Ptolemaic temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu

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December 11th 2017
Published: December 11th 2017
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To travel through the reaches of the Upper Nile in Egypt is to experience ancient Egypt in what a friend calls a "sufficiency of plenty". With a heavy emphasis on the plentypart.

This was Day 7 of my travels. We left at the crack of dawn, a 6.30 pick up for 3 hours driving. Heading north by first retracing my steps across the desert to Aswan and ultimately wind up at Luxor by night fall. But first visit the Temples at Edfu and Kom Ombo.

EDFU is the best preserved of all Egyptian Temples. Like the KOM OMBO temple it was built in the period of Greek rule under a Ptolemy (ie not an Egyptian Pharaoh). So these are "recent" Temples dating back to only 330BC following the conquest by Alexander the Great. Greco-Roman inputs in columns and paintings are noticeable. They appear more detailed and fussy i think. Alexander declared a new capital at Alexandria, the port city, but showed respect for Egyptian religions and was hailed as a descendant of Amun by an oracle. The Ptolemies, declaring themselves to be Pharaohs, adopted the Egyptian traditions of government by sibling marriages, religious observances and building new Temples and monuments to honour themselves and the gods who they gave Greek versions of their Egyptian names.

Edfu Temple is dedicated to Horus the falcon god and his wife Hathor. Built on the west bank of the Nile, between 237 to 57 BC it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their divine marriage is celebrated by processions twice a year, here and at the Dandara Temple.

In front of the entrance gate sit two famous, iconic and prefectly preserved black granite carvings of Horus. The entrance is nothing short of imposing with two massive pylons towering 100 ft (36m) high. Virtually identical relief images are carved into either facade, mirroring each other. The reliefs show the king slaying his enemies before Horus the falcon god who is wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. There are 4 niches provided in the walls as place holders for 4 flags at the time of the ceremonial procession.

Continuing past the towers next there is a huge peristyle courtyard surrounded by 32 giant columns, which was accessible to the public. Beyond the courtyard lies a succession of smaller halls also with towering columns plus 13 storerooms to house materials used in the preparation of sacred oils and during observances.

The reliefs in the Edfu temple halls depict the story of Horus revenge on Seth for the murder of their father Osiris. In the innermost part of the Temple, the sacred Sanctuary sandstone is so well preserved that its polished finish keeps its original shine, making it seem metallic and not like stone. It's quite remarkable. Other reliefs written in Greek and Egyptian describe important information about Egyptian political and religious thought.

Wall paintings in the inner halls describe the ceremonial processes to be followed. All rooms ultimately lead the religious priestly procession to the sacred Inner Sanctuary where the offerings would be made in celebration of the divine birth of Horus.

From Edfu to Kom Ombo, with its highly unusual temple dedicated to not one but two triads of Gods. Built between 180 to 47 BC one Sanctuary is dedicated to Sobek, the Crocodile god, and his wife Hathor. The second temple is dedicated to Haroeris or Horus the Elder. There are two separate, duplicate entrances and chambers, the northern one to Sobek, the southern one to Horus the Elder. There are two courts, two colonnades, two hypostyle halls (ie an interior area where columns or pillars support a flat ceiling) two sanctuaries. The wall paintings in each temple appropriately reflect either HATHOR's falcon head or SOBEK'S crocodile head.

Most particularly, Kom Ombo was a place recognized for healing, and people made pilgrimages here to be healed. Horus could heal, and indeed the stylized eye of Horus is known to us today as the Rx symbol of the medical profession! At the back wall of the Temple are depictions of a set of surgical instruments.

Sobek the crocodile god of fertility and creation was recognized through a plethora of 300 mummified crocodiles, clay crocodiles, coffins with crocodiles. They are now housed at a museum. The enemies of Horus who were allied with Seth, the evil brother, made their escape on his defeat by turning into crocodiles. At Kom Ombo there were once numerous giant deadly Nile crocodiles. They struck fear in the people who also believed that if they worshiped the crocodiles they would not kill them.

Over the centuries the Kom Ombo Temples were pillaged for building material, eroded by the Nile waters, damaged by earth quakes, and defaced by Coptic Christians trying to convert the site to their religious use. Yet it survives.

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Sobek the crocodile god is seen here on the right with Horus the falcon god, at Kom OmboSobek the crocodile god is seen here on the right with Horus the falcon god, at Kom Ombo
Sobek the crocodile god is seen here on the right with Horus the falcon god, at Kom Ombo

Crocodiles were deadly and much feared. In the story of Osiris and Horus the supporters of evil Seti turned themselves into crocodiles to escape. Ancient Egyptians felt that if they worshiped the creatures then they would not attack humans thus they elevated the crocodile to God status.

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