Monday, March 20, 2023

The Wonders of Egypt and Jordan - Day 6: Two Unique Temples Along the Nile River

February 15, 2023

Two Unique Temples Along the Nile River:  
The Temple of Horus at Edfu and the Double Temple of Horus and Sobek at Kom Ombo

Everyone knows about the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the important temples of Karnak and Luxor, but today we explored some of the lesser-known temples along the Nile River.

Rob and I woke up to the call to prayer loudly emanating from the minarets in the town of Edfu where our ship, the Moon Goddess, had docked during the early morning. We ate a quick breakfast, then set out to see the Temple of Horus. We were supposed to go in one of the many horse-drawn carriages that were crowding the streets of the village, but there had been an “incident” recently, so our tour director chose to change this plan.

The dock in the town of Edfu

Many visitors traveled to the Temple of Horus by horse-drawn buggies

The Temple of Horus

The Temple of Horus is the best-preserved temple in Egypt as it was completely buried under twelve meters of desert sand for centuries until it was discovered and excavated in 1860 by the French chief of Egypt Antiquities, Auguste Mariette.

The Temple of Horus

As we approached the temple, we could see high above us the remains of an old brick village. That village was built upon layers of rubble and earth, and it was at “ground-level” until the excavation created a great square in front of the uncovered temple far below the much more recent town.

The walls of a more recent village that used to be ground-level until the excavations began.

On the hill to the right is more of the village that existed here until the late 1800s.

Hieroglyphics on the ancient walls in front of the temple.

The large figures are the Pharoah destroying his enemies, watched by the falcon-headed god Horus and his wife, goddess Hathor.

We paid our respects to the falcon representing Horus.

Horus is often shown with the double crown of a pharaoh.  In the engraving on the wall behind his, the pharaoh presents an offering to the god.

The design of the temple echoed the Karnak complex, with two great rectangular pylons at the entrance, a large courtyard behind that, and the temple rooms and sanctuary at the back. Ptolemy III built this temple circa 275 BC (the Roman Era in Egypt). Ptolemy III was descended from Ptolemy I, a general in Alexander the Great’s army. The first Ptolemy used the same trick as Alexander and claimed to be the son of Amun Ra, establishing himself as ruler of Egypt. (I couldn't help but wonder, "How did these guys get away with this?"  I guess it was a case of "Might makes Right.")

We walked through the tall entrance into the large courtyard in the middle of the temple.  Deda showed us an Egyptian 50-pound note, which has a drawing of this courtyard on it.

The courtyard of the Temple of Edfu

Deda shows us the depiction of this courtyard on the Egyptian 50-pound note.

The inner chambers of the temple are dominated by huge columns with graceful leafy tops. The many images engraved (and once painted) inside the temple rooms tell stories of the Pharaoh’s exploits and offerings to the gods, the purification of the temple with salt and incense, along with hundreds of hieroglyphics and smaller images. Many of the images of the gods had been defaced by early Christians who were trying to wipe out the earlier religion.

The pharaoh purifies the temple grounds with salt.

Horus receives gifts from the pharaoh

Early Christians chipped away at these images in their attempt to destroy the old gods.

There were many images of Horus in the Temple dedicated to him.

As in the other temples we visited, there is an inner sanctum. One of the treasures of the temple, a royal barge, now resides in the Louvre, although there is a replica of it in the sanctuary of the temple, which also held the granite base that once held a golden statue of the falcon-headed god, Horus.

The entrance to the Inner Sanctum

This is a replica of the royal barge. The original now rests in the Louvre Museum.

Because this temple had been so well-preserved by the sands that covered it, the outer wall of the temple was still standing, creating a corridor between the temple building and the wall.  As we walked through that passageway, we saw the Nile Meter that was used to determine annual taxes. High water meant good crops – and higher taxes.

Rob and Deda walk through the passageway between the temple and the outer wall.

Further along the corridor, the engravings on the walls told the story of the famous battle between Horus (the falcon-headed god of good power) and Seth (Horus’s uncle and the god of evil power). We walked along a series of engravings, like the panels of a graphic novel, telling an interesting tale. (One of the joys of this trip was rediscovering Egyptian mythology, and this temple was a wonderful place to do that!)

The characters in this tale were: 

  • Osirus, the great and good god who ruled Egypt and gave laws and civilization to man
  • Seth, the brother of Osiris and the god of deserts, eclipses, and thunderstorms -and who was jealous of Osiris's power
  • Isis, the goddess of healing and magic, and both wife and sister to Osiris
  • Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, was an important deity who represented the power of the sun and sky.

The plot:

In his jealousy, Seth kills Osiris, steals the throne of Egypt, and scatters Osiris's dismembered body throughout the land.  Isis finds all the pieces and uses magic to restore Osiris to life, but he must now become the god of the Underworld.  Isis sends her son Horus on a mission of vengeance, so Horus pursues Seth, a shape-changer who takes the shape of a pig/hippo.  In the engravings, Horus spears him several times but is unable to kill the immortal god. The only solution is to confine Seth, so the penultimate panel shows Horus subduing him. The final panel shows all the gods celebrating the victory of Horus.

This wall tells the story of Horus's pursuit of Seth

Isis entreats Horus to avenge her murdered husband, Osiris.

Horus pursues Seth, who is disguised as a pig/hippo type creature. Horus spears Seth repeatedly but is unable to kill him.

The pursuit goes on for months...

...still in pursuit

Seth is finally confined.

Isis and Horus present his victory over Seth to the pantheon of gods.

In front of the temple was the Mamezi, or divine birthing house. Hatshepsut was the first to use this idea. Being born in the Mamezi gave legitimacy to a pharaoh’s claim to the throne.

The Mamezi - the divine birthing house

Columns of the Mamezi

As with all the ancient sites we visited on the trip, the return to our van included a walk through the marketplace of enthusiastic hawkers of scarves and souvenirs.

The Unique Temple of Kom Ombo

We spent the next few hours back on board, enjoying a barbeque lunch on the sun deck while cruising further down the Nile to our next stop of Kom Ombo.  This stretch of the river was lush with agriculture and palm forests.  The Nile really is the source of all life in Egypt.  

Rob enjoys an Egyptian feast

Irrigated fields

Goats, donkeys, and cows all graze along the river.

We passed a small group of buildings carved into the soft rock.

And one of them seemed to be a small temple, with columns carved around the opening.

The Dual Temple of Kom Ombo: The Temple of Horus and the Temple of Sobek

The name Kom Ombo means “pile of gold.” It was astounding to see how much gold the ancient Egyptians used for the burials of the pharaohs! The town is the site of a unique temple, the only one dedicated to two gods – Horus, the falcon-headed god (his second temple of the day) and Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, who represents the Nile and fertility. (One of my photos below tells the story of Sobek.) The temple, also built during the Greco-Roman period, includes two entrances, two colonnades, and two courtyards. Hadrian or Trajan built the outer walls. (We run into Hadrian frequently on our travels. He did get around!!!) 

The left side is dedicated to Horus and the right side to Sobek.

Joan, Rob, and Deda at Kom Ombo Temple

The rear chambers of the temple.

This man was keeping watch on the visitors to the temple.

Like all the other temples we had visited on this trip, the walls were covered with images and stories of the gods and pharaohs.

I liked this carving of ancient Egyptian antelopes.

Eagles on the underside of the roof of the temple

The left side of the temple focused on Horus.

Thoth, the ibis-headed god, was the god of mathematics and science, and Horus anoint a pharaoh.

Another of the highlights here was the detailed calendar: a list of Festivals of ancient Egypt and a calendar of the year engraved on the walls. The ancient Egyptians knew that the year was 365 ¼ days long. Like us, they divided the year into 12 months. Each month was 30 days, but a week was 10 days long, so there were three weeks each month. That left 5 days left over for festivals – and an extra day every four years – so the first Leap Years were invented here.

The ancient Egyptian year started in June with the appearance of the star Sirius. There were three seasons: Flood season, Sowing season, and Harvest season. The calendar on the walls of the temple includes the offerings the priests must make to the gods on each day.

Several of the Egyptian deities were portrayed with lion heads.  These stand to the right of the list of festivals

One of the earliest calendars

This temple also included a medical clinic, and one wall depicted medical instruments that were remarkably like those used today!


Ancient medical instruments look familiar!

The right side of the temple was dedicated to Sobek, the god of the Nile. Of course, a temple to Sobek must include a sacred crocodile, and sure enough, there was a deep pool where a chosen crocodile lived and was honored until his death when his body was mummified. 

Pharaoh gives offerings to Sobek and his wife, Renenutet, goddess of fertility and the harvest.

The pool of the Sacred Crocodile

Some of the sacred crocodiles were still here!  A small museum near the temple held the bodies of several mummified crocodiles, discovered under a nearby home.  

Mummified crocodiles

Some were still in their wrappings.

Fossilized crocodile eggs

The burial chamber of two of the crocodiles

Travois for the sacred crocodile

Small carving of Sobek

One final thought on all the temples we have visited this trip. Our brief time in each was simply not enough to soak in everything. Every wall and column is covered with images and hieroglyphics - and all of them tell a story. It made me wish I were an Egyptologist!

It was a long day, so we were glad to get back to our boat for a rest and an early dinner. As usual, we returned to our stateroom to discover our clean towels folded into a creature. Today was, appropriately, a crocodile! 

A happy crocodile on our bed.

No comments: