The Nile Valley and Luxor Sights

Temple of Horus

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Published 01/10/2017

Fodor's Review

The Temple of Horus is mainly from the Ptolemaic period. The temple does, however, rest on earlier foundations, which may date from the Old Kingdom (2625–2130 BC). The exterior walls are covered with texts that give details of the temple's construction. Ptolemy III started it in 237 BC, and the entire building was completely finished and decorated in 57 BC. Access to the temple originally would have been from the south, but because of the growth of the town, it is now entered from the north.

The enormous pylon, fronted by a pair of statues of Horus as a falcon, leads into a columned courtyard at the end of which stands another, better-preserved statue of Horus as a falcon. The doorway behind this leads to the hypostyle hall. The columns in this temple are typical of the Ptolemaic period, which means that they have varied capitals: palm-leaf capitals, lotus capitals, papyrus capitals, and a large variety of elaborate composite capitals. The bottoms of the column

shafts, above the bases, are carved to show the leaves found at the bases of various plants.

Following the central axis, the hypostyle hall is succeeded by a series of rooms. The last in the series is the temple's sanctuary, which contains a finely polished monolithic naos, or shrine, of syenite (an igneous rock) that would have housed the statue of the god set in another smaller shrine made of gilded wood. An altar stands before the naos; originally gilded wooden doors, the sockets for which are visible in the jamb area, would have fronted the naos.

Rooms off the central axis are thought to have been storerooms for various ceremonial items, such as perfume, wine, incense, gold, and vessels made of precious metals. A series of rooms in the rear of the sanctuary contains access, now blocked for the most part, to crypts made to store the most precious of the temple's possessions. The central room at the back includes a model barque (a modern reproduction) that is very probably identical to the one used in antiquity to transport the golden statue of the god in religious processions around town and on boats north to Dendera.

The inner rooms of the temple are dark, lit by shafts of light entering from narrow slits at ceiling level. Originally the temple would have been lit thus, with additional light coming from flickering torches. The richly colored walls would have shone and glimmered like jewels in the half-light; it is easy to imagine priestly processions passing through the temple on sandaled feet, chanting and praying amid clouds of incense.

The interior of the temple is decorated with scenes of divinities and pharaohs making offerings to one another, as well as some scenes of the founding of the temple. Elements of a celestial ceiling are visible in the hypostyle hall. A side chapel to the east with its own tiny courtyard contains a beautiful ceiling showing the course of the sun as it is swallowed by the sky goddess, Nut, and then born from her the following morning.

The inside of the temple's stone enclosure wall shows scenes of Horus fighting with and defeating his enemy, the god Seth. This is one of the few places where an illustrated version of the Horus and Seth myth is visible. There are several variations on the tale in which Seth killed his brother Osiris and set himself up as ruler in his stead. Isis, Osiris's wife, used her magic to bring Osiris back to life and to become pregnant. The result was Horus, who sought to avenge his father's murder and to rule, as was his right. He and Seth engaged in a series of battles using both strength and magic. Ultimately Horus was the victor, and he was rewarded with rule over Egypt—hence the living pharaoh's identification with Horus—and Osiris ruled over the afterworld. Seth became god of deserts and distant lands.

The reliefs show Horus defeating Seth in his different guises (hippos, crocodiles, and so forth) and are quite entertaining. It is believed that a mystery play illustrating this struggle took place at a Horus–Seth festival at Edfu. Another amusing fact to note about this temple (and other Ptolemaic temples) is that many of the cartouches are left empty. This is because the Ptolemies overthrew one another so frequently and so speedily that the architects, contractors, and priests decided to leave blank cartouches that could be painted in with the ruling Ptolemy's name whenever the appropriate time arose.

On one side of the temple, between the outer and inner stone walls, is a Nilometer, a gauge used to measure the height of the Nile—and to calculate taxes. The expectation was that the higher the river, the better the harvest was going to be and, therefore, the higher the taxes.

At this writing, Edfu's Sound & Light Show is operating, but because the program is still new, there's a possibility that the temple closing time may vary.

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Sight Information


Mabed Edfu, Edfu, Aswan, Egypt

Sight Details:

  • Temple £E50, Sound & Light Show £E75

Published 01/10/2017


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