For many, the Temple of Edfu is one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt. For this reason, it is justified to make a trip to it or stop during a Nile cruise.
The Temple of Edfu is one of the best-preserved temples today, dedicated to Horus. It is located in the city of Edfu on the west bank of the Nile, and it is a beautiful tourist place you can visit on your trip to Egypt.
The Edfu Temple was built between 237 BC and 57 BC during the Ptolemaic era after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 323 BC. His successors, the Ptolemies, were Greeks, but they imitated the traditions and repeated the architecture of the Egyptians of that time.
Ptolemy III initiated the construction of the Temple, and the structure of the Temple was continued by his son Ptolemy IV Philopator. After several successions, Ptolemy XII did not complete the construction of the Temple of Edfu until 57 BC.
About 60,000 people live in the city of Edfu, which is on the west bank of the Nile between Esna and Aswan. Palm groves, desert, and mysterious granite mountains surround this beautiful Egyptian city. It has a long history, returning to when it was the critical capital of one of Upper Egypt’s regions.
History of Edfu Temple
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great invaded Egypt. After he died in 323, his successors ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty, the last dynasty in independent Egypt. The Ptolemies were Greek, but they presented themselves to the Egyptians as local pharaohs and closely imitated the traditions and architecture of Pharaonic Egypt.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu was built during the Ptolemaic period on top of another ancient temple oriented east-west instead of the current north-south configuration.
The oldest part of the Temple is from the festival hall to the sanctum. Ptolemy III started this in 237 BC. c and was completed by his son Ptolemy IV Philopator.
The Hypostyle Hall was added by Ptolemy VII (145-116 BC), and the tower was erected by Ptolemy IX (88-81 BC). The final touches were added to the Temple during the reign of Ptolemy XII in 57 BC.
The falcon-headed Horus was originally the god of the sky; His eyes were the sun and the moon. He was later absorbed into the popular myth of Isis and Osiris as the son of the divine couple.
Raised by Isis and Hathor after Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, Horus avenged his father’s death in a great battle in Edfu. Seth is banished, Horus takes the throne, and Osiris rules through him from the Underworld. Thus, all the pharaohs claimed to be the incarnation of Horus, the “living king.”
The Edfu Temple was abandoned after the Roman Empire became Christian, and paganism was outlawed in AD 391. It was buried up to its doorsteps in the sand, with houses built over it, until Auguste Mariette excavated it in the 1860s. Sand has protected the monument over the years, which leaves it in excellent condition today.
In 2005, a visitor center and paved car park were added to the Temple’s south side, and a sophisticated lighting system was added in late 2006 to allow for nighttime visitation.
How to get to Edfu Temple?
Located 135 km north of Aswan, the Edfu Temple is usually visited with the Kom Ombo Temple. If you don’t want to take the cruise, you can also charter them separately on excursions that depart from Luxor or Aswan.
What to see in Edfu Temple?
Before reaching the front of the Temple, you can see the Nativity House on the left. This pillared structure was the site of the annual coronation festival, which acknowledged the divine birth of Horus and the ruling pharaoh.
At the back of the building are reliefs of Horus being suckled by Isis. The birth house is a Greco-Roman feature that would not have been part of the ancient pharaonic temples.
Constructed by Ptolemy IX (88-81 BC), the tower was one of the last features to be added. At 37 meters, it is among the largest in Egypt. His reliefs show the later Ptolemaic ruler, Neos Dionysus (Ptolemy XII), defeating his enemies before Horus the Great.
The entrance to the Temple was closed with a giant door made of cedar wood that was looted in the past, and next to the gate was a statue of the god Horus protecting a man who was one of the high priests of the Temple.
The Edfu temple is surrounded by a 13-meter-high protective wall made of mud brick and symbolizes the waters of the primordial ocean. The Egyptians believed that the Temple represented the first earth.
Beyond the Pilon is the sizeable viewing courtyard, where people can enter to bid for a photo of Horus. The square is surrounded by columns on three sides and decorated with ceremonial carvings.
Starting on the inner walls of the images and continuing around the courtyard along the lower part of the wall, the reliefs depict the beautiful festival of assembly, where the idea of Hathor sailed from Dendera to spend intimate time with Horus. In the precincts of the Temple, then he returns to his Temple in Dendera.
Below the western gallery are reliefs of Ptolemy IX (88-81 BC) offering offerings to Horus, Hathor, and Ihi. His successor appears with the same deities throughout the route.
At the end of the offering courtyard and next to the entrance to the Hall of Columns, there is another giant statue of the falcon god Horus, where visitors to the Edfu temple like to take pictures.
The first hall of columns
The columns of Egyptian temples’ rooms are always representations of the trees of our world, and their capitals always have plant shapes, which is that the Temple represents the world in ancient Egypt.
It seems that the ceiling of the room was burned due to the wet mud that covered the Temple in the past, and the scenes on the walls are engraved, and this happened when the
Temple was closed in 319 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, who issued a decree—close all pagan temples in the Roman Empire.
To the left of this room, on the walls, you can see scenes of the Temple’s founding starting at the far right.
If you have a flashlight, you can examine two exciting rooms in the entrance wall: the hall of sanctification on the left, where the king or priest has ritually dressed, and the library on the right, where sacred texts were kept, and the inscriptions represent Sheshat, the goddess of writing. On the far (north) wall, reliefs of Horus were destroyed by Christian icon-makers.
The second hall of columns
The rectangular hypostyle hall was built under Ptolemy VII (145-116 BC) and had two rows of six columns supporting an intact roof. The ceiling contains astronomical panels symbolizing the sky.
Both in the first and second room with columns, you can see capitals of different shapes, they lack the symmetry of Egyptian art, and on the south side, you can see scenes of New Year’s feast, when the priests are in their homes.
White linen clothes headed by the king carrying the sacred boat with the image of the god Horus on it to go up to the Temple’s balcony.
A small door decorated with exquisite carvings of sacred flakes of Horus and Hathor leads from the ceremony room to the offering room. During New Year’s Day, the image of Horus was carried up the ascending staircase on the left to energize it with the sun and then lowered down the descending staircase. Engravings on the walls of both staircases depict the event, but a flashlight is needed, and locked doors can make access difficult.
The room in the rear left (northwest) corner is the laboratory, where recipes for incense and ointments are inscribed on the walls.
Edfu temple precincts
This room leads to the shrine of Horus, the most sacred part of the Temple. The shrine centers around a black granite shrine dedicated by Nectanebo II, making it the oldest relic in the Temple.
This time it contained a gilded wooden cult image of Horus. Next to the sanctuary is an offering table and a ceremonial boat (barge), which Horus carried during festivals.
Reliefs on the sanctuary’s right (east) wall show the Philopator (Ptolemy IV) worshiping Horus, Hathor, and his parents in the sanctuary.
The corridor surrounding the Haram al-Sharif contains many exciting rooms worth exploring. To the left (west) is the Linen Room, flanked by the Min chapels and the throne of the gods.
At the rear, a set of rooms nominally dedicated to Osiris have colored reliefs of Horus receiving offerings (left room), a life-size depiction of Horus Barky (middle room), and anthropomorphic reliefs (fitting rear room/this wall).
In the right aisle, the New Year’s Chapel continues south, with striking blue comforts of the sky goddess Nut stretching across the ceiling.
Returning to the Festival Hall, head through the passage in the east wall to reach the outer corridor where priests calculated tithes based on a nearby nilometer.
A passage in the west wall leads to a corridor with reliefs of the victory of Horus over Set. They depict a mystery game performed as part of the festival’s rituals, in which Seth appears as a hippopotamus lurking under his nephew’s boat. At the end of the play, the priests cut and eat a cake in the shape of a hippopotamus.