Medinet Habu, Ramses III‘s spectacular memorial temple, is one of the West Bank’s most underappreciated attractions.
It’s a lovely area to spend a few hours late afternoon, with the Theban mountains in the background and the tranquil town of Kom Lolah in front.
The location was one of the earliest in Thebes to be identified with the local deity Amun.
Although Ramses III’s burial temple is the most renowned structure in the site, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III also erected structures here.
They were subsequently supplemented and amended by a series of monarchs up to and including the Ptolemies. There were temples, storage rooms, workshops, administrative structures, and housing for priests and officials at Medinet Habu’s peak.
For centuries, it was the hub of Thebes’ commercial activity, and it was still inhabited as late as the 9th century AD, when a disease was said to have obliterated the town. On top of the enclosure walls, you can still see the mud-brick remnants of the mediaeval town that gave the location its name (medina means ‘town’ or ‘city’).
The old Temple of Amun, erected by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III, was eventually entirely eclipsed by Ramses III’s massive Funerary Temple, the prominent feature of Medinet Habu. Ramses III was inspired to build his shrine by his legendary forefather, Ramses II’s Ramesseum.
His temple, as well as the smaller one devoted to Amun, are both encased inside the complex’s huge outer walls. The Tomb Chapels of the Divine Adorers, which were erected for Amun’s main priestesses, are also close within, to the left of the entrance.
One of the only two openings beyond the eastern gate was a landing pier for a canal that originally linked Medinat Habu to the Nile. You access the site via the one-of-a-kind Syrian Gate, a massive two-story structure styled like an Asian fortification. A stairway going to the higher stories may be found by following the wall to the left.
There isn’t much to see in the chambers, but there are some wonderful views of the settlement in front of the temple and the countryside to the south. The façade of the temple proper is marked by the well-preserved first pylon. In the relief, Ramses III is shown as the winner of various battles.
The superb reliefs depicting his triumph against the Libyans are the most well-known (who you can recognise by their long robes, sidelocks, and beards). A disturbing image depicts scribes recounting the number of foes slain by counting dismembered hands and genitals.
The remnants of the Pharaoh’s Palace lie to the left of the first court; the three chambers at the back were for the royal harem. The Window of Appearances, located between the first court and the Pharaoh’s Palace, enabled the pharaoh to reveal himself to his people.
Ramses III is seen on the reliefs of the second pylon delivering captives of battle to Amun and his vulture-goddess wife, Mut. The second court is surrounded by colonnades and reliefs showing different religious rituals.
If you have time to explore the enormous ruins around the funerary temple, you will come upon the remnants of an early Christian basilica as well as a little holy lake.