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The town of Edfu, on the west bank of the Nile 56km south of Esna and 105km north of Aswan, is today an important centre for sugar production and pottery-making. The modern town derives its name from the ancient Egyptian Djeba which was established on a mound on the east bank. The site of Edfu Tell was known as Wetjeset-hor (classical name Apollinopolis Magna), the place where the god Horus was worshipped and where the battle between Horus and his traditional enemy Seth in ancient mythology took place. The main monument at Edfu is the Ptolemaic Temple of Horus of Behdet on the edge of the town. Even though it was well covered by desert sand and human settlement debris, Edfu temple was visited by many early travellers. The sand has helped to preserve the building which was found to be almost completely intact when it was first cleared and excavated by Auguste Mariette in the 1860s.
The Temple of Horus
Of all the temple remains in Egypt, the Temple of Horus at Edfu is the most well-preserved and the only one we know to have been completed. Built from sandstone blocks the huge Ptolemaic temple was constructed over the site of a smaller earlier temple, oriented east to west, towards the river. The later structure faces north to south and leaves the ruined remains of the older temple pylon to be seen on the east side of the first court. Little is known about the first temple of Horus at Edfu, but there is inscriptional evidence that New Kingdom rulers Seti I, Rameses II and III did building work there. From building texts inside the later Ptolemaic temple which survives today, we know that this was begun by Ptolemy III Euergetes I in 237 BC, but was not completed until 57 BC.
Until recently, visitors approached the temple past its massive enclosure wall on the western side, carved with figures of the Ptolemaic kings offering to various deities. There is now a newly constructed coach park, cafeteria and open-air museum which leads directly to the front of the temple. The first structure we come to, at the south-west corner before the great temple pylon, is a rectangular colonnaded building peculiar to Graeco-Roman temples, known as a mammisi or birth-house, built to celebrate the divine birth of Horus. The Roman mammisi at Dendera was modelled on this structure. Reliefs show the god Bes, birth scenes and the infant son of Horus and Hathor, Ihi (Harsomptus), nursed by Hathor in the marshes.
Carvings on the massive twin towers of the 36m high entrance pylon are almost mirror images of each other with the traditional scenes of the king smiting his enemies before Horus. We can also clearly see the mast grooves for the flags which would have fluttered at the entrance. Two statues of the Horus falcon stand before the main gateway. Inside the entrance is a paved courtyard flanked by colonnades on the east and west and on the south which depicts relief carvings of the ‘Feast of the Beautiful Meeting’. This was a long and important festival in which the cult statue of Hathor of Dendera was brought to Edfu on a barge with much elaborate ritual and celebration, to meet her consort Horus for their annual reunion. Other ceremonies of the festival can be seen around the walls of the courtyard.
Ahead is the main temple façade in front of which stands the famous colossal black granite statue of Horus as a falcon, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The façade has screen walls with engaged columns in the usual style of Late Period and Ptolemaic temples.
Inside, the first thing which strikes the visitor is the almost deafening twittering of birds up in the roof. This is the outer hypostyle hall or pronaos, with 18 tall carved columns to support a ceiling decorated with astronomical figures representing the sky. The usual offering scenes decorate the walls but there are also well-preserved reliefs from the temple foundation ceremony. In the south wall there are two small chambers: a robing room (House of the Morning) on the west and the library (House of Books) on the east.
The inner chambers of Edfu temple are similar to Dendera. The second hypostyle hall, the naos or Great Court, is older and smaller than the pronaos. The ceiling is supported by 12 slender columns. This hypostyle has a number of chambers leading off to each side, including two ‘Chambers of Offerings’ and a laboratory with texts describing recipes for incense, ointments and other temple necessities. On the opposite (eastern) side of the second hypostyle is the treasury where gold, silver and precious stones would have been stored along with protective amulets and valuable ritual implements.
Beyond is a small transverse hall leading to the eastern and western staircases giving access the roof, which still provides wonderful views of the temple site. A procession of priests carrying ritual implements and standards is carved on the walls of both staircases. Nearby is an open-air offering court where there is a kiosk-like shrine, ‘The Pure Place’, which is echoed at Dendera Temple and which also has a ceiling depicting the sky-goddess Nut.
Next we come to the holy of holies, the sanctuary which was the most sacred area of the temple. The sanctuary contains the oldest object in the temple, a granite naos shrine which would have contained the cult statue, with cartouches of Nectanebo II of Dynasty XXX. This must have come from an earlier building. In a chapel behind the sanctuary there is a low pedestal, also from an earlier structure, on which stands a reproduction of the barque of Horus. There are a number of chambers surrounding the sanctuary dedicated to various gods and the daily rituals of the temple, some having hidden chambers within their walls. These rooms also contain the crypts, but they are undecorated and inaccessible to visitors.
Around the inner temple is an ambulatory or corridor carved with more foundation and building texts and also scenes from the Edfu Drama, the ‘Triumph of Horus’ that tells the story of Horus’s mythological triumph over Seth which was celebrated each year as a mystery play. On the inner face of the northern enclosure wall is a beautiful set of reliefs depicting another important ritual celebrated at Edfu. This was known as the ‘Installation of the Sacred Falcon’ in which a live falcon representing both the god Horus and the king, was crowned.
Since the first excavations many people have worked to understand Edfu temple. Serious ground-breaking studies have been undertaken in an attempt to clarify the complicated hieroglyphic texts which are now revealing so much about ancient Egyptian religion and mythology. The Ptolemaic carving on the stone walls of Edfu temple, unread for two millennia is now considered by Egyptologists to be a vast and highly important source of knowledge of temple ritual and Egyptian history.
To the west of the temple is the huge mound of the ancient town site, Tell Edfu, which has been excavated periodically since the 1920s. It is currently being excavated by Dr Nadine Moeller’s team. This is a settlement site which includes walls and building remains from the Old Kingdom through to the Late and Ptolemaic Periods. One of the earliest walls found in situ dates to the First Intermediate Period, confirmed by red pottery bowls of the period. During recent excavation seasons several large granaries have been found within the mound as well as a courtyard and a possible columned hall which may have been an important dwelling or administrative building. Seal impressions are thought to date the building to Dynasty XIII.
The oldest cemeteries within Tell Edfu are to the south-west of the Temple of Horus and contain several Old Kingdom mastabas, including the mastaba of Isi, a Dynasty VI provincial governor, as well as more recent burials. Several ostraca have been found in demotic and hieratic script, which give details of the administrative system of the town. The 2009 report of excavations at Tell Edfu by director Nadine Moeller can be downloaded here.
In the hills beyond the town are the tombs of the elite of Edfu but these are largely unexplored and not open to visitors.
A number of robbed oval graves have been found which are thought to be possibly from the Early Dynastic Period.
The remains of one of seven small provincial step pyramids built along the Nile Valley, is situated about 5km north of Edfu near the west bank village of Naga el-Goneima. The structure was built from rough reddish sandstone and rises to a present height of 5.5m. The pyramid has been loosely attributed to King Huni of Dynasty III. The purpose of these pyramids is not known.
How to get there
The temple is often included on Nile cruise itineraries but can also be reached from Aswan or Luxor, by train or road. The railway station is on the east bank and coaches often only stop on this side too. A taxi from Luxor takes around two hours and one and a half hours from Aswan. As of 2009 visitors no longer need to travel as part of the police convoy. Tickets cost EGP 50.
Relief of Horus, Temple of Seti - History
Temple of Horus at Edfu
Edfu (Greek Apollonopolis), which is situated between Esna and Aswan, is a site with a long-standing tradition. Its name is derived from the ancient Edbo it means ‘The Town of the Piercing’ and refers to the triumph of Horus over Set.
|Temple of Horus|
When the festal journey between Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera was instituted as a regular ceremony in the New Kingdom, Edfu gained great prestige and popularity. This ‘Good Reunion’ took place in the second month of the Egyptian year, when Hathor of Dendera came to visit her husband Horus in his temple at Edfu. The statue of Horus was placed on the sacred boat that was placed on a Nile vessel to be borne northwards to meet his mate. Hathor’s sacred statue was likewise travelling from Dendera towards Edfu. Great was the joy of the populace lining the banks of the river when the craft came together in mid-stream husband and wife were united.
|Temple of Horus at Edfu|
The Temple at Edfu, along with those ofPhilae, contains some of the finest art and architecture of the Ptolemaic period. It is dedicated to Horus, Hathor and their son, ‘Horus the younger’ or ‘Uniter of the Two Lands’. It comprises a Great Court (1), the Pronaos (2), Hypostyle Hall (3) and two ante-chambers (4) and (5), leading to the Sanctuary (6). Around the sanctuary is a corridor leading to smaller chambers around the rear part of the temple runs an Outer Corridor that is accessible only from the Outer Court, or from the two Hypostyle Halls.
The entire temple - corridors, halls, ante-chambers, sanctuary, inner chambers, outer walls - are embellished with wonderful reliefs. This is one of the most beautiful, and certainly the best preserved of Egypt’s monuments. In fact there is no ancient monument in the world that can match it.
A large granite statue of Horus the Hawk - one of two found outside the western tower — stands in front of the entrance guarding the temple. On its head is the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The Entrance Pylon is completely covered with inscriptions and reliefs, both inside and out. They mostly show Ptolemy XIII in the Egyptian tradition he clasps enemies by the hair and raises his arm to smite them, in the presence of Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera. (Access to the top of the pylon can be gained by small stairways approached from outside the temple and from the Great Court, but is not normally accessible.)
The Great Court (i), where offerings were once made to Horus on a great altar, is a spacious enclosure surrounded on three sides by a gallery supported by thirty-two columns. The shafts are decorated with reliefs the capitals are ornate flower and palm-fronds.
The wall reliefs relate to the Good Reunion between Horus and Hathor on the lower reaches of the right-hand wall (a) the festal boats of Horus and Hathor may be seen on the Nile they arc towed to Edfu. On arrival, the priests carry the statues, in their barges, towards the temple there they make offerings and conduct prayers.
To the rear of the Court, Ptolemy IX makes offerings he presents four libation jars to Horus, and a sphinx to Hathor in the presence of Horus (b). There is a similar scene at (c) with offerings of electrum to Hathor. Before the screen, to the left of the doorway is a superb granite hawk of Horus, distainfully surveying the court.
|Temple of Horus|
Two tiny chambers have been built up against the walls to left and right of the entrance. The chamber to the left (e), is the Consecration Chamber. The inscription over the doorway informs us that golden vessels used for purification ceremonies were stored here. These were used when the pharaoh came to participate in the great festivals of Horus, and, in fact, there is a niche in the wall where they were kept. The wall reliefs show the actual purification ceremonies that were performed in the presence of the deities. Afterwards, the pharaoh, crowned King of Upper and Lower Egypt, is shown being led into the Temple of Horus.
The chamber to the right (f), was the library. The inscription over the doorway states that in this chamber the papyrus rolls of Horus and of Harmachis, arranged by the chief ritual-priest for the twelve hours of the day, were stored. From the small size of the niches inside the chamber we can see that the library probably only contained those texts relating to the traditional ceremonies of this particular temple. Over the doorway is a winged sun disc. Immediately beneath are representations (damaged) of the four sensesihearing, sight, taste and reason, each depicted as a human figure honouring the scribe’s palette.
Crossing the Pronaos, on the rear doorway we can see representations of Ptolemy IX performing foundation ceremonies before Horus on either side. Above the doorway is a symbolic scene that shows the sun, with the figure of a winged beetle (Kheper), being guided above the horizon by two hawk-headed figures. The gods Thoth, Neith, Wepwawat, Maat and Hathor are shown to the left.
The Hypostyle Hall (3) has twelve columns in three rows. They are slender and also have decorative capitals. Note the openings near the top of the walls, and in the ceiling, which admit light to this otherwise darkened place. The scenes on the walls relate to pegging out the limits of the temple by Ptolemy IV, breaking ground and the final presentation to Horus. It would appear that as each Ptolemaic king succeeded to the throne of Egypt, he would repeat these rituals, thus paying honour to the local populace and to their temple. He would then have the scenes depicted on the temple walls. How joyful the people of Edfu must have been when the Ptolemies honoured Horus and brought them prestige.
The New Year Festival is represented on the walls of the two staircases, which are approached from the first Antechamber (4). On the walls of the eastern stairway (g) the king, accompanied by priests bearing the standards that represented Egypt’s ancient provinces, mounts to the roof. Behind him is a long procession of priests of a lower order, chanting and reciting hymns. Some of them shake sistrums, burn incense or carry offerings.
At the turn of the passage two caskets are being carried the statues of Horus and Hathor rest on them. Behind and in front of them are priests of a higher order, who burn incense to safeguard the treasures from any evil spirit that might lurk in the temple. The king and queen look anxiously around to ensure that all is well.
Towards the top of the staircase, priests with standards are depicted once again. At the top, the king heads the procession. He will watch the sacred statues being placed on the roof, where they will remain until dawn. The descent from the roof is depicted on the walls of the western stairway, after the statues have been revitalised from the rays of the rising sun.
|Temple of Horus|
The chamber to the left (i) is dedicated to Min, the god of fertility, and to Hathor. The scenes relate to the birth of Horus and the mysterious renewing of life.
In the Sanctuary (6), the sacred barge of Horus stood on a low altar at the centre. To the left is a magnificent shrine of dark, highly polished granite in which the sacred statue stood. The reliefs on the lower reaches of the right-hand wall show the king, Nektanebos II, the last Egyptian pharaoh, who was responsible for building the shrine, as he removes the lock from the shrine, opens the door, stands in reverential attitude before the sacred statue, and makes offerings. The pivot holes to the sides of the door indicate that the chamber once had double doors.
The corridor around the santuary leads to ten small chambers. All are decorated and relate to items placed in them for storage, and their ritual purpose.
The Outer Corridor (accessible from (1) and (3)), has reliefs relating to the overcoming of evil - represented by either a crocodile or a hippopotamus - by good, represented by Horus. They may be found to the west of the temple: at (j) Horus is depicted in a boat, and the king on land. Together they spear a hippopotamus which is held on a rope by Isis. At (k) Horus stands on a chained hippopotamus which he spears. At (1) (where the corridor narrows) is a relief showing three figures: the first figure kills a hippopotamus with a knife the second shows the sage Imhotep reading from a sacred text, and the third shows the king fattening a goose for sacrifice. T o the east of the temple (m), a staircase leads to an ancient Nilometer.
The outside of the Temple is also embellished with reliefs.
Those to the rear (n) show Ptolemy XI in the presence of various gods, particularly Horus, Hathor and their son.
MEMORIAL TEMPLE OF SETI I IN ABYDOS
Of the many temples in the Abydos complex, the memorial temple of Seti I is the most important. Construction was started by Seti I himself (1318-1304 BC) and completed by his son Ramesses II.
The marked difference in the style and quality of reliefs undertaken by the two pharaohs is clear to see. Seti’s exceptionally beautiful raised bas reliefs are what UNESCO terms ‘classical purism’. Ramesses switched to sunken reliefs at some point, even converting some of the unfinished bas reliefs to sunken styles. They were quicker to execute and the prolific builder king had a great many monumental projects to complete elsewhere.
An unusual feature of the temple is the presence of seven chapels instead of the typical single sanctuary. The chapel of the great god Amun occupies the central space and is flanked by those of Osiris, Isis and Horus to one side and Ptah, Re-Harakhte and the deified pharaoh himself on the other. How do you tell the difference between Seti the pharaoh and Seti the deity? Look out for the looped Ankh in his hand, a symbol of divinity.
Seti I making offerings to Horus – Raised wall relief, First osiris hall. Sunken relief of Pharoah making offerings to the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Many of the reliefs in the outer vestibules have been defaced by early Coptic Christians who used the temple for shelter. The art on the walls of the second hypostyle hall and some of the chapels are in better condition with exquisite reliefs – both raised and sunken and in vivid colour.
The walls of the Corridor of the Bull are covered with sunken reliefs of hunting scenes. My favourite is that of the pharaoh and his young son snaring a bull.
Along another long corridor beyond the second hypostyle hall is the Gallery of Kings with an entire wall covered with cartouches in relief: the famed ‘Abydos King List‘ of pharaohs from Menes of the first dynasty up until Ramesses I (father of Seti I) of the 19th. An incredible chronological record of nearly 1760 years from 3050BC to 1290BC.
Noted omissions, apart from a few minor kings, are the names of Hatshepsut, stepmother of Thutmose Ⅲ, Akhenaten the ‘heretic’ king whose introduction of monotheism to ancient Egypt backfired disastrously, and his three offspring – including Tutankhamen – who oversaw the end of the 18th dynasty. Tutankhamen’s military commander, Horemheb, usurped the throne from his brother Ay after the former’s mysterious death and eventually picked Ramesses I as his successor, thus ushering in the Ramesside Dynasty.Seti I and a young Ramesses II snaring a bull. Young princes typically wore their hair in a side braid.
An arched passage leads out to a ruined sunken temple believed to be the Osireion connected with the worship of Osiris. That it was a place of pilgrimage from pre dynastic days is certified by the unearthing of offerings of ivory and gold including an ivory statue of Cheops (of the Great pyramid fame). The place is out of bounds for tourists and remains inundated most of the time.
The memorial temple of Ramesses II nearby seems to have fared even worse than his Ramesseum in Luxor. The few surviving reliefs are beautiful and might be worth a quick look if you have time to spare.
Abydos is not on the standard tourist radar and its spiritual ambience is undisturbed by noisy footfalls. The temple of Hathor in Dendera might well be more dramatic but its (relatively cruder) Ptolemaic reliefs are no match to the exquisite ancient Egyptian art of the Temple of Seti I.The first court as you enter from the completely ruined first pylon (gate). The facade appears strikingly contemporary. (Image credit: Merlin UK, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons ) External reliefs…imagine it in full colour. The bare upper parts are cement restorations. (Image credit :Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Entrances to the sanctuaries of Isis and Horus in the second hypostyle hall in the mortuary temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt (Image credit: Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Ptolemy III – Eurergetes I began the construction of the temple in 237 BC and it wasn’t completed until about 57 BC. The ancient Egyptians believed that the temple was built on top of the location where the infamous battle of Horus and Seth took place. Situated north to south, the Temple of Edfu sits atop an earlier temple that was situated east to west. The temple is an excellent example of traditional Egyptian elements with Greek influences mixed in. This great temple lies at the center of the cult of a triad of Gods: Horus of Behdet, Hathor and their son, Hor-Sama-Tawy.
The Temple of Edfu is comprised of a main entrance, a courtyard and a chapel. To the West of the main entrance is the Birth House, also called the Mamisi. Here, the annual Festival of Coronation was held to honor the divine birth of Horus and the pharaoh. Inside the Mamisi are several scenes that depict the story of Horus’ divine birth in the presence of Hathor and other birth-related deities.
© Jorge Láscar - Forecourt of the temple and the Birthhouse inside it
Perhaps the most striking features of the Temple of Horus are the gigantic pylons that stand at the entrance to the temple. At 118 feet high, they are decorated with battle scenes of King Ptolemy VIII defeating his enemies for Horus. As the tallest of the surviving Egyptian temples, the pylons also contain four large grooves that would have been used to anchor flags.
Through the main entrance and between the enormous pylons is an open courtyard. Floral capitals grace the courtyard on three sides. Beyond the courtyard is a Hypostyle hall also known as the Court of Offerings. It is here where two black granite statues of Horus stand. One statue no longer has legs and lies on the ground. The other statue stands ten feet tall and is a popular photo opportunity for tourists.
© Vernon Fowler - Temple of Horus statue
A second, smaller Hypostyle hall lies beyond the first and was known as the Festival Hall. The Festival Hall is the oldest part of the temple and during festivals it would be decorated with flowers and scented incense.
The Festival Hall leads into the Hall of Offerings where Horus’ image would be carried to the roof to be re-energized by the heat and light of the sun. The Hall of Offerings leads to the Sanctuary. As the holiest region of the temple, the sanctuary contains a black granite shrine that was dedicated to Nectanebo II. Reliefs in the sanctuary depict Ptolemy IV – Philopator worshiping Horus and Hathor.
The sanctuary is surrounded by many chapels and chambers. These include:
The site of Abydos lies about 160km to the north of Luxor and is one of the most interesting monumental sites in the Nile Valley. Its ancient name was Abdju, from which the name of Abydos was derived in classical times. The religious significance of the site dates back to the very beginnings of Egyptian history when the earliest rulers chose to be buried in a desert necropolis in the sacred cult centre of Osiris.
The area flourished from the Early Dynastic Period right down to Christian times. Abydos was considered an important place of pilgrimage often mentioned in tomb inscriptions and it seems that it was the wish of all men to be buried there, either actually or symbolically. Today the site is dominated by the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and Rameses II, but if you have time there are many older monuments in the desert to the west of the village to be visited.
The Temple of Seti I
The cult temple of Seti I is the largest of the extant Abydos temples, built of limestone and sandstone blocks to an unusual L-shaped plan, it has seven sanctuaries instead of the usual one (or three). This temple was built in Dynasty XIX by Seti I, but the decoration of the courtyards and first hypostyle hall was completed by his son Rameses II.
The temple is entered through the now ruined first pylon which would have fronted a quay linking the temple with the River Nile to the east. A courtyard with battle scenes of Rameses II on the remaining walls and two ‘wells’ or ablution tanks for the ritual purification of the priests can still be seen. The second pylon, hardly bigger than the first was fronted by a portico with niches once containing Osirid statues of Rameses II. The walls of the portico depict some of the children of the king (sons on the left and daughters on the right). The second courtyard, also decorated by Rameses II, has a doorway in its south-west corner which gave access to a complex of administration buildings and magazines, including an audience hall with a dais for the king’s throne which took up the space in the long arm of the L-shape. Near the entrance to these buildings a stela of Rameses II offering to Ptah is set up. Also in the second courtyard is a statue of a king sitting in a shrine, thought to be from the Middle Kingdom, and brought here from elsewhere in the Abydos area.
The entrance to the outer hypostyle hall is through a central doorway from a portico with square columns decorated with scenes of Rameses II offering to various deities. In the time of Seti I there were seven doorways through the façade, each having a processional way from the court to seven chapels. Rameses filled in these doorways leaving only the central main entrance and a smaller doorway at the north end of the portico. The outer hypostyle was decorated by Rameses after the death of his father and while the reliefs are not as delicate as those of Seti I, they are finer than those in some of his later temples. This hall boasts 24 papyrus columns each showing Rameses in the presence of the god of the shrine at the end of the aisle.
Seven doorways lead into the second hypostyle hall which serves as a vestibule for the seven cult chapels in the west wall. This hall, decorated in the reign of Seti I, has 36 pillars and on its walls there are beautiful reliefs of the king worshipping and performing rituals before various deities. On a raised platform to the west the chapels from left to right are dedicated to the deified Seti I, Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis and Horus. The sacred barques of each god would have been housed in these chapels and the scenes they contain depict fascinating accounts of the rituals associated with the festivals of each deity. The chapel of Seti I differs in its reliefs which show the king’s sovereignty being endorsed by the gods. The ceilings are vaulted and six of the chapels have a false door carved on the western wall. The Osiris chapel however, has instead a doorway which leads to a suite of rooms behind.
The chambers at the back of the temple are dedicated to the cult of Osiris. The first Osiris hall with its 10 columns, has exquisite colourful reliefs depicting the king offering to Osiris and enacting various rituals to the god. The three chambers to the right are sanctuaries dedicated to Horus, Seti I and Isis. Behind these chambers is a secret room which appears to have no entrance but is thought to have been a crypt where the most sacred temple treasures were stored. This interesting ‘blind room’ is now open to the sky and can be seen from the roof of the temple (with permission). On the other side of the main Osiris hall is a second hall containing 4 pillars with niches around its walls and three chapels to the south. The decoration is very poor in this hall but it is thought to have contained reliefs of mysteries of the resurrection of Osiris and perhaps an astronomical ceiling.
Back in the second hypostyle hall there are two doorways in the south wall. The doorway on the right leads to the hall of Ptah-Sokar and Nefertem, gods of the Memphite triad and the northern counterpart to Osiris. There are particularly interesting reliefs of a hawk-headed depiction of Sokar and both a human and lion-headed Nefertem crowned with the lotus blossom. The barque shrines for these gods are at the western end of the hall.
The other doorway in the second hypostyle hall (on the left) leads into a corridor called the ‘Gallery of Lists’ in which Seti I and his young son Rameses offer to a list of cartouches of 76 kings. Seti holds a censor while Rameses reads from a papyrus scroll. The cartouches begin with the king Menes of Dynasty I and end with Seti I and are obviously carefully selected to be those which the king considered his legitimate ancestors. Some of the rulers omitted include Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Smenkhare, Tutankhamun and Ay.
Halfway along this gallery a doorway leads to a passage by which visitors can leave the temple via a staircase to reach the Osirion. Reliefs on the walls of the corridor date to the reign of Rameses II who is shown with his young son Prince Amenhirkhopshef roping a bull, catching wildfowl in a clapnet and dragging the barque of Sokar.
Beyond the kinglist are other chambers, a ‘hall of barques’ and a ‘hall of butchers’ with magazines and store rooms leading off to the rear. There is also an entrance out into the administrative area.
Immediately behind the Seti Temple is a curious structure known as the Osirion which lies on the main axis of Seti’s temple but at a subterranean level. It was discovered as recently as 1903, and is thought to have been constructed by Seti I and decorated later by his grandson Merenptah. The monument was originally roofed, its only entrance was through a long vaulted passage outside the northern wall of the Seti Temple and was decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. At the end of the passage a sharp turn leads to two transverse halls decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’ and mythical and astronomical scenes. Visitors today enter the Osirion by a wooden staircase on the south side of the huge central hall.
The central hall is built of sandstone but has 10 huge red granite pillars each 2.6m in diameter which supported the massive roofing blocks. The appearance is similar to Khafre’s Valley Temple at Giza and for this reason many scholars speculate on its precise age. The central part of the hall is an island which may have been cut off from the rest of the building by its surrounding trenches of water. At the end of the island there was a sarcophagus and canopic chests suggesting that the purpose of the structure was to serve as a pseudo burial chamber. The trenches were drained and cleared of debris in 1993 but the bottoms have never been excavated. The increased height of the water-table means that most of the year the central part of the hall is flooded. There are six small chambers in each of the northern and southern walls.
At the eastern end of the central hall is another large chamber which spans its width and reflects the transverse chamber at the western side. This chamber is still roofed and decorated with astronomical scenes on the east side and a finely carved relief of the sky-goddess Nut supported by Shu god of the air, with the Decans on the western side. This room is invariably flooded even in the dry season and is very dark.
The Osirion has been interpreted as a kind of cenotaph of the god Osiris. The style, though often thought to reflect the Old Kingdom because of the scale of its masonry, is now presumed to be the attempts by New Kingdom builders to archaize the plan and decoration of elements of a royal tomb of the period. If this is the case then the cult temple of Osiris would have the role of a mortuary temple in relation to the ‘royal tomb’, the Osirion. Because the structure was buried under a mound it is possible that the central hall was designed to symbolise the great myth of Osiris buried on an island surrounded by the primeval waters. Its real purpose however, is still obscure.
How to get there
Abydos can be reached from the town of Sohag or Asyut to the north or from Qena or Luxor to the south. The train from Cairo to Aswan stops at el-Balyana, the closest town. A journey by taxi or coach made be made from Luxor and it is no longer required that road travel is with the convoy. This gives visitors the opportunity of spending much more time at Abydos.
Column: Abydos: Triads and Trinities
The Great Temple at Abydos is famous for its richly detailed scenes of Egyptian gods. Those scenes can help explain why many Muslims believe the Christian doctrine of the Trinity has pagan origins.
Abydos, the burial site of pharaohs as early as 3,000 B.C., later became associated with Osiris, a legendary pharaoh considered god of the afterlife. Popular stories told how Osiris had been killed and then miraculously fathered the falcon-faced god Horus with his sister/wife Isis. Pharaohs saw themselves as earthly manifestations of Horus and aspired to live on like Osiris after their deaths.
In about 1280 B.C., Pharaoh Seti I built a temple on the west bank of the Nile at Abydos to honor himself and the triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus. Reliefs show Seti I and the gods, with Osiris depicted with a curved beard reflecting his death, Isis crowned with the sun disk and Horus shown holding a cross-shaped ankh. Seti’s son Ramses II, often considered the pharaoh of the Exodus, expanded the temple, showing himself with the Abydos triad in similar, but less well-executed, scenes. The well-preserved temple walls also contain a unique list of earlier pharaohs, minus the female Hatshepsut and the short-lived Tutankhamen.
When the Greeks conquered Egypt, they took home from Abydos images and stories of Osiris, Isis and Horus. Isis became popular throughout the Greek and later Roman world as the “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God.” The Roman Catholic Church later adopted these titles for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Artists depicted Mary as Isis, with an Egyptian-style sun crown. Early paintings of Mary with Jesus on her lap mimicked temple scenes of Isis nurturing Horus. As a result of these titles and images, Muhammad mistakenly concluded that the Christian Trinity consists of God, Mary and Jesus, which he repudiated as a pagan idea. The Quran also denounces any trinity including Mary.
The carvings in the temple of Seti I, the finest remaining examples of Egyptian bas-relief, are reason enough to visit Abydos. Seeing the bases for reconstructing the order of pharaohs and for confusion over the Holy Trinity is a bonus.
Newly discovered fortress on Way of Horus in Egypt stood sentinel against its enemies
Ancient Egypt was one of the most powerful civilizations of the ancient world, but it was under attack by other peoples at various times throughout its history. Consequently, it had a powerful military and many fortifications. The largest fortress of the New Kingdom has been unearthed recently near the Suez Canal on the Horus Military Route, an ancient series of defensive forts and walls.
The ruins date back more than 3,000 years, to the time of the New Kingdom, 1580 to 1080 B.C. The Horus Military Route extended 217 miles (350 km), from Tharu near present-day Qantara to Egypt’s border city of Rafah. This fort, which had been known but not excavated, was near the ancient fortified city of Tell Habua.
This Google Map shows the present-day route of the ancient Horus Military Route from Qantara to Rafah. The body of water to the north is the Mediterranean Sea.
Archaeologists found a relief of King Thutmose II, who ruled from 1516-1504 B.C., at the fort. It may be the first royal monument found in Sinai, according to Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. They also discovered the first New Kingdom temple in Sinai, dating from the 18 th Dynasty, 1569 to 1315 B.C.
“The discovery is significant as it reflects the details of the ancient Egyptian military history. It is a model example of Ancient Egypt’s military architecture, as well as the Egyptian war strategies through different ages, for the protection of the entirety of Egypt,” archaeologist Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the excavation team, told The Cairo Post Saturday.
This if the fifth excavated fort of 11 fortresses described in the Way of Horus inscriptions on the walls of the Temple of Karnak at Luxor. The others forts have not been found yet. The fortresses and the Horus Military Route protected ancient Egypt’s eastern borders.
Egyptians fortified the route, also called the Way of Horus, with two parallel walls. The 11 fortresses acted as sentinel lookouts and early alert points before any hostile army could reach the fortified city at Tharu and Egypt proper. There may have been a bustling economy with a commercial and customs zone where taxes may have been collected before people reached the delta, Abdel-Maqsoud said.
"The Ways of Horus was a high road secured by a network of fortresses and provided with water reservoirs, as well as supply and custom stations that were established along the route between the Eastern Delta and South Palestine. It was a vital artery through which the military and commercial traffic between Egypt and Asia flowed,” wrote Abdul Ahman al-Rayedi in his book The Inscriptions of the Way of Horus .
The fort at Qantara was 550 by 275 yards (502 by 251 meters) of mud brick that had several towers standing 13 feet. The towers date from the time of Ramses II, who lived from 1304 to 1237 B.C. AncientMilitary.com says New Kingdom Egypt attained its most military power under Pharaohs Seti I and Ramses II.
A bas-relief carving of Seti I and Ramses II at Abydos. A collection of reliefs of these two men was found during the recent digs around Tharu. ( Wikimedia Commons photo by Kurohito )
Earlier, under Ramses III, Egypt was under attack by the ferocious Sea Peoeple, a confederacy of seafaring warriors and raiders, who conquered many cities on the eastern Mediterranean from Gaza, which was not far from Egypt and at times was under Egypt’s sway, to Troy. Some have theorized that the Sea Peoples brought down the Hittite, Mycenaean and Mitanni kingdom, which fell about 1175 B.C.
An ancient Egyptian inscription says, “No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, Alashiya on being cut down.” AncientMilitary.com says Carchemish survived the Sea People's onslaught, despite the Egyptian report.
The Sea Peoples attacked Egypt. Ramses III’s army met them on Egypt’s eastern frontier in the 1178 Battle of Djahy and defeated them. Ramses said his chariots saved the day, but the Sea People’s raids continued for years, including at the Battle of the Delta.
Egypt was also at war with Libyans, Hittites, Numidians and others during the New Kingdom, but not all of these peoples were east of the Route of Horus. Also, Egypt was attacking many of these peoples, rather than defending itself against them.
Featured image: The ruins of the fortress near the ancient fortified city of Tell Habua after recent excavations (Egypt Antiquities Ministry photo)
Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.
Relief of Horus, Temple of Seti - History
This photo is by Heidi Kontkanon, 2016
This photo is by Setken, 2016
Photo by James Whitfield, 2000
|Probably the most exquisite Set sighting of all, this statue portrays a theme seen from the Old Kingdom, as depicted in Unas pyramid onwards.|
This lovely photo is by a colleague who calls himself "Setken"
I created a version with faked out borders to print 6x8
I found a beautiful close up of this Set, taken by 'Tutincommon'.
And for a bit of balance, here's Horus. Photo by Heidi Kontkanon, 2016
This photo is also by Setken.
This photo is by Heidi Kontkanon (cropped by me . )
Tracing of the reverse from 'Match 5' at flickr.com
|Unas has tied the cords of the shem-shem plant, |
Unas has united the heavens,
Unas rules over the lands, the South and the North.
as the gods of long ago.
Unas has built a divine city as it should be,
Unas is the third at his accession.
"In a possible reference to a baptismal ceremony associated with his accession, the king is described as 'the third at his accession.' As a third, he would be between Horus and Seth (or Horus and Thoth), who would be standing on either side of him and would pour baptismal water over him. The position of the king between the dual gods, receiving blessings from both, symbolizes his union of their opposing natures within himself." (pages 305-306)
The baptismal water he refers to shows in a much later relief "Horus and Thoth purifying Ptolemy XIII at the temple of Kom Ombo" . In both Unas and Ramses III, the deities have their hands at the pharoah's crown.
I wondered at this change to Horus and Thoth, rather than Horus and Set, and thought it was due to changing attitudes towards Set. But Wilkinson shows this is not so, for even when Set is not shown, he is still understood to be there:
Giving examples of when 'two' actually represents 'four' , "in a classic study of the royal purification ritual, Sir Alan Gardiner showed that the two gods usually depicted performing the act of lustration - Horus and Thoth (ill. 124) - actually represented the four gods of the cardinal points Horus, Seth, Thoth, and Anti who transferred to the king a portion of their power as the divinities of the four quarters of the world. Private representations of funerary purifications (which were symbolically parallel) actually show four priests performing the rite, but the royal depictions of this ritual almost always depict only two of the deities, perhaps for purposes of symmetry and representional balance. Whatever the reason, once again we see two representing four and thereby carrying the connotation of the extended number, though the use of the two deities Horus and Thoth (paralleling the common use of Horus and Seth) may also have connoted the dualism of Upper and Lower Egypt." (from _Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art_, by Richard H. Wilkinson, page 139)
Again, the pharoah is at his sed festival and the palms are being presented
_Temples of Ancient Egypt_ , by Byron E. Shafer, Dieter Arnold, page 77
(Closer view of Set available
A search of Karl Richard Lepsius' Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, turns up an image 18th dynasty's last pharaoh being blessed by Set and Horus:
Felsengrotte von Abahuda = Rock Grotto from Abahuda
Prenomen: Djeserkheperure Setepenre, Nomen: Horemheb, (about 1319-1292 BC)
Horemheb played an interesting role in Egypt's history. Not only did he do much to clean up the mess Akhenaten had made, he initiated the nineteenth dynasty when he appointed Paramessu to be prince regent and vizier who then assumed the throne as Ramesses I when Horemheb died.
"The role assigned to Paramessu once more reveals Horemheb's preoccupation with the military situation in Egypt's northern terrorities. Paramessu's family came from Avaris, the former capitol of the Hyksos, and the role of its local god Seth, who had retained strong connections with that of Horus of Hutnesu in Horemheb's career. In the light of this it is interesting to observe that Horemheb built a temple for Seth at Avaris. The Ramessid royal family considered the god Seth to be their royal ancestor, and a fragment of an obelisk (originally from Heliopolis), recently discovered on the seabed off the coast of Alexandria, shows Sety I as a sphinx with the head of the Seth-animal offering to Ra-Atum." ( _The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt_ , edited by Ian Shaw, page 294)
Seti I, who reigned not very long after Horemheb, has scenes in which he is being purified thusly by Set and Horus.
Lintel of Temple of Merenptah, Memphis
_THE PALACE OF APRIES(MEMPHIS II)_ , by W. M. FLINDERS PETRIE
Above Horus the inscription reads "He of Behudet (Edfu), the great god presiding over the shrine of the North."
Above Set is "He of Nubt (Ombos) the great god, presiding over the shrine of the South."
"Figure 46. A king protected by the Two Ladies (Wadjyt and Nekhbet) and the Two Lords (Seth and Horus.
Line drawing of a late New Kingdom relief in the temple of Khonsu at Karnak. (Art Resource), _Handbook of Egyptian mythology_ , page 212
From _Luxor and Its Temples_ by Aylward M. Blackman and Benton Fletcher, originally published in 1923
The authors give credit to a 'Wilkinson' for the image.
(But after looking at Wilkinson's woodcuts (via Google book search), I suspect Lepsius is really the source.)
Note this scene features both the palm branchs and the upraised hands. What pharaoh is it? Rameses II?
Abydos: Egyptian Tombs & Cult of Osiris
Located in Upper Egypt about six miles (10 km) from the Nile River, the site of Abydos played a pivotal role in ancient Egyptian religious life.
The earliest kings of Egypt, including those from the first dynasty of Egypt’s history (3000-2890 B.C.), appear to have been buried at Abydos. Their tombs and funerary enclosures may have been a first step on an ancient architectural journey that would see the Great Pyramids constructed centuries later.
In later times, Abydos would become a cult center for Osiris, god of the underworld. A temple dedicated to him flourished at Abydos, and every year a great procession was held that would see an image of Osiris carried from his temple to a tomb the Egyptians believed to be his (it actually belonged to a first dynasty king named Djer), and back, to great fanfare.
"There's a really neat reference on some of the Middle Kingdom (4,000 to 3,600 years ago) material to hearing the sound of jubilation," archaeologist Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner told LiveScience in an interview on new discoveries at the site. Her team excavates in an area the ancient Egyptians called the &ldquoTerrace of the Great God,&rdquo which contains a series of private and royal chapels that were built lining this processional route.
Archaeologist Josef Wegner, in an article written in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2001) estimates that Abydos covers about 5 square miles (8 square km). He notes that while many discoveries have been made, much of the site is still unexplored. &ldquoThe greater part of the site, however, remains concealedbeneath the sand, a fact recognized in the Arabic name of the modern town: Arabah el-Madfunah (&lsquothe buried Arabah’).&rdquo
Early tombs &ndash Umm el Qa’ab
Archaeologists know that the kings of Egypt’s first dynasty (3000-2890 B.C.) and the last two of the second dynasty (ended 2686 B.C.) had tombs at Abydos and were likely buried there.
In addition to a burial chamber for their bodies, the rulers were provided with provisions for the afterlife. &ldquoFirst dynasty tombs were provided with large-scale and multi-chambered storage facilities, sometimes in or around the burial chamber, sometimes separate,&rdquo writes archaeologist David O’Connor in his book Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2009).
O’Connor also notes that the first dynasty tombs were provided with &ldquosubsidiary burials&rdquo (sometimes numbering in the hundreds) of people who may have been sacrificed.
Just to the north of the royal tombs are cemeteries B and U, which hold tombs that predate the first dynasty, a period referred to as the &ldquopre-dynastic&rdquo by Egyptologists. It’s been argued that some of the pre-dynastic tombs at Abydos are those of &ldquoproto-kings&rdquo who controlled all or a large part of Egypt.
How Egypt became unified, and when, is a matter of debate among Egyptologists, and O’Connor notes that it is difficult to determine which of these tombs at Abydos were for kings and which were for elite members of society. One tomb that would appear to be for a ruler is referred to by researchers as &ldquoUj&rdquo and was excavated by Günter Dreyer. Excavators found evidence for a wooden shrine above the burial chamber and a small ivory scepter, which could have been a symbol of royalty. Inscribed objects found at the tomb show early examples of Egyptian writing (there is a debate over exactly how to read them).
Surrounding the burial chamber was a storage complex that, O’Connor notes, would have held &ldquohundreds of pots filled with foods and drinks,&rdquo leaving the person buried there, like the later first dynasty kings, well-provisioned for the afterlife.
&ldquo[T]hree of the chambers in fact had once been filled with wine jars &ndash locally made imitations of pottery typical of Southern Canaan or Palestine, equivalent to some 4,500 liters,&rdquo O’Connor writes, &ldquoindeed a royal send off!&rdquo
Enclosures and grave boats
About one mile (1.5 km) to the north of the royal tombs is an enigmatic series of mud brick enclosures dedicated to kings (and in one case a queen) believed buried at Abydos. Oriented northwest to southeast, each enclosure is surrounded by massive walls and contains a chapel.
What the enclosure monuments were used for is a mystery. O’Connor notes that eight of the enclosures belong to rulers from the first dynasty (three of which belong to king &ldquoAha&rdquo and one to queen Merneith) with an additional pair belonging to the later two kings of the second dynasty. He argues that there are likely more enclosures waiting to be discovered.
O’Connor also notes that, like the tombs, the first dynasty enclosures were also provided with burials of people who may have been sacrificed. They too sometimes number in the hundreds.
The largest enclosure belongs to King Khasekhemwy of the second dynasty (it didn’t have sacrifices). O’Connor notes that the structure is about 438 feet (134 meters) by 255 feet (78 meters) with its walls originally rising 36 feet (11 meters) high with entranceways on all four sides. In modern times Khasekhemwy’s enclosure has been given the name &ldquoShunet el-Zebib,&rdquo which means &ldquoraisin magazine&rdquo or &ldquostorehouse of raisins&rdquo (although that was not its original purpose).
When O’Connor’s team examined Khasekhemwy’s chapel, located within the enclosure, they found that the southwest portion contained a &ldquolabyrinthine complex of chambers&rdquo and there was a small room where &ldquotraces of incense burning and libations&rdquo were found.
Northeast of Khasekhemwy’s enclosure, at a junction between King Djer’s enclosure and the &ldquowestern mastaba,&rdquo are a series of 12 &ldquoboat graves&rdquo each of which contain a full-size wooden boat that would have served a ritual purpose. O’Connor notes that some of them have an &ldquoirregularly shaped rock&rdquo that may have functioned as an anchor. The boats would have been deposited at the same time but it’s not known which king built them.
Boats played an important role in Egyptian religion and full-size examples have also been found at the Great Pyramids among other mortuary sites. &ldquoVerbal and visual imagery in Egyptian mortuary contexts often involves boats and ships, which in toto comprise a vast flotilla in which deities, long-dead kings and deceased Egyptians sail through eternity,&rdquo O’Connor writes.
Temple of Osiris
Starting in the Middle Kingdom (4,000 to 3,600 years ago), Abydos became a cult center for Osiris, the god of the underworld. A series of temples were built for him near the &ldquoTerrace of the Great God.&rdquo
Archaeologists have had a difficult time identifying the exact location of the temple site. Between 2002 and 2004, researchers from the Yale-Pennsylvania Institute of Fine Arts expedition discovered two architectural layers from buildings that date from the reigns of kings Nectanebo I and II (about 2,400 years ago) and from the 18th dynasty (around 3,500 years ago). The ceiling of the Nectanebo temple appears to have been decorated with stars carved in relief.
&ldquoAlthough not fully excavated, work at the site indicates that perhaps earlier temples might lie below the two phases already discovered,&rdquo writes researcher Michelle Marlar in her 2009 doctoral thesis.
The last royal pyramid
About 3,500 years ago the last royal pyramid built by the Egyptians was constructed at Abydos by Ahmose, the founder of Egypt’s 18th dynasty. A warrior king, he was known for driving the Hyksos, a group originally from Canaan, out of Egypt.
His pyramid, perhaps never completed, is now a 32-foot-tall (10 meters) ruin. Even today, at its reduced height, you still get an excellent view while standing on top of it.
&ldquoThe vista from the top of Ahmose’s pyramid is a commanding one, as it surveys the nearby cultivated fields at the edge of the Nile floodplain, as well as the limestone cliffs a kilometer away that mark the start of the plateau of the Sahara desert,&rdquo writes archaeologist Stephen Harvey, who leads a project exploring the pyramid and nearby structures, in a 2003 University of Chicago Oriental Institute report.
Researcher Mark Lehner estimates that the pyramid originally measured 172 feet (53 meters) square in antiquity, relatively small compared to the Great Pyramids. &ldquoTwo intact courses of casing stone survived at the eastern base when explored by Arthur Mace at the turn of the century, from which he estimated its angle as 60 (degrees)&rdquo writes Lehner in his book The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 1997).
A pyramid temple nearby has yielded the fragments of decoration including scenes showing the king defeating the Hyksos. To the south an inscribed stela indicates that a pyramid with enclosure was built for Queen Tetisheri, the king’s grandmother. A magnetometry survey carried out by Harvey’s team backs this ancient account up revealing that there is a 300-by-230-foot (90 by 70 meters) &ldquoenclosure wall of brick&rdquo lying under the desert, waiting to be explored.
Temple of Seti I
Abydos has many monuments and the Temple of Seti I (known to the Egyptians as a &ldquohouse of millions of years&rdquo) is one of the best preserved. Built about 3,200 years ago, Seti I (also spelled Sety) was a king who fought campaigns in the Levant, flexing Egypt’s military muscle.
Archaeologist Dieter Arnold writes in the Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture (I.B. Tauris, 2003) that the main temple building, constructed of limestone, measures 183 by 515 feet (56 by 157 meters) and is located within a brick enclosure.
&ldquoThe temple rises in terraces along the slope of the desert. On the bottom terrace is a man-made lake with a quay, behind which stands the first pylon with royal statue pillars at its rear,&rdquo writes Arnold.
After passing through two hypostyle halls the visitor comes across seven barque (boat) shrines. One is dedicated to the king Seti I and the others to the gods Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis and Horus. O’Connor estimates that each chapel is 135 square feet (12.6 square meters), with a vaulted ceiling 19 feet (5.8 meters) above the ground.
&ldquoIn each chapel was originally housed a boat-shaped palanquin used, as elsewhere, to carry an image of the relevant deity during the processional rituals,&rdquo O’Connor writes.
One of the most enigmatic structures at Abydos, known to us as the Osireion, is located behind the temple. The main room, as it survives today, has a rocky megalithic look and Arnold notes that a 420-foot (128 meters) passageway leads up to it. It may have served as a tomb for &ldquoOsiris-Seti,&rdquo a depiction of Seti as Osiris.
&ldquoThe structure of the main hall is fantastical and consists of an island surrounded by a deep moat upon which rested the (now lost) sarcophagus of Osiris-Sety,&rdquo writes Arnold. The ceiling of the room was 23 feet (7 meters) across and was &ldquosupported on two rows of five granite pillars, weighing 55 tonnes each.&rdquo
It was a truly massive structure located in an ancient site that incorporates thousands of years of ancient Egyptian history and religious tradition.