have much to look at, the views of the fields to the south and the village in front of the temple are amazing.
The first tower, which has been well taken care of, marks the front of the temple itself. In these reliefs, Ramses III is shown to have won various battles. Most famous are the beautiful replacements that offer his victories over the Libyans (whom you can recognize by their long robes, sidelocks, and beards). There is also a disturbing scene where scribes count the number of dead enemies by counting the number of severed hands and genitalia.
To the left of the first court, you can see the ruins of the Pharaoh’s Palace. The royal harem used the three rooms in the back of the building. There is a window called the Window of Appearances between the first court and the Pharaoh’s Palace. The pharaoh showed himself off to his people through this window.
In the reliefs on the second pylon, Ramses III is shown giving battle prisoners to Amun and his bride, Mut, who is a vulture goddess. Around the second court are colonnades and reliefs that show different religious rites and celebrations.
If you have time to look around the many ruins that surround the funerary temple, you can see the remains of an early Christian basilica and a small sacred lake. Also, on the temple’s south side, you can see the outline of the palace and the window that looks into the temple courtyard, which is where Ramses would appear. It’s a nice place to visit, but the best time is in the late afternoon when the light starts to get softer and the stone starts to shine.
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