Temple of Horus (Edfu)

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The Temple of Edfu is an Egyptian temple located on the west bank of the Nile in Edfu, Upper Egypt. It is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt. The temple was built in the Ptolemaic Kingdom between 237 and 57 BCE. The Temple of Edfu is nearly intact and a very good example of an ancient Egyptian temple.

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Overview

Edfu temple was one of several shrines built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom, including the Dendera Temple complex, Esna Temple, the Temple of Kom Ombo, and Philae Temple. Its size reflects the relative prosperity of the time.

The present temple, which was begun on 23 August 237 BCE, initially consisted of a pillared hall, two transverse halls, and a barque sanctuary surrounded by chapels. The building was started during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes and completed in 57 BCE under Ptolemy XII Auletes. It was built on the site of an earlier, smaller temple also dedicated to Horus, although the previous structure was oriented east-west rather than north-south as in the present site.

A ruined pylon lies just to the east of the current temple; inscriptional evidence has been found indicating a building program under the New Kingdom rulers Ramesses I, Seti I and Ramesses II. Of all the temples of ancient Egypt, the one at Edfu is the most complete and best preserved when uncovered by Auguste Mariette in the 1860s. The reason is that the temple had been totally submerged under the desert except for the very top of the pylon entrance.

History

circa 237-57 BCE

The construction of the temple of Horus goes back to the Ptolemaic period. The first stone was laid on 23 August 237 BCE and it is only a century later, on 10 September 142 BCE, that the temple was officially consecrated in the presence of the King himself, Ptolemy VIII and his wife. The building work continued in 140 BCE with the pronaos, then the pylon and the surrounding wall. The second consecration of the temple was in 70 BCE, but the monumental door from the cedars of Lebanon was only put in place in 56 BCE.

The temple of Edfu fell into disuse as a religious monument following Theodosius I's persecution of pagans and edict banning non-Christian worship within the Roman Empire in 391 CE. As elsewhere, many of the temple's carved reliefs were razed (inspect) by followers of the Christian faith which came to dominate Egypt. The blackened ceiling (inspect) of the hypostyle hall, visible today, is believed to be the result of arson intended to destroy religious imagery that was then considered pagan.

circa 237-57 BCE

Over the centuries, the temple became buried to a depth of 12 metres (39 ft) beneath drifting desert sand and layers of river silt deposited by the Nile. Local inhabitants built homes directly over the former temple grounds. Only the upper reaches of the temple pylons were visible by 1798, when the temple was identified by a French expedition. In 1860 Auguste Mariette, a French Egyptologist, began the work of freeing Edfu temple from the sands.

Architecture

circa 237-57 BCE

First Pylon
The construction on the entrance pylons was started by Ptolemy IX (116-107 BCE) before he was ousted from power by his brother Alexander (Ptolemy X Alexander I 107-88 BCE) and completed during the reign of Ptolemy XII. The pylons are decorated by Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos (117-51 BCE) in 57 BCE with figures of himself smiting the enemy. Each of the towers bear a cartouche of Ptolemy XII, but are a little different. Two statues of Horus as a falcon flank the entrance gate, and behind the pylon, at the base of the walls on either side of the entrance, are scenes depicting the “Feast of the Beautiful Meeting” in which Horus of Edfu was united with Hathor of Dendera.

The rear walls (inspect) of the colonnade are covered with multiple rows of large reliefs depicting the Pharaoh (Ptolemy IX Soter II or Ptolemy X Alexander I) holding converse with the gods or with the victorious god Horus. Similar representations are repeated all over the temple. On the sides of the pylon, the pharaoh is shown, with the Lower Egyptian crown on the west side and the Upper Egyptian crown on the east side, proceeding to the temple and being sprinkled with the water of consecration by Horus and Thoth.

circa 237-57 BCE

Court of Offerings
The huge peristyle first court is surrounded by 32 towering columns (inspect), this is where an altar whould have been. The columns are richly decorated with floral and palm capitals, and the golden-hued stone walls are covered in reliefs of the gods Horus and Hathor. Just to the left of the entrance into the Vestibule, the surviving black granite statue of Horus, which would have originally been part of a pair, wears the double crown of Egypt and guards the door into the farther reaches of the temple.

circa 237-57 BCE

Hypostyle Vestibule
The hypostyle vestibule is decorated with 12 columns topped with elaborate floral capitals. On the walls are four rows of incised reliefs showing Pharaoh Euergetes making offerings to the gods or performing ritual acts (e.g. laying the foundation stone of the temple, in the bottom row on the left-hand wall). Above are a band of astronomical representations and an ornamental frieze consisting of the names of the pharaoh guarded by two falcons. Below, just above the floor, are Euergetes, his wife Cleopatra, and a long file of local gods bringing offerings to the three principal divinities of Edfu.

circa 237-57 BCE

Inner Sanctuary
A naos of Nectanebo II, a relic from an earlier building, is preserved in the inner sanctuary, the temple's barque sanctuary is surrounded by nine chapels. This inner sanctuary, lit by three apertures in the roof, was the holy of holies of the Edfu Temple. It housed the golden statue of Horus, which was placed in the granite naos. Here a replica of the wooden barque (the original can be seen at the Louvre in Paris), which would have held the golden statue of Hathor on festivals and during processions, is also displayed.

circa 237-57 BCE

Mammisi
The Edfu mammisi (birth-house) was built and decorated according to the new scheme under Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and Ptolemy IX Soter II: it rests on a foundation, has an entrance kiosk, a colonnaded ambulatory, and high abaci decorated with Bes figures. The Roman era birth-house is located south of the main temple, adjacent to the entrance. In the main chamber, are various reliefs of Hathor of Dendera, including Hathor suckling Horus, Hathor giving birth, and several Hathors playing musical instruments.

Inscriptions and Reliefs

circa 237-57 BCE

The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Hellenistic period in Egypt. In particular, the Temple's inscribed building texts "provide details [both] of its construction, and also preserve information about the mythical interpretation of this and all other temples as the Island of Creation". There are also "important scenes and inscriptions of the Sacred Drama which related the age-old conflict between Horus and Seth". They are translated by the German Edfu-Project.

Gallery

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