Shrine of King Taharqa

Taharqa’s shrine is part of a temple built at Kawa in about 680 BC. It was built on the orders of Taharqa who was King from 690 – 664 BC. The shrine was dedicated to the sun and fertility god Amun-Re. It was intended to give help to Taharqa in ruling over his large kingdom. It was abandoned in the 3rd Century AD and lay buried in sand until excavations in 1930. Taharqa’s shrine is the largest intact Egyptian building in this country.

Shrine of King Taharqa
Shrine of King Taharqa

Who was Taharqa?

Taharqa came from the land of Kush, part of ancient Nubia. (modern day Sudan). He ruled over both Egypt and Nubia. His land was rich in cattle, gold and minerals. It was on the trade route for the rest of Africa and unusual and exotic things such as ivory, ebony, incense, oils, animal skins and ostrich feathers traveled along this road. Much of Taharqa’s land was desert. However, many people lived by the River Nile which flooded every year. The floods brought much needed water to the lands and resulted in fertile mud that was excellent for growing crops.

Detail of the West wall showing King Taharqa offers a loaf, a necklace, a pectoral and a figure of Maat to the ram-headed god Amun-Re.
Detail of the West wall showing King Taharqa offers a loaf, a necklace, a pectoral and a figure of Maat to the ram-headed god Amun-Re.

Why did he build the shrine?

When Taharqa was a young man he passed through Kawa on his way to Thebes. At Kawa he saw an old brick temple covered with sand in a terrible state. He continued his journey, but the temple made a lasting impression on him. When Taharqa was made king he vowed to rebuild the temple. He wanted this to be a special building so he used skilled architects and craftsmen from Memphis 1000 miles away. It took four years to build the temple. Inside the temple, Taharqa built a special building, a shrine dedicated to Amun-Re. He hoped the shrine would provide him with help in ruling over such a large kingdom.

Relief on a shrine erected by King Taharqa in the court of the Temple of Amun built by him at Kawa in Nubia.
Detail of the god Amun-Re on the Shrine of King Taharqa

How did Taharqa’s shrine get to The Ashmolean, Oxford?

In the 3rd Century AD the temple was attacked and burnt. It was abandoned and eventually became covered with sand. The beautiful colored decoration was lost from sight. The shrine lay undiscovered until 1930 when excavations at Kawa were led by Professor Griffith, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University. In recognition for his contribution to archaeology in that region the shrine was given to Oxford University.

The shrine measures 4 meters square and was built of 236 blocks of sandstone which had to be individually packed and transported 2500 thousand miles back to Oxford. It was a difficult job to dismantle the shrine There were terrible midges everywhere that got into the men’s hair, eyes and nostrils. They had to wear visors made of gauze to cover their hair, long sleeved shirts buttoned up and trousers tucked into their socks.

Eventually the blocks were drawn, numbered and a cellulose solution put on them to preserve them to preserve the carved surfaces. They were packed carefully in 200 large wooden crates, wrapped in palm fibers to protect them. The cases were loaded on to a barge and towed 300 kilometers up the Nile to the nearest railway. The train then took the cases to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where they were transported to England by ship. The shrine was rebuilt in the Museum on a concrete foundation 2 meters deep as it was so heavy. The shrine is the only intact Egyptian building in this country.

North wall of the shrine of King Taharqa
North wall of the shrine of King Taharqa

Third Intermediate Period, 25th Dynasty, ca. 690-664 BC. Now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. AN1936.661

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