Karnak - Red Chapel of Hatshepsut

Orientation of the building

The front door of the Red Chapel, as reconstructed between 1997-2001 in the Open Air Museum of the Karnak Temple, faces to the south ('local Karnak') and the back door to the north. The north-south axis of the Red Chapel is perpendicular to the main axis (east-west) of the temple. The chapel was build by Queen Hatshepsut, 18th Dynasty, and is supposed to have been erected in the centre of Ipet-sut (Karnak) temple, in the same place or nearly the same, where now the granite shrine from the time of Philip Arrhidaeus is standing.

The front door of the Red Chapel would then have faced towards the west. If that location is true, then it is now turned 90 degrees counter clockwise (to the south), but that way it at least gives better sunlight on the long sides of the chapel.
In most publications of the Red Chapel, the supposed original orientation of the building are used to reference the walls, that is, the front entrance wall is called the west side, and the side where the Opet Festival scenes are carved on the 3rd course, is called the chapel southern exterior wall, but now that wall faces to the east ('local east'), and that makes it a bit complicated…vOne has to be aware which system (the original or as it is now) is used in a given text.
In this text and in the legend of the photos the new orientation system is used.

Geographical directions

So, the north, south, east and west directions in the text and the photos, make reference to the 'local Karnak' directions as the chapel is reconstructed in the OAM.
It was conventional for the ancient Egyptians to give directions for a building in relation to the Nile, which is always supposed to run from the south to the north, as it normally does, but not here in the Luxor region, where it runs to the geographical north-east.
The Karnak centre axis is used as the reference axis in the new 'Atlas of the Kings Valley' from the Theban Mapping Project, as their base west/east axis; that is, the TMP grid is based on the Karnak axis.

The building

The monument is called the Red Chapel because it is build of blocks of red quartzite, though the foundation, doorframes and the cornice are in black diorite. Rred quartzite is a very uncommon type of stone to be used as a building material in pharaonic times in Egypt.

The building has two rooms, a vestibule (south) and a sanctuary (north). It is built like a brick building: it has 8 courses with alternative courses as 'headers' (short blocks) course 2,4, 6 and 8, and 'stretchers' (long blocks) courses 3, 5 and 7.
The blocks are very uniform in their size, they are all of the exact same height (excl. course 8). A 'header' block has the exact size of the thickness of the walls, and they have decoration on both of their sides, one for the exterior and one for the interior wall. Only the lenght (along the wall) of the blocks can vary, of both the 'stretchers' and the 'headers', but overall they are very evenly sized.

Exterior walls

Please have a look for details.

The outside walls have 9 courses.
The first course is the foundation in double high black diorite blocks with a little edge halfway up. Then comes 7 red courses. Courses 2 to 7 is made of blocks of red quartzite, which have the same height in all courses.
Course 8 (header) is also made of blocks of red quartzite, but they are a little higher, as there is an added horizontal torus moulding in the upper part of the blocks.
Course 9 is the black cornice blocks, the outwards rounded top-finish used in almost all egyptian buildings.
Only the outside front entrance wall (south) is different; it has an added double high red quartzite row as course 9, and the cornice top is then course 10.

The black base blocks all have a uniform decoration, they show Nile gods and goddesses, who represents nomes, buildings or other structures including canals All of them, on the east and west walls and the north wall (back) look in the direction of the back door. On the south (front) wall, they look to the front door.

Floor level

The floor in the vestibule is on the same level as the little edge of the black foundation blocks, that is, at about half the height of the black base blocks. In the sanctuary the floor level is 20 cm lower than in the vestibule. There is a step down at the door between the two rooms and a step up again at the back door (north) from the sanctuary to the outside.
It is very uncommon for the sanctuary floor level to be lower than the other rooms.

Interior walls

In both the vestibule and the sanctuary there are 8 courses of red quartzite blocks.
Inside course 1 is at the same level as the back of the upper part of the outside black foundation blocks.
Courses 2-8 correspond to the outside courses 2-8, remember the 'header' blocks (short) are the same on course 2,4, 6 and 8. In the sanctuary there is an added 20 cm course below the 1. ordinary red course, to compensate for the 20 cm lower floor level, or rather it is a plinth protruding a little from the wall, decorated with a lettuce frieze.
In the reconstruction there is no inside course at the back of the cornice blocks (outside course 9) and neither at the back of course 9 and 10 of the front wall.
The space may have been used by the now missing roof blocks ? In fact, there is no roof in the reconstructed chapel. But the people who rebuilt the chapel think the chapel never had one.


The first course in both the vestibule and the sanctuary (at the back of the upper part of the outside black foundation blocks) are decorated with a frieze that runs along the long walls only.
The frieze in the vestibule is the "rekhyt" bird standing on a basket and they all face towards the sanctuary (north).
In the sanctuary the frieze is composed of the "ankh"-sign, the "djed"-pillar and the "was"-sceptre, all three standing on a basket; the "djed"-pillars all have a small cartouche with the throne name of Hatshepsut ("Maat-ka-Re") in the middle. Note that the "ankh"-sign always are on the side of the basket that is closest to the vestibule (south).


In the vestibule there is a block stone that has been hollowed, giving it the appearence of a 'bathtub' 135 x 80 cm and 28 cm high in the centre of the room. It probably was the stone where the sacred bark was laid on. In the sanctuary there are two low stone platforms. The one near the door to the vestibule (almost in the exact centre of the chapel) is 131 x 94 cm and 8 cm high, the platform near the back door is 138 x 95 cm and 20 cm (?) high.
Both the 'bathtub' and the platform near the back door have a lettuce frieze on all their 4 sides. The 20 cm high plinths at the long walls of the sanctuary also has the lettuce frieze. The low platform near the door to the vestibule, in the centre of the chapel, also has a frieze. (I can't remember if it is lettuce, it looks like but ??)