Today, The temple of Edfu in Upper Egypt between Luxor and Aswan is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved in all of Egypt. Known also as the Temple of Horus, its exceptionally well-preserved inscriptions have provided Egyptologists with remarkable insights into ancient Egypt‘s political and religious ideas.
A colossal Horus statue in his falcon form reflects the site’s name. Inscriptions in the temple of Edfu confirm it was dedicated to the god Horus Behdety, the ancient Egyptians sacred hawk usually depicted by a hawk-headed man. Auguste Mariette a French archaeologist excavated the temple from its sandy tomb during the 1860s.
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Facts About The Temple of Edfu
- The temple of Edfu was constructed during the Ptolemaic Dynasty, between c. 237 BC and c. 57 BC.
- It was dedicated to the god Horus Behdety, the ancient Egyptians sacred hawk depicted by a man with a hawk’s head
- A colossal statue of Horus in his falcon form dominates the temple.
- The Temple of Horus is the most completely preserved temple in Egypt
- The temple was submerged over time in sediment from the Nile floods so by 1798, only the top of the gargantuan temple pylons was visible.
The temple of Edfu was constructed in three phases:
- The first phase included the original temple building, which forms the nucleus of the temple, including a hall of columns, two other chambers, a sanctuary, and several side chambers. Ptolemy III initiated construction around c. 237 BC. Around 25 years later, the main Edfu temple building was completed on August 14, 212 BC, Ptolemy IV’s tenth year on the throne. In the fifth year of Ptolemy VII’s rule, the doors of the temple were installed, in addition to several objects.
- The second phase saw the walls decorated with inscriptions. Work continued on the temple for nearly 97 years, due to periods of inactivity caused by social unrest.
- The third phase saw the construction of the hall of columns and the front hall. This phase began around the 46th year of the reign of Ptolemy IX.
Evidence suggests the Temple of Horus required nearly 180 years to complete its construction phase. Building on the temple site began under Ptolemy III Euergetes in c. 237 BC. Inscriptions suggest it was finally finished around c. 57 BC.
The Edfu temple was constructed on top of a site that the ancient Egyptians believed to be that of the epic battle between Horus and Seth. Oriented on a North-South axis, the Temple of Horus replaced a previous temple that appears to have had an East-West orientation.
The temple displays traditional elements of a classic Egyptian architectural style blended with the Ptolemaic Greek nuances. This majestic temple sits at the heart of the cult of three divinities: Horus of Behdet, Hathor, and Hor-Sama-Tawy their son.
The Temple of Edfu consists of a primary entrance, a courtyard, and a shrine. The Birth House, also known as the Mamisi sits to the west of the primary entrance. Here, every year the Festival of Coronation was staged in honour of Horus and the pharaoh’s divine birth. Inside the Mamisi are several images telling the story of Horus’ celestial birth overseen by Hathor the goddess of motherhood, love, and joy, accompanied by other birth deities.
Undoubtedly the Temple of Horus’ signature architectural features is its monumental pylons standing at the temple entrance. Inscribed with celebratory battle scenes of King Ptolemy VIII vanquishing his enemies in honour of Horus, the pylons tower 35 metres (118 feet) into the air, making them the tallest surviving ancient Egyptian structure.
Passing through the primary entry and between the colossal pylons visitors encounter an open courtyard. Decorated capitals top the courtyard’s pillars. Past the courtyard lies a Hypostyle Hall, the Court of Offerings. Dual black granite statues of Horus grace the courtyard.
One statue looms ten feet into the air. The other statue has been shorn of its legs and lies prostrate on the ground.
A second, compact Hypostyle Hall, The Festival Hall is positioned past the first hall. Here is the temple’s oldest surviving section. During their many festivals, the ancient Egyptians would scented perfume the hall with incense and decorate it with flowers.
From the Festival Hall, visitors progress into the Hall of Offerings. Here Horus’ divine image would be transported to the roof for the sun’s light and heat to re-invigorate it. From the Hall of Offerings, visitors pass into the inner Sanctuary, the most sacred part of the complex.
In ancient times, only the High Priest was permitted into the Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to a shrine carved from a block of solid black granite dedicated to Nectanebo II. Here a series of reliefs show Ptolemy IV Philopator worshipping Horus and Hathor.
- The Pylon comprises two immense towers. Two large statues symbolizing god Horus stand in front of the pylon
- The Great Gate is the main entrance to the Temple of Edfu. It was made from cedar wood, inlaid with gold and bronze and topped by a winged sun disk representing the god Horus Behdety
- The temple contains a Nilometer used for measuring the Nile’s water level to predict the arrival of the annual flood
- The Holy of Holies was the most sacred part of the temple. Only the king and the grand priest could enter here
- The First Waiting Room was the temple altar room where offerings to the gods were presented
- Inscriptions in the Sun Court shows the voyage of Nut on her solar barque during the 12 hours of daylight
Reflecting On The Past
The inscriptions found at the temple of Edfu provide a fascinating insight into the cultural and religious beliefs of ancient Egypt in Ptolemaic times.
Header image courtesy: Ahmed Emad Hamdy [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons