False Doors: The Gateways to the Egyptian Underworld
Often a table was placed in front of the door on which offerings of food and drink were left for the deceased. The nourishment offered to the dead, could be real food on a slab or symbolic food carved into stela. The tables were usually made of stone and decorated with depictions of typical offerings (bread, beer, fowl, ox), with depressions to receive the gifts. The offering table took the form of the "hotep" hieroglyph (representing a loaf on a mat) and the formula was generally inscribed around him or her.
In general, false doors were highly decorated and marked with the names and titles of the grave's owner. The doorway could hold vertical line of hieroglyphs and often, lavish inscriptions on them could refer to countless offerings to the deceased. Along with these decorations, there could include a curse to those who would harm the deceased and a blessing to those who made offerings. For example, the false door in the tomb of Redi-ness at Giza (G 5032) has the following text inscribed which read:
Never did (I) do any evil thing against people. (As for) those who will do something against this, it shall be protected from them". (I) have constructed this my (tomb) with my own means. It is the god who will judge (my) case along with him who does anything against it.
People could also be represented on the lower parts of the decoration, facing inward, as if progressing towards the door. A representation of the deceased is frequently found on the doors and a few surviving false ones incorporate a life-size relief figure of the deceased stepping out of the niche. In some cases, there is also a statue of the owner in the central niche. For example, in the tomb of Nefer seshem ptah in the Teti cemetery at Saqqara, there was an engaged, standing statue in each of its outer jams and a bust statue in the central panel instead of the more typical offering table scene. Such raised relief statuary depicted the deceased emerging from the false door.
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False door with life-sized representation of the deceased stepping through it. Tomb of Mereruka ( Wikmedia Commons )
To the Ancient Egyptians, these doors were viewed as real gateways to the underworld and must have undoubtedly played an important role within their cult of the dead. Where present, false doors are some of the most beautiful elements within tomb complexes, and many survive, some in their original positions, while others have been removed and now exist in various museums throughout the world. Egypt is not the only place where such strange doors can be found. Other examples of similar structures are seen in South America. The mysterious “Gate of the Gods” door is located in the Hayu Marca mountain region of Peru and the natives there haves a legend that speaks of "a gateway to the lands of the Gods". In that legend, it was said that a time long ago, great heroes had gone to join their gods, and passed through the gate for a glorious new life of immortality. On rare occasions those men returned for a short time with their gods to "inspect all the lands in the kingdom".
Featured Image: False door at the tomb of Ka-Gmni. In Saqqara, outskirts of Cairo City. Photo by: Carlos Affonso. 2008. ( flickr.com)
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