The focal point of the Deir el-Bahari complex is the Djeser-Djeseru meaning “the Holy of Holies”, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. It is a colonnaded structure, which was designed and implemented by Senenmut, royal steward and architect of Hatshepsut, to serve for her posthumous worship and to honor the glory of Amun.
Djeser-Djeseru sits atop a series of colonnaded terraces, reached by long ramps that once were graced with gardens. It is built into a cliff face that rises sharply above it, and is largely considered to be one of the “incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt”. It is 97 feet (30 m) tall.
The unusual form of Hatshepsut’s temple is explained by the choice of location, in the valley basin of Deir el-Bahari, surrounded by steep cliffs. It was here, in about 2050 BC, that Mentuhotep II, the founder of the Middle Kingdom, laid out his sloping, terrace-shaped mortuary temple. The pillared galleries at either side of the central ramp of the Djeser Djeseru correspond to the pillar positions on two successive levels of the Temple of Mentuhotep.
Today the terraces of Deir el-Bahari only convey a faint impression of the original intentions of Senenmut. The statues of Osiris in front of the pillars of the upper colonnade, the sphinx avenues in front of the court, and the standing, sitting, and kneeling figures of Hatshepsut; these were destroyed in a posthumous condemnation of this pharaoh. The architecture of the temple has been considerably altered as a result of misguided reconstruction in the early twentieth century A.D.
The layering of Hatshepsut’s temple corresponds with the classical Theban form, employing pylon, courts, hypostyle hall, sun court, chapel, and sanctuary. The relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of the pharaoh. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast.
On either side of the entrance to the sanctuary are painted pillars with images of Hathor as the capitals. Just under the roof is an image of Wadjet, displayed as a bilateral solar symbol, flanked by two other long serpents.
The temple includes an image of Hatshepsut depicted as male pharaoh giving offerings to Horus, and to their left, an animal skin wound around a tall staff that is a symbol of the god Osiris.
The temple once was home to two statues of Osiris, a long avenue lined by sphinxes, as well as many sculptures of pharaoh Hatshepsut in different attitudes – standing, sitting, or kneeling.