Famous Ancient Egyptian Temples

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Thebes by David Roberts

Present-day Luxor (500 kilometers south of Cairo) was the site of ancient Thebes and is home to the greatest concentration of ancient monuments in Egypt: the magnificent temples of Karnak, Luxor and Hatshepsut , the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the tomb of Tutankhamen, and the Colossi of Memnon, the giant broken statues of Ramses the Great that inspired Shelley's poem “Ozymandias”. From 2,100 to 750 B.C., Thebes was the religious capital of Pharonic Egypt and the center of Egyptian power. It embraced the area occupied by Karnak and Luxor. The priests who worked out of the temples became so powerful they were regarded as a threat to the pharaoh.

Thebes emerged as the main power center of Egypt at the dawn of the Middle Kingdom (2125 to 1520 B.C.) and became the capital of Egypt after the Hyksos were kicked out of Egypt. During the New Kingdom (1539 to 1075 B.C.) it was the center of Egypt. The pharaohs resided here and perhaps 1 million people lived in the area. The largest and most spectacular building were built during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II in the 14th and 13th century B.C. By Greco-Roman times it was already major tourist attraction. Pilgrims continued going to Karnak Temple to around A.D. 100.

Thebes (Waset, in ancient Egyptian) was the City of a Hundred Gates. It was the capital of Egypt beginning in the twelfth dynasty (1991 B.C.) and reached its zenith during the New Kingdom. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “It was from here that Thutmose III planned his campaigns, Akhenaten first contemplated the nature of god, and Rameses II set out his ambitious building program. Only Memphis could compare in size and splendor but today there is nothing left of Memphis: It was pillaged for its masonry to build new cities and little remains. Although the mud-brick houses and palaces of Thebes have disappeared, its stone temples have survived.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: “The ancient city of Thebes (or Waset as it was known in Egyptian) played an important role in Egyptian history, alternately serving as a major political and religious center. The city’s tombs, including those in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, are located on the west bank of the Nile, in the area’s limestone cliffs. The mortuary temples of many of the New Kingdom kings edge the flood plain of the Nile. The houses and workshops of the ancient Thebans were primarily located on the river’s east bank. Little remains of the ancient settlement, as it is covered by the modern city of Luxor. A series of important temples, composing the religious heart of Thebes, constitutes most of what remains today. To the south, close to the banks of the Nile, lies the Temple of Luxor. To the north, joined to Luxor by a sphinx- lined avenue, stand the temples of Karnak. Karnak can be divided into four sections: south Karnak, with its temple of the goddess Mut; east Karnak, the location of a temple to the Aten; north Karnak, the site of the temple of the god Montu; and main/central Karnak, with its temple to the god Amun-Ra.” [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Mortuary of Amenhotep III

plan of the Mortuary of Amenhotep III

Mortuary of Amenhotep III (excavation at the Colossi of Memnon) was once the largest and most impressive temple complex in the world. Known as “The House of Millions of Years,” it embraced gates, colonnades, courts filed with reliefs and inscriptions, and halls with columns more than 15 meters high. In its day it was filled with colorful royal banners hanging from cedar poles on red granite pedestals. Amenhotep III called the complex “a fortress of eternity” and said it was built “out of god white sandstone — worked with gold throughout. Its floors were purified with silver, all of its doorways were of electrum” — an alloy of gold and silver. Over the centuries, though, earthquakes, floods and looting, much of it by 19th century Europeans, have reduced the temple to buried ruins.

Larger than Vatican City and more vast than the massive Karnak and Luxor temples, the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III was the length of seven football fields and stretched from the colossi to sacred altars pointing towards the Valley of the Kings. During Amenhotep III’s rule the Nile flowed just a few hundred meters away from the temple. The Colossi of Memnon once stood in front of it. The massive front gate, or pylon, was once brightly painted in blues, red,, greens, yellows and whites.

The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III has been excavated since 1999 by a team led by Baghdad-born, Armenian archeologist Hourig Sourouzian. The is some sense of urgency to the project as archeologists are worried about salty runoff and irrigation water groundwater and seepage from the Nile damaging the sculptures that are underground. The restoration plan calls for much of the temples to be reconstructed but that will take many years — even decades — to complete. Just piecing statues and columns back together take a lot of time. Sections are being completed and opened bit by bit.

Hatshepsut's Temple

Hatshepsut's Temple (near Valley of the Kings) was built in 1480 B.C. by Queen Hatshepsut, arguably the most powerful female ruler of ancient Egypt. Dedicated to Amun and several other deities and reached by a long ramp, it is comprised of three terraces of colonnades, connected by massive ramps, and a small chamber tunneled deep into the rock. The last set of colonnades is set into the face of a towering red sandstone cliff on the eastern face of a Thebean mountain.

The Temple of Hatshepsut begins with the large first courtyard in front to the temple. A ramp sided by pillars leads to a second courtyard. At the back of this is a colonnade with walls and small enclosures with engravings and reliefs of episodes from the queen’s life and images of gods.

Queen Hatshepsut planted botanical gardens and had incense burned on the terraces. During her funeral she was carried up the ramps to funerary chamber inside the temple. The temple was desecrated and vandalized by her successor. In the 7th century the Copts used the temple as a monastery.

The rear wall of the second courtyard consists of the Birth Colonnade on one side of the ramp and the Punt Colonnade on the other. The Birth Colonnade is a small sheltered area of the terrace that describes the preparation for and birth of Queen Hatshepsut. Particularly interesting is the scene of birds being captured in nets. Many of the victims of the 1997 attack were attacked in this area.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple (across the street from the Nile, next to the town of Luxor) was dedicated to the Amum, the god of fertility and growth, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. Dating back to around 1392 B.C. and probably built on the site of an earlier temple, Luxor temple was started and extensively built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 B.C.) but completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 B.C.) and Horemheb (1323-1295 B.C.) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 B.C.). Toward the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 B.C.). Amenhotep III by employed 2,623 slaves. Other pharaohs, Alexander the Great and the Romans also contributed to the effort. The Arabs even built a mosque inside one of the courtyards.

Luxor Temple is close to the Nile and laid out parallel to the riverbank. It is 260 meters long consists of four major structures connected to one another in a long row. They are (beginning at the entrance): 1) the courtyard of Ramses II; 2) the colonnade of Amenhotep III; 3) the courtyard of Amenhotep III; and 4) hypostyle hall and sacarium of Amenhotep III.

In ancient times the entire complex was surrounded by a massive wall. Unlike Greek temples which were meant to be viewed by everyone, Egyptian temples were not supposed to be seen by ordinary people. Every year a sacred procession commemorating the marriage between Amum and Mut moved across the Nile by boat from Karnak to Luxor Temple.

Luxor Temple was restored in the mid 1990s. The $2.2 million job included dismantling 22 columns and installing a system to halt the rise of underground water. Luxor Temple doesn't have a Light and Sound Show but it is open until 10:00pm. It is worth making a visit at night when temperatures are cool and the statues, reliefs and walls are illuminated with floodlights.

Entrance to Luxor Temple

Before the entrance is a long stone “dromos” “a walkway and precession route sided by sphinxes with the face of Ramses II. At one time a dromos and processional avenue connected Luxor with Karnak. There some 1,400 sphinxes spread along the two-mile route..

Luxor Temple

The façade of the entrance gate consists of a pylon (massive gate), two 15-meter-high granite seated statues of Ramses II, and once had two 25-meter obelisks (only one of which remains, the other was taken to Paris in 1833 and now sits in the Place de Concorde).

Ramses II erected a massive 65-meter-high pylon at the entrance of the temple. The front is decorated with scenes from Ramses II’s military campaigns against the Hittites. At one time four statutes sat in front of the pylon. One representing Queen Nefertari was never finished. A ruined one to the right is of her’s and Ramses’ daughter Merit-Amon. Before the additions by Ramses II the northern end of the court was originally the entrance to the temple. It was an enclosed colonnade of seven pairs of 52-foot (16m) high open-flower papyrus columns. It was begun by Amenhotep III and completed by Tutankhamun and still supports its huge architrave blocks.

Courtyards at Luxor Temple

The Courtyard of Ramses II (beyond the entrance of Luxor Temple) is surrounded by a double row of thick stubby columns with bud papyrus capitals. On the intercolumns on the south side of the courtyard are Orisis-like statutes of Ramses II. The columns were arranged in two closely-packed concentric squares to hold up the (now missing) heavy roof and to keep the entire temple from collapsing under its own weight.

The courtyard was built as a parallelogram instead of a rectangle so it would be oriented toward the Nile. At the northwest of the courtyard you can see the sacred boats built by Thutmosis II and dedicated to the triad of Amon, Mut and Khonsu. In the southwest corner a relief shows a procession of bulls being led to a sacrifice by bulls. The Colonnade of Amenhotep III (after the courtyard of Ramses II of Luxor Temple) is a 52-meter-long hall with 14 massive pillars, arranged in two parallel rows of seven.

The Courtyard of Amenhotep III (after the courtyard of Colonnade of Amenhotep III) is a second courtyard surrounded on three sides by double rows of columns with closed papyrus capitals. The Sacrarium of Amenhotep III (after the Courtyard of Amenhotep III of Luxor Temple) consists of a hypostyle hall with 32 pillars, a sanctuary for the sacred boat and a kiosk built by Alexander the Great. At the rear of the hall are four small rooms and an antechamber leading to the birth room, the chapel of Alexander the Great, and the sanctuary. In the middle of the "maximum security labyrinth" of symmetrically arranged chapels and chambers, is four columned room with a holy shrine, which only the pharaohs and the highest priests were allowed to enter. The climatic rituals of the 15-day Opet festival occurred here. In the rear chambers are a number of engravings of a fertility god with a large erect penis.

Luxor temple

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel (170 miles south of Aswan) is a monumental temple in southern Egypt with four colossal seated statues — two of Ramses the Great (Ramses II) and two of his wife Neferteri — and two main temples — one dedicated to the sun god Ra-Harakhte, built into the cliff behind the colossal statues, and another dedicated to Hathor built into a cliff on an adjacent hill.

The rock-hewn "grotto" temples at Abu Simbel are somewhat unique. The style is more associated more with the Nubians and other Middle Eastern cultures than with the ancient Egyptians. Unlike many other Pharonic temples, Abu Simbel was never taken over by the Romans or turned into a church by Christians.

Abu Simbel was rediscovered in 1813 by John Lewis Burckhardt. In 1817, after weeks of digging, the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni cleared away enough sand to penetrate the temple. Two years later when the Nefertari’s shrine was uncovered tourists starting venturing down the Nile to visit the site and have been coming every since. The statues are best seen at sunrise.

The Colossal Statues at Abu Simbel are each 67 feet high and weigh 1,200 tons. Each eye is nearly three feet across. The statues were commissioned by Ramses and finished about 1260 B.C., coinciding more or less with Ramses 30 year jubilee when the pharaoh was 45. The statues were chiseled out of the mountainside, and, like the Sphinx and most other Egyptian temples, they were originally painted with bright colors. Scientist have been a able to ascertain from minute paint fragments left behind that the pharaohs headdresses were blue and gold, their skin was pink and the background was painted white.

Abu Simbel Temple

Abu Simbel Temple (behind the statues) is dedicated to the sun god Ra-Harakhte, and the gods Amun, Ptaj and a deified Ramses II. It is inside the cliff behind the statues and is 160 feet deep. Archaeologists have long wondered why Ramses built this temple so far to south of major Egyptian cities. Most believe it was a statement to the Nubians of the power of the pharaoh.

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Abu Simbel

The original temple was built on a site where twice a year — on February 22nd (Ramses II’s birthday) and October 22nd (the anniversary of Ramses II’s coronation) — the morning sun penetrated into the temple's deepest chamber. The timing is probably connected to the symbolic unification, via the rays of the sun, of the statue of Ra-Rorakhty and the statue of Ramses II.

High on the facade there is a of carved baboons, smiling at the sunrise. On the door of the temple there is a beautiful inscription of the kings name. Above the door is the falcon-headed deity, Re-Harakhti. Between the legs of the colossal statues on the facade are statues of Ramses family, his mother "Mut-tuy," his wife "Nefertari" and his sons and daughters.

The temple itself was made up of chambers, storerooms, square painted pillars and two halls with yet more statues of Ramses and a few of the gods. Specialist who worked at the City of the Dead completed most of the subterranean temple with bronze tools.

There are also a number of dedications. Important among these is one of Ramses II's marriage to the daughter of a Hittite king. Beyond the entrance is the Great Hall of Pillars, with eight 32-foot-high pillars of Ramses defied as the God Osiris. The walls have inscriptions recording the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites. The smaller Hall of Nobles contains four square pillars. The sacred central sanctuary contains a shrine pierced by the sun on Ramses’s birthday, February 21, and his coronation day, October 22.

Temple of Nefertari and Hathor at Abu Simbel (on a hill adjacent to the hill with the colossal statues and the main temple) is a smaller temple fronted by more Ramses stature with two statues of Nefertari, sandwiched in between. Dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of Love and Beauty, and Nefertari, the temple is chiseled into the cliff behind the statues and is thought to have been completed before the Ramses temple. The two temples have similar designs.

The four facade statues of Ramses and two of Nefertari are 33 feet tall. The statues of the queen are smiling. The upper portion of the second statue on the Ramses temple is believed to have fallen off during the Pharaoh's time from stresses in the rock. Queen Nefertari is portrayed with cows horns of the goddess Hathor. The entrance of the Temple of Hathor leads to a hall containing six pillars bearing the head of the goddess Hathor. The eastern wall bears inscriptions depicting Ramses striking some enemies before the gods Ra and Amum. Other wall scenes show Ramses and Nefertari offering sacrifices to the gods and performing religious rituals. There are also superb reliefs of the Battle of Kadesh. Beyond this is another wall with similar scenes and paintings. In the sacred central shrine there is a statue of Hathor.

Hathor Temple at Dendera

Hypostyle hall at the Hathor Temple in Dendera

Dendera (near Qena, 40 kilometers north of Luxor) is the home of the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the cow-headed goddess of healing. One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, it was built in the first century B.C. by the Ptolemaic Greeks and is famous for a ceiling painting, with astronomical symbols. Its great Hypostyle Hall even has a roof.

The temple incorporates both Greek and Egyptian architectural styles. The 24 massive papyrus pillars in the main hall are capped with images of Hathor and decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian symbols. The stone ceiling features an Egyptian version of the star-lit sky, with the goddess Nut, who, Egyptians believed, spanned the sky with her body and swallowed the sun each night and gave birth to it each morning. One of one of the walls is a famous picture of Cleopatra and Caesarian, her son from Julius Caesar.

Dedicated to Hathor in 380 B.C., the Temple of Dendera was known as the “Castle of the Sistrum” or “Pr Hathor”— House of Hathor. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “With the exception of its supporting pillars, which had capitals sculpted in the image of Hathor and were defaced by the Christians, the walls, rooms, and roof are complete and extraordinarily well preserved. The stone steps of the spiral staircase are time worn but may still be used to ascend to the roof, where there is a small chapel decorated with Hathor-headed columns. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

In ancient times, Dendera was associated with healing. Patients who traveled there for cures were housed in special buildings where they could rest, sleep, and commune with the gods in their dreams. There have been temples on this site ever since the Old Kingdom, but the present temple was begun in the reign of Ptolemy VIII. The building we see today was constructed and added to from about 116 B.C. to 34 AD. The temple bears the name of Cleopatra and her son. It is not known if she visited the temple but she may have climbed the same stairs that visitors use today. Hundreds of birds roost in small cracks and hollows in the walls near likenesses of themselves in the hieroglyphic reliefs.

Temple Sobek & Horus at Kom Ombo

Kom-Ombo (50 kilometers north of Aswan) is the home the unique Temple of Sobek and Horus, a Ptolemaic Greek temple dedicated to a local crocodile god (Sobek) and a local sky god (Horus). Located in a spectacular setting, a dune overlooking the Nile and surrounded by sugar cane fields, the temple was built in a mirror-like fashion—one side dedicated to Horus, the other to Sobek—so neither god would be offended. The are two courts, two colonnades, and two sanctuaries.

The Temple of Sobek and Horus is famous for its halls and entrances. Sculpted wall reliefs include one showing ancient surgical instruments, bone saws and dental tools. Worth checking out are the hieroglyphic-inscribed pillars. A number of crocodiles mummies have been found in the area of the Chapel of Harthor. There was an earlier structure from the 18th dynasty but little remains. There are some Old Kingdom tombs near Kom-Ombo village.

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “The temple is unique because it is in fact a double temple, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile god, and Horus the falcon-headed god. The layout combines two temples in one with each side having its own gateways and chapels. Sobek is associated with the wicked god Seth, the enemy of Horus. In the Horus myth the allies of Seth made their escape by changing themselves into crocodiles.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Sobek’s chief sanctuary was at Kom Ombo, where there were once huge numbers of crocodiles. Until recent times the Egyptian Nile was full of crocodiles. The sunned themselves on riverbanks and sandbars and probably often ate animals and humans that came to drink or collect water. Sobek worshipers believed that as a totem animal, the crocodiles would not attack them. Captive crocodiles were kept within the temple and many mummified crocodiles have been found in cemeteries, some of which can be seen in the temple sanctuary today.

Herodotus on City of the Crocodiles

Sobek, the crocodilan god of the Nile, at Kom Ombo

On the people living around Elephantine, Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “After the reign of the priest of Hephaestus the Egyptians were made free. But they could never live without a king, so they divided Egypt into twelve districts and set up twelve kings. These kings intermarried, and agreed to be close friends, no one deposing another or seeking to possess more than another. The reason for this agreement, which they scrupulously kept, was this: no sooner were they established in their districts than an oracle was given them that whichever of them poured a libation from a bronze vessel in the temple of Hephaestus (where, as in all the temples, they used to assemble) would be king of all Egypt. 148. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“Moreover, they decided to preserve the memory of their names by a common memorial, and so they made a labyrinth a little way beyond lake Moeris and near the place called the City of Crocodiles. I have seen it myself, and indeed words cannot describe it;63 if one were to collect the walls and evidence of other efforts of the Greeks, the sum would not amount to the labor and cost of this labyrinth. And yet the temple at Ephesus and the one on Samos are noteworthy. Though the pyramids beggar description and each one of them is a match for many great monuments built by Greeks, this maze surpasses even the pyramids. It has twelve roofed courts with doors facing each other: six face north and six south, in two continuous lines, all within one outer wall. There are also double sets of chambers, three thousand altogether, fifteen hundred above and the same number under ground. We ourselves viewed those that are above ground, and speak of what we have seen, but we learned through conversation about the underground chambers; the Egyptian caretakers would by no means show them, as they were, they said, the burial vaults of the kings who first built this labyrinth, and of the sacred crocodiles. Thus we can only speak from hearsay of the lower chambers; the upper we saw for ourselves, and they are creations greater than human. The exits of the chambers and the mazy passages hither and thither through the courts were an unending marvel to us as we passed from court to apartment and from apartment to colonnade, from colonnades again to more chambers and then into yet more courts. Over all this is a roof, made of stone like the walls, and the walls are covered with cut figures, and every court is set around with pillars of white stone very precisely fitted together. Near the corner where the labyrinth ends stands a pyramid two hundred and forty feet high, on which great figures are cut. A passage to this has been made underground. 149.

“Such is this labyrinth; and still more marvellous is lake Moeris, on which it stands. This lake has a circumference of four hundred and fifty miles, or sixty schoeni: as much as the whole seaboard of Egypt. Its length is from north to south; the deepest part has a depth of fifty fathoms. That it has been dug out and made by men's hands the lake shows for itself; for almost in the middle of it stand two pyramids, so built that fifty fathoms of each are below and fifty above the water; atop each is a colossal stone figure seated on a throne. Thus these pyramids are a hundred fathoms high; and a hundred fathoms equal a furlong of six hundred feet, the fathom measuring six feet or four cubits, the foot four spans and the cubit six spans. The water of the lake is not natural (for the country here is exceedingly arid) but brought by a channel from the Nile; six months it flows into the lake, and six back into the river. For the six months that it flows out of the lake, the daily take of fish brings a silver talent into the royal treasury, and twenty minae for each day of the flow into the lake. 150.

“Furthermore, the natives said that this lake drains underground into the Libyan Syrtis, and extends under the mountains that are above Memphis, having the inland country on its west. When I could not see anywhere the earth taken from the digging of this lake, since this was curious to me, I asked those who live nearest the lake where the stuff was that had been dug out. They told me where it had been carried, and I readily believed them, for I had heard of a similar thing happening in the Assyrian city of Ninus. Sardanapallus king of Ninus had great wealth, which he kept in an underground treasury. Some thieves plotted to carry it off; they surveyed their course and dug an underground way from their own house to the palace, carrying the earth taken out of the passage dug by night to the Tigris, which runs past Ninus, until at last they accomplished their end. This, I was told, had happened when the Egyptian lake was dug, except that the work went on not by night but by day. The Egyptians bore the earth dug out by them to the Nile, to be caught and scattered (as was to be expected) by the river. Thus is this lake said to have been dug. 151.

“Now the twelve kings were just, and in time came to sacrifice in Hephaestus' temple. On the last day of the feast, as they were about to pour libations, the high priest brought out the golden vessels which they commonly used for this; but he counted wrongly and had only eleven for the twelve. So the last in line, Psammetichus, as he had no vessel, took off his bronze helmet and held it out and poured the libation with it. All the kings were accustomed to wear helmets, and were then helmeted; it was not in guile, then, that Psammetichus held out his headgear; but the rest perceived what Psammetichus had done, and remembered the oracle that promised the sovereignty of all Egypt to whoever poured a libation from a vessel of bronze; therefore, though they considered Psammetichus not deserving of death (for they examined him and found that he had acted without intent), they decided to strip him of most of his power and to chase him away into the marshes, and that he was not to concern himself with the rest of Egypt. 152.

Late Period Temples

Christiane Zivie-Coche of the Sorbonne in Paris wrote: Late Period (664 to 332 B.C.) temples “have their own specific characteristics, such as large, protective, mudbrick temenos walls, hardstone shrines with complex decorations or long mythological texts, colonnaded entrances, innovations such as the wabet and “mammisi,” and burials of royal family members, including the divine adoratrices, within the temple complexes. Representative examples are the Late Period temples at Tanis, Sais, Mendes, and Hibis.[Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris Sorbonne, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, escholarship.org ]

“Several innovations, which appear to be elements of the transition from the New Kingdom temple to the Ptolemaic, can be discerned in the concept of Late Period temples and surrounding areas. At Tanis, Sais, and Mendes, the royal tombs were built inside the temenos walls. Similarly, the funerary chapels of the Divine Adoratrice/God’s Wife of Amun were located within the precinct of Medinet Habu. In the Kushite Period (25th Dynasty) the entrance of the temple was embellished with a colonnade, which foreshadows the kiosk structure featured in many temples dated to the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.).

“The temple of Amun at Hibis, dated to the Persian Period (27th Dynasty), has several chapels on the roof, which likewise prefigure roof chapels of the Ptolemaic Period. In Dynasty 30 an intense program to construct enormous mudbrick enclosure walls was inaugurated to protect temples from outside threats. In the same period, but apparent as early as the 26th Dynasty, the number of hardstone naoi (shrines that house the statue of the god) in the temples increases. These shrines are decorated with complex scenes or long mythological texts, such as those from Saft el- Henna. The style of the 26th Dynasty is characterized by a preference for “archaizing” art, to be distinguished from the “archaistic” art of the 30th Dynasty.”

Ptolemaic-Egyptian Temples

Edfu Temple
Dendara (near Cairo) is the home of the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the cow-headed goddess of healing. One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, it was built in the first century B.C. by the Ptolemaic Greeks and is famous for a ceiling painting, with astronomical symbols, and its great Hypostyle Hall. It even has a roof. The temple incorporates both Greek and Egyptian architectural styles. The 24 massive papyrus pillars in the main hall are capped with images of Hathor and decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian symbols. The stone ceiling features an Egyptian version of the star-lit sky, with goddess Nut, who, Egyptians believed, spanned the sky with her body and swallowed the sun each night and gave birth to it each morning. One of one of the walls is a famous picture of Cleopatra and Caesarian, her son from Julius Caesar.

Edfu (80 miles north of Aswan) is the home of the Temple of Horus, a huge and exquisite Ptolemaic Greek temple built to honor the falcon-headed son of Orisis. Regarded as the largest best-preserved ancient temples in Egypt, it took over 200 years to build and was finally finished by Cleopatra’s father. Rediscovered in 1869, it features wonderful reliefs of Ptolemy XIII pulling the hair of his enemies like a pharaoh; depictions of the Feats of the Beautiful Meeting, the annual reunion between Horus and his wife Hathor; and a particularly fine ceiling relief of the goddess Nut in the New Year Chapel. There is also a Nilometer, a Court of Offerings and a huge pylon (massive gate) at the entrance. In the 19th century , Flaubert wrote it “served as the public latrine for the entire” town. Flaubert liked the town’s dancers who did a kind of striptease called the bee.”

Kom-Ombo (30 miles north of Aswan) is the home the unique Temple of Sobek and Horus, a Ptolemaic Greek temple dedicated to a local crocodile god (Sobek) and a local sky god (Horus). Located in a spectacular setting, a dune overlooking the Nile and surrounded by sugar cane fields, the temple was built in a mirror-like fashion — one side dedicated to Horus, the other to Sobek — so neither god would be offended. The are two courts, two colonnades, and two sanctuaries.

The Temple of Sobek and Horus is famous for its halls and entrances. Sculpted wall reliefs include one showing ancient surgical instruments, bone saws and dental tools. Worth checking out are the hieroglyphic-inscribed pillars. A number of crocodiles mummies have been found in the area of the Chapel of Harthor. There are some Old Kingdom tombs near Kom-Ombo village.

Temple of Philae (on Agilika Island between Aswan Dam and Aswan High Dam) is dedicated to Isis, who is said to have found the heart of her slain brother Osiris on Philae Island. Most of the existing structures were built by the Ptolemies and Romans. Christians used the hypostyle hall as a church. The ruins consist of two major Ptolemaic and Roman temples: the monolithic Kiosk of the Emperor Trajan; and the Temple of Isis with its lovely colonnades. "In all Nubia there is no more harmonics combination or architecture and scenery," says Arab expert George Gerster. There is also a temple dedicated to Hathor, a Birth House and two pylons (massive gates). The island has a light and sound show. Some of the ancient reliefs on the temples were chiseled off by Christians.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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