Facts About the Ancient Egyptian White Chapel

One Karnak temple pylon was filled with stones from the White Chapel.
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The White Chapel is a stone pavilion built nearly 4,000 years ago under the rule of Senusret I, a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's 12th Dynasty. Its exact original location is unknown because it was destroyed by a later pharaoh, but its pieces were rediscovered in the 1920s and now it stands again in the Open Air Museum of Karnak in Thebes.

1 Sed Festival

The chapel was likely built for Senusret I's Sed festival, a jubilee celebrating a pharaoh's completion of 30 years on the throne. The carved decorations on the stone are partly a record of the festival, and the pavilion may have been used as a kiosk for the king to sit inside during the celebration. The interior included a throne on which statues may have replaced the actual king once festivities were over.

2 Bark Shrine

After the reign of Senusret I ended, later kings of his dynasty converted the chapel into what's called a "bark shrine." It was used as a place to store the royal bark, a type of small sailing ship the ancient Egyptians used since the early days of their civilization. There is a small altar in the chapel made of pink granite stone, which was probably installed during these later dynasties as part of the bark shrine.

3 Reconstruction

About 600 years after it was built, the White Chapel was destroyed by the pharaoh Amenhotep III, who used its stones as filler in a pylon that formed part of the Karnak Temple. In 1924, the stones were rediscovered by Henri Chevrier, an employee of the Egyptian Antiquities Service who was tasked with repairing the pylon. Incredibly, Chevrier was able to recover enough stones to almost completely reconstruct the White Chapel with its carvings intact.

4 Carvings

Most ancient Egyptian architecture used paint to add details to simple carvings, but the White Chapel is famous for having intricate details carved directly into its stone. Inside the pavilion, many of the carvings depict the god Amun-Re taking the form of Min, the god of fertility and procreation. Some of the scenes show interactions between the god and Senusret I, who as pharaoh was the earthly representative of the falcon god Horus. Carvings on the base of the chapel record details of every one of ancient Egypt's administrative districts, known as nomes.

Evan Centanni specializes in world cultures and human geography. He grew up in Oregon, but has since lived in two other countries and traveled to many more. Centanni is editor of Political Geography Now at www.polgeonow.com. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and linguistics from the University of Oregon.