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Temple of Abydos: Explore the Historical Temple of Seti I

The Temple of Abydos is an old place of worship in Abydos, one of the oldest in Upper Egypt. At a latitude of 26° 10′ N, it is about 11 km west of the Nile. Tradition says the original name was Abdu, meaning “temple hill.”

The temple of Abydos is an ancient place of worship, and it is in Abydos, one of Upper Egypt’s oldest cities. At a latitude of 26° 10′ N, this city is west of the Nile and about 11 km from the village of El-Balyana.

Its original name, Abdu, means “temple hill.” It was the center of Osiris worship, and legend says that the god of the dead’s head was kept there.

The fact that the temple of Abydos is in the middle of Egypt makes it less likely to be crowded with tourists, even though it is known worldwide.

At the time of the pharaohs, Abydos was thought to be the holiest city in Egypt. Ancient Egyptians believed that the desert hills west of this site were where the door to the afterlife was, and this was a pilgrimage site for them.

The location of the temple of Abydos in Middle Egypt favors that, despite its worldwide fame, this monument does not suffer crowds of visitors.

This small town is already in desert terrain, where the fertile western plain of the Nile River ends. And as you can imagine, it is a place highly dependent on tourism generated by the temple of Abydos and the rest of the sites, as well as on the area’s crops, mainly sugar cane.

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A History of Abydos Temple

The importance of Abydos in Ancient Egypt was very great, and although its culmination came during the New Kingdom, it goes back to the very origins of that civilization.

It is believed that the city of Tinis, the first capital of unified Ancient Egypt, would be located in the surroundings of Abydos.

And that motivated the first great royal cemetery to be established nearby, in Umm el-Qaab. It was, therefore, where important pharaohs of the 1st and 2nd dynasties (ca. 3050-2700 BC) were born and buried, including Narmer and Jasejemuy.

Related to this early Egyptian culture are clay tablets and decorated jars found in the burial of King Horus Scorpion I in the Umm el-Qaab necropolis. They were dated around 3300 BC and are considered among the earliest writing examples.

And that has led me to believe this place is one of the cradles of civilization.

Although until recently, the temple of Abydos and the other religious buildings focused on this place as a spiritual center, the truth is that archaeological discoveries showed in 2016 that it was a city from the beginning: a settlement with more than 5,000 years of antiquity, in which remains of huts, iron tools, and ceramic fragments have been identified, as well as people’s burials.

Although that city’s magnitude is still unclear, it is known that the temple of Abydos constantly expanded over the centuries. One of the main contributions was that of Pepy I (VI Dynasty, Old Kingdom).

The main local deity was Jentiamentiu; it assimilated with Osiris and became the principal sacred place for worshiping this god, the judge of the dead, in their aspiration to achieve eternal life.

Mentuhotep III and Sesostris III (11th and 12th dynasties, Middle Kingdom) carried out essential works (tombs, cult temple, royal chapel, etc.).But the giant constructions came in the New Kingdom.

In the fifteenth century BC, monarchs of the Eighteenth Dynasty (Ahmose I, Tuthmosis III) made the temple of Abydos bigger, with an even more monumental processional causeway.

Shortly after, in the XIV BC, everything came to a halt due to the rupture period of Amarna, with the pharaoh Akhenaten establishing a practically monotheistic cult with the supremacy of the god of the sun disk, Aten.

A whole schism that shook the foundations of Egyptian religion and that relegated Osiris to the background. However, with the fall of Akhenaten and his legacy, the rebirth of this religious center would come.

And the name that has been forever linked to the temple of Abydos is Seti I, of the XIX Dynasty.

This pharaoh, the father of Ramesses II, set out to continue reestablishing the Egyptian religion before Amarna, which had already been started by other monarchs before him, including Tutankhamun.

And the best example of this is the temple of Abydos, which, as we will see, is also known as the Temple of Seti I.

His son Ramses II completed it, but other later monarchs of the same dynasty made contributions, such as Merenptah, who had the Osireion built. Other pharaohs, like Ahmose II of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, made specific reforms.

The last one of whom there is any evidence of intervention is Nectanebo I of the XXX Dynasty. After that, with the Greco-Roman period, the importance and symbolism of the temple of Abydos in Egypt declined.

Temple of Abydos

What to see in the Temple of Abydos?

In Abydos, Ancient Egypt offers some of its most dazzling artistic manifestations. Its spectacularity and solemnity are easy to understand at first glance, but knowing its keys to appreciating all its relevance and beauty is convenient.

However, below we will give you brief details about the temple of Abydos (temple of Seti I), the Osireion, and other nearby archaeological sites, such as the Shunet El Zebib and the cemetery of Umm el-Qab.

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Temple of Abydos, the Temple of Seti I

The temple of Abydos is often known as the Great Temple of Abydos or the mortuary temple of Seti I because this pharaoh was its great promoter. However, as we saw above, many other sovereigns from different eras participated in its construction.

However, despite the description of ‘funeral,’ we must not lose sight of the fact that it was a temple-cenotaph in conjunction with the Osireion since the tomb and mummy of Seti I was located in the Valley of the Kings of Thebes (Luxor).


The objective of this pharaoh in the temple of Abydos was clear: to honor all the great gods of the Egyptian religion and the pharaohs that preceded him, deliberately forgetting the monarchs considered usurpers or heretics, such as Hatshepsut and Akhenaten, as well as the reviled god of the Aten sun disk.

And so it became clear in two elements, absolutely crucial in any visit to the temple: The seven chapels dedicated to their corresponding gods: Ptah, Ra-Harakhti, Amun-Ra, Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Seti I himself, who remains deified, in a tradition that Ramses II also followed in other temples, such as those of Abu SimbelThe Royal List of Abydos, found in the Hall of Ancestors. It is one of the best historical sources for tracing the chronology of the pharaohs.

It begins with Menes, the mythical founder of Ancient Egypt and often assimilated with Narmer, and ends with Seti I himself. Of course, the Hatshepsut above and Akhenaten is not there.

Many elements of the Abydos temple have disappeared, such as entrance pylons. Still, some parts of what remains are of extraordinary beauty and delicacy, such as the bas-reliefs in the hypostyle room.

Osireion

This is the cenotaph that Seti I had built next to the temple of Abydos. Although it has reached much-deteriorated conditions, researchers have identified different spaces in the structure, such as a vaulted corridor, an antechamber, and a large central chamber.
In some points of the Osireion, decoration in the style of the Book of Doors has been found from the time of Merenptah, a mural typology very widespread among the pharaohs in the New Kingdom, as can be seen in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, for example.

 Some authors believe that this cenotaph would seek to evoke the primordial hill and the primordial waters present in the Egyptian creation theory. Currently, it cannot be visited because the rise in the water table of an underground aquifer partially floods it. 

Some authors believe that this cenotaph would seek to evoke the primordial hill and the primordial waters present in the Egyptian creation theory. Currently, it cannot be visited because the rise in the water table of an underground aquifer partially floods it.

Conclusion

Many pharaohs were forced to choose this place for their tombs because of the religious and funeral beliefs connected to it.

Because of this, the vast area of Abydos used to be full of ancient cemeteries, lakes, and temples, such as the temple of Osiris.

Today, there isn’t much to see besides the impressive tomb of Seti I, who was the ruler of the 19th dynasty. It was built between 1294 and 1279 BC and is one of Egypt’s best-preserved temples.

Violence in the early 1990s scared away most tourists, but Abydos is still a nice place to visit for a day trip from Luxor, especially if you can stop by the temple of Dendera on the way.

From here, El-Araba el-Madfuna, a small village on the edge of the archaeological site, is a pleasant drive along an asphalt road through sugar cane plantations.

The temple of Abydos was built to honor the goddess Menmaatra Sethi. The second ruler of the 19th Egyptian dynasty, who was also the first to deal with Egyptian influence in the rest of the Middle East, was devoted to her worship.

The rulers of the first dynasty were buried in the area we are talking about. It is one of the oldest and most holy places in Egypt.

The temples we can see today were built “just” in 1300 BC and are named for Sethi I and Ramses II, his son and his grandson.

Sethi, I was the son of Ramesses I and the Great Royal Bride Satra. He took the throne when he was about 37 years old, after being the Great Priest of Seth for a while.

At the time he became king, the name of this god had not been in the royal title since the II Dynasty, even though his worship had spread to the Nile Delta area.

About the author

Egypt Planners Team is a highly experienced travel agency specializing in memorable trips to Egypt. The team comprises expert travel planners and tour guides with a deep knowledge of Egypt's history, culture, and top tourist destinations.
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