Harwa's tomb
An analysis of the tomb as an integral whole

Harwa decided to excavate his tomb under the hard limestone of the Assasif esplanade, in front of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari, beginning a tradition that lasted for about two centuries. The pre-eminence of his choice was recognised by his successors and his burial place later acted as a true centre for the whole Assasif necropolis. Akhamenru, another Great Steward, probably the immediate successor of Harwa himself, chose to enlarge an unfinished part of corridor encircling the subterranean structure of the tomb of Harwa to have his own burial place (TT 404). Montuemhat (TT 34) and Petamenophis (TT 33) decided to have their huge tombs, the largest ones in all the Theban necropolis, west and east of the tomb of Harwa. Padineith (TT 197) and Pabasa (TT 296), later in the XXVIth Dynasty, planned their tombs as to have the final pillared hall ending against the northern part of the corridor of the tomb of Harwa.

General structure

Harwa was the first to conceive his funerary monument so as to reproduce the plan of the tomb of Osiris. The model was given by the Osireion of Abydos. The later tombs in Assasif, although very close to the same idea, display different solutions making less clear and immediate the connection with the ancient prototype. The corridor encircling the subterranean structure of the tomb of Harwa can be interpreted as a means to isolate the tomb from the surrounding ground and it is aimed to give the idea of the island in the Delta where, following the myth, Isis buried the body of Osiris.

But the tomb of Harwa displays another important feature. Scenes and texts - at least those engraved in the principal axis of the monument - can be read as part of a description of the Egyptian man's journey from his daily life to the Netherworld, passing through the ultimate experience of death. Each part of the monument concurs to document a different step of the path leading to eternal life.

Approach to the tomb

The vestibule of the tomb acts as an introduction. On the wall are still preserved traces of texts referring to the doors of the Netherworld. But the real description of the path leading to the eternal life begins in the open court with the scenes of the daily life on the Southern wall, engraved in a way imitating the older finest raised relieves. The scenes are reminiscent of proportions and physiognomies of the Old Kingdom, the style is closer to the smooth raised relief of the Middle Kingdom.

From the daily activities the tomb passes to describe the life of Harwa. A text thoroughly engraved on the southern wall of the passage leading to the First Pillared Hall enumerates his good deeds having recourse to the most typical phraseology of the Egyptian "ideal biography". It is Harwa himself who is speaking. He tells to a generical visitor of the tomb: "I gave bread to the hungry man, clothes to the naked man".

The Pillared Halls

In the First Pillared Room the description of the path leading Harwa to the Netherworld moves from the individual to the cosmos surrounding him. The anonymous author who planned the decoration chose to describe the universe through the most important element characterising the world of the Egyptians, as to say the sun. Its journey was described through the Book of the Day and of the Night once engraved on the pillars of the hall. The Book of the Night was written on the southern row of pillars and runs from west to east as to imitate the course of the nocturnal sun in the Netherworld. It is assumable that the Book of the Day - engraved on the less preserved northern row of pillars - was disposed as to imitate the daily course of the sun.

The passage from life to Netherworld is marked by the death of Harwa. He is depicted as an old-aged man on the southern wall of the passage to the Second Pillared Hall. Anubis holds his hand in this supreme moment, the act being intended to reassured Harwa in the moment of passing to the Netherworld. Harwa is now dead. Rows of scenes and columns of texts carved on the walls of the Second Pillared Hall show the development of the funerary rituals.

From this point of the tomb on the body and the ka of Harwa follow a separated destiny. The body was buried in the funerary complex whose entrance opens in the floor of the north-western corner of the Second Pillared Hall (Plan). From a shaft starts a corridor running west to a room with a flight of stair in the south-eastern corner. The staircase leads to a room with vaulted ceiling. It was once fully decorated. Nowadays only shadows of the original pictures are still visible. On the walls it is possible to recognise rows of funerary genies and boats with deities. Traces of painting on the ceiling point out that it was formerly decorated with an image of the goddess Nut. A shaft opening in the north-western corner leads down to two other rooms where it is presumable that Harwa was once buried there.

The Osiris Hall

Meanwhile the ka of Harwa continues its path to eternal life in the upper part of the subterranean structure. In the passage leading from the Second Pillared Hall to the room at the end of the tomb main axis there is a scene quite similar to the one describing the moment of the death. Anubis is depicted once again holding the hand of Harwa. But the latter is represented as a young and handsome man. The separation from the body has made Harwa young, rendering him now ready to take his place beside Osiris. An image of the king of the dead is actually carved in high-relief at the centre of the western wall of the last room; the room can be considered as a type of shrine dedicated to him. Osiris is represented frontally and smaller than life-size inside two shrines, enclosed in a tent of reeds. In the wall to the left of the god there is a small room containing the remains of a seated statue of Harwa. The end of the path is the Netherworld, where the ka of Harwa can rest to enjoy eternal life.

The image of Osiris at the end of the room is conceived as a real trompe-l'oeil. The high-relief is visible from the entrance to the subterranean part of the tomb and its smaller than life-size dimensions gives the impression that it is further than it really is. This optical phenomenon may be conceptually explained as an attempt made by Harwa's architect to postpone the ineluctable entrance into the Netherworld.

The Tomb of Harwa: www.harwa.org
Email me at: tiradritti@harwa.org



Site design: Ian Hutchesson, email