The Switzerland institute under the direction of Horst Jaritz led 15 seasons of excavation and restoration of the Temple of Millions of Years of Merenptah. Situated on the West bank at Luxor, this temple is situated between the Ramesseum and the Colossi of Memnon.
Nowadays the plan of this almost completely erased monument has been restored, and his architectural program understood, though the iconographical one is lost for ever. So it can now be placed alongside the similar temples, dating from before or after the reign. It can be shown that it represents a link between the temples of the 19th and those of the 20th dynasties.
This monument was built in several phases which, starting from a simple initial plan, reorganised, then innovative structures added.
Merenptah was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II, and it was he who finally followed his father toward 1213 B.C., after his father's (too) long reign. When he took power, Egypt was no longer what it was in the time of the 18th Dynasty. It was a weakened country, corrupt, but which still had resources which Merenptah, probably about fifty years old at the time of his accession to the throne, directed during his 10 years.
In spite of his age, he knew how to wage hard battles in Asia during the third year of his reign and to bring back into line the Syria-Palestinian principalities, always quick to rebel against Egyptian occupation. The Libyans were also put back in place in year 5.
As his father Ramesses II had succeeded it before him, he undertook to leave chronicles of his victories, on a wall close to the 6th pylon of Karnak, and on a famous stela, , dated from about 1210/1207 B.C., which was discovered in 1896 by Flinders Petrie, in the temple. It is preserved today in the Cairo museum and it is a (remarkable!) copy which can be seen in situ.
The text is a poetic eulogy dedicated to Pharaoh Merenptah. At the end of the poem, is a description of a campaign carried out by the Pharaoh in year 5 of its reign - toward 1210 B.C. - to the country of Canaan gives the out of biblical context, and the only mention of Israel in the Egyptian texts (thanks to Alain Guilleux and his site "" for the photo).
When Merenptah decided to construct his funerary temple, he placed it very near of the one of Amenophis III, already in ruins, which he is going to use as a quarry, usurping the names of his famous predecessor - like his father had done extensively already before him.
The plan was drawn up initially by Petrie in 1896, and revised after the contemporary excavations.
The original plan is simple, reduced to the number of sufficient rooms for the mortuary cult, no more than that.
To achieve this initial plan, Merenptah was based on the temple of Thutmosis III, rather than on the complicated ones of his father Ramesses II or his grandfather Sethy I. One can advance an explanation: the Pharaoh, already old at the time of his accession to the throne, chose to start with a simple building, only including the essential parts, to be sure to have a "Temple of Millions of Years" in place to function after his death. With the reign continuing, the additions and modifications were added.
A pylon opens on the first so-called court of the Royal Presence. Then, behind a wall and on an upper level, can be found a court of festivals including at its extremity, a portico with Osiriform pillars in front of the facade of the actual temple.
The entrance gives way to the first hypostyle room, that of the union of the king with Amon where the barques of the Theban triad and the sovereign were assembled before their exit in procession. Then comes a second hypostyle room, where the offerings to the divine barques are presented. Finally, at the west extremity, the chapels of Amon, Mut and Khonsu, where were the barques resided. Finally buildings in raw bricks, necessary to the cult, flanked the temple to its north and south extremities. The whole north wall was concealed by stores divided into three sections; one entered there by a door on the right of the pylon, which opened on to a small court, where the incoming food stores were recorded. The north-west part of the stores was the treasury of the temple.
At the south can be found, overlooking the first court, a representation of the royal palace. Thus by the implementation of a royal statue in the "window of appearance", the sovereign was made to participate in the ceremonies, which were held in it. In the south-west is found a set of rooms which must have been used for administration.
The pylon and the lateral walls of the first two courtyards are in raw brick, often stamped with the cartouche of Amenophis III, while the actual temple and the Osirian pillars are in stone, resting on foundations where were found some blocks and even of the sphinxes with human or animal heads, again pillaged from the monuments of Amenophis III.
To be able to arrange three rooms on each side of the first hypostyle room, the side walls towards the second hypostyle room, whose trenches and a part of the foundations had already been carried out, were abandoned. Then even this project was changed and only two rooms were finished.
The facade of the temple with the Osirian pillars saw itself completed with two porches on the north and south sides of the second hypostyle room, whose lateral walls had to be rebuilt in stone, to support the group, as the second pylon also had to be.
Then he continued toward the east, by replacing the lateral wall is the first hypostyle room, the facade of the palace and the first pylon (originally all in raw brick) by the stone. Porticoes with open lotus-like capitals were added on each side, therefore in front of the frontage of the palace on one side, while others were used as support for royal statues on their pedestals.
For all these additions in stone, he used elements in limestone from the temple of Amenophis III, as long as some could be found, as well as of sandstone coming from former buildings of Thutmosis III, Hatshepsut and Akhenaton and the reopening of the quarries of Gebel Silsileh. At the same time, he added to the south-westerly corner of the temple with rooms for the worship of the royal ancestors and to the north-west a court and rooms for the cult of Ra, as well as a room for slaughtering. This part was revised then into a room with 4 pillars, doubled with a small extension toward the rear.
To the south of the second court, the space was opened and a wall in raw bricks was added on to the lateral wall, forming a sort of outgrowth, being doubled by a more exterior wall of which it was separated by a sort of covered walk-way. In the centre of the courtyard was a well, to which one reached by a staircase. This well, serving as a sacred lake, reached the water table, and was therefore according to Egyptian imagination in contact with Nun, the primordial ocean. The priests made their ablutions there.
It is with this second phase of construction, that the temple of Merenptah can be considered as a link between the 19th and the 20th Dynasty. The addition of a complex for the cult of Ra, with rooms for the cult of the ancestors, and the incorporation of the slaughtering room in the temple, will be part of the initial plan of the last great "Temple of Millions of Years", that of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.
It was water, that of the devastating flooding of the Nile, which destroyed almost all of the buildings, which would subsequently serve as a quarry; time, water and salt would finish the work of destruction, and almost none of the original stone blocks of the building have been recovered.
Numerous interesting pieces, nevertheless, were discovered during the excavations. In particular with the exceptional engraved blocks resulting from the temple of Amenophis III, of an unequalled quality and always with their multi-colours; of the sphinxes (of which some have the head of a jackal), of the statuaries of the recumbent Anubis… Their number and their quality permitted there the creation of a small museum.