The Temple of Khnum, which is one of the most truncated and least attractively sited Egyptian temples that you are likely to see, was constructed between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD. It sits in a 30-foot-deep pit in the middle of Esna, and to get to it, you have to run the gauntlet down a short street from the river that's lined with souvenir sellers anxious to peddle their wares. Resist all temptation to go into a shop here, because salespeople are known to be unpleasantly aggressive. The temple is in a pit because the level of the town has risen over time, sinking the partly excavated temple below the level of the modern houses. There is some fine stratigraphy, made visible from the excavations, in the soil behind the temple. The ticket booth is at the iron entrance gate that leads to a staircase descending into the pit.
Composed of 24 columns, only the hypostyle hall of this Ptolemaic/Roman temple dedicated to Khnum (the god associated with creating people) is
visible. There is a question as to what happened to the rest of it—was it never built, or was it robbed for its stone in antiquity? The portion of the temple that remains is completely decorated and has some very unusual cryptographic inscriptions that are hymns to Khnum. One is written almost entirely with hieroglyphs of crocodiles, another with rams. The columns are also inscribed with significant texts that provide an outline of different festivals held at the temple throughout the year. The ceiling is decorated with zodiacal motifs, and fragments of paint are still visible. In the forecourt and around the temple lie picturesquely scattered fragments primarily of Roman and Coptic date, including a particularly charming lion-faced basin. At this writing, Esna is not a stop on most cruise-ship schedules (the ships usually just clear the locks and sail on into Luxor).