Edfu, Egypt – Temple of the mountain god

Temple of the God Horus in Edfu, Egypt

Many people call this temple simply “Temple of Edfu,” and many tourists have the false impression that Edfu is one of the many ancient Egyptian gods. However, this is not true, the temple is located near the city of Edfu, and it is dedicated to the god Horus, who played a variety of roles at different points in Egypt’s history.

The Temple of the God Horus in Edfu

This temple can be called one of the most ancient Egyptian, as strange as it may sound. The fact is that it was built in the Hellenistic period, when Egypt was ruled by the descendants of the Macedonian general, a close friend and associate of Alexander (the Great) of Macedon, Ptolemy.

Construction began about 250 BC, which by the standards of ancient Egypt, “very recently. This is due to its excellent preservation, especially the inscriptions, which are the most valuable source of knowledge of the ancient arts for Egyptologists.

In the temple we can see not only the classical Egyptian writing, but also ancient Greek features, which again is associated with the mixture of cultures, which occurred after the conquest of Egypt in 332. To give the reader a better understanding of why this happened, we will dive quite a bit into this part of the country’s history.

In 332, Alexander entered Egypt and was not resisted in any way because he suited the local nobility and zhretses much more than the Persians. The most combat-ready part of the Egyptian army by this time had already perished at the Battle of Issa, fighting on the side of Persia. Because of these circumstances, Alexander was proclaimed the son of the god Amon-Ra and Pharaoh.

A still from the movie

Alexander never again appeared in Egypt, he spent his life in campaigns and died in Babylon in 323 B.C. By the time he died, Alexander’s heir had not yet been born, and without a strong power, the empire fell apart.

It began to be divided by Alexander’s commanders, the most successful of whom was Ptolemy, who served with the king in units of heavy cavalry, who were called “getaires.” Above you see a shot from the film “Alexander”, Ptolemy is at the far left in this shot.

The most famous bust depicting Ptolemy I Soter

For more than 20 years after the great commander’s death, his associates, who were called “Diadochos,” fought each other. This series of wars was so called “the wars of the diadochs,” few of those who fought alongside Alexander at Issus and Gaugamellae survived them.

Ptolemy declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt, and in these wars he achieved significant successes, annexing Syria and parts of Palestine, the island of Cyprus, and even some territories of the Asia Minor peninsula to Egypt. The photo to the left is the most famous bust depicting Ptolemy I Soter.

His descendants had enough to rule for more than 300 years. All subsequent pharaohs descendants of Ptolemy traditionally bore his name. The last was Ptolemy XIV, his fate was not enviable – he was poisoned. Although there was also Ptolemy XV, but it is difficult to call him a full member of the dynasty, he was the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

In this dynasty, all queens were called Cleopatra, and the famous Cleopatra was already VII. She, too, was a pharaoh, a regent for her minor brothers and their wife, but only a formal wife.

The story of the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty is quite long, bloody and sad. None of the last members of the family died their own deaths.

The temple of the god Horus in Edfu began to be built by Ptolemy III, and finished the construction by Ptolemy XII, and the temple was opened for divine services under Ptolemy X. We understand that you are already tired of this name and will not mention it anymore, we will only say that the temple was built almost 200 years.

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After the Greeks began to rule Egypt, they did not interfere with the local religion or impose their beliefs on the Egyptians. The Greeks found many parallels between the gods, for example, the god Amon-Ra was considered to be the same entity as the Greek Zeus, and the god Horus, to whom our temple is dedicated, was considered an incarnation of the god Apollo, who commanded the Sun.

Horse drawn carriages

Tourists usually arrive in the city of Edfu by boat on the Nile, the city is about 100 kilometers upstream from Aswan. From the shore of the river temple of Horus is not so far, only about one kilometer, you could walk. But, for tourists arrange a little entertainment and are driven in carts pulled by horses.

It is not without a visit to a small market with very annoying vendors. After all these little adventures you come to the temple, which is a short walk away.

Road to the temple of god Horus in Edfu

The temple cannot be confused with anything else, the massive stone gates, often called “pylons”, are well preserved with ancient inscriptions and drawings, which are not seen on the gates (pylons) in Karnak or Luxor temples.

Even before the gate you can see the features of Greek architecture.

The temple of the god Horus in Edfu

The temple is said to be very well preserved, although your own impression might be a little different. In the 4th century already during the Roman Empire worship of the ancient gods was forbidden by law here and the temple fell into disrepair.

It was during this time that many of the frescoes were damaged. Ardent Christians tried to destroy the faces of the gods, but the inscriptions in the ancient language were not touched, and the inscriptions have survived almost entirely. The results of the religious fervor are well captured in the photo below.

Bas-reliefs on the walls of the temple after attempts by Christians to destroy the gods' faces

For more photos of wall inscriptions and drawings see our gallery of photos from the Temple of Horus in Edfu, there is no point in publishing them inside the article itself.

Ceremonial boat, symbolizing the boat on which Horus traveled on the Nile

Immediately after the entrance, you get to a plaza with a colonnade, in which you will also see many Greek “notes”.

An important place inside the central sanctuary is the ceremonial boat, symbolizing the boat on which Gore navigated the Nile. There are many sanctuaries, each dedicated either to a different god or part of the famous legend of the feud between Horus and Seth. According to the legend, Seth was the brother of the supreme god Osiris. Seth deceived Osiris and killed him to take the throne. Horus, who was miraculously conceived by the already dead Osiris, took revenge on Seth and founded the city of Edfu after his victory.

We cannot tell the exact meaning of each sanctuary in the temple, as even Egyptologists have different opinions on this.

This place was inhabited by people a long time ago, the temple itself was built on the site of another temple built by Pharaoh Ramses III, on the territory of the temple you will see the ruins of the Ramses temple gate, you can easily distinguish them by their poor (compared to other elements) degree of preservation.

An image of the god Horus in the form of a falcon.

And the temple of Ramses, in turn, was built on the site of an older temple dating back to the 3rd dynasty. The excavations are still underway and elements of buildings of all periods have not yet been fully excavated. It is safe to say that services have been held at this site for over 4,500 years.

The God of Horus has been worshipped in Egypt since very ancient times; it is certain that he was worshipped already in the pre-dynastic period, when Egypt was not yet a centralized state, but consisted of independent provinces, called “nomes”.

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God Horus is depicted either as a man with the head of a falcon or simply in the form of a falcon. The world’s most famous statue of the god is located here in the temple square, the statue is 3 meters high and is very popular for tourists to photograph. Two statues stand at the entrance of the temple near the gate.

At different times he has been responsible for different aspects of life. Traditionally, he is the patron saint of pharaohs and royalty, and the rulers themselves are the embodiment of him on earth. In different periods he was also considered to be the god of strength and war, he was thought to give power to the army, the Greeks even associated him with the god Ares, and in some times he waved the Sun, the Greeks associated him with Apollo.

The temple is not very big if you compare it to Karnak, only 140 by 80 meters, the whole tour and free time to look around takes about 2.5-3 hours, enough time for sure to look at everything up close.

In the city of Edfu, except the temple, there are other attractions, which tourists are not shown, they are just not as important, and the tour program is not included. At 5 kilometers from the city is an ancient pyramids.

Ancient pyramids not far from Edfu.

At first glance, the pyramid is not even very similar, but it is a royal tomb, its height of no more than 5 meters, and is now being specified, who exactly is buried there. According to the basic hypothesis it is the tomb of Huni, a pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty.

Ticket price

180 Egyptian pounds. For the current exchange rate of the pound, see our Money in Egypt review.

Opening Hours

From 9-00 to 17-00. No days off.

Helpful tips

– Edfu is not a tourist city at all. Here dollars and euros are not taken everywhere, so please have plenty of Egyptian pounds. Read our detailed article “Money Exchange in Egypt.”

– Edfu is a hot city. Not as hot as Aswan, of course, but still. Do not forget about safety in the sun: headgear and covered shoulders is a must, sunscreen is desirable. We talked about safety in the article “Dangers in Egypt;

– And by the way. Treatment of sunburns is not covered by travel insurance. Read more in our article “Insurance in Egypt.

See more photos in our gallery and read the next article about the Nile excursion – Kom Ombo Temple, as well as other interesting articles about Egypt ( list of articles below).

Temple of Horus (Horus) in Edfu

God Horus (Horus), Egypt, Edfu

The Temple of Horus in Edfu (also known as the Temple of Edfu) is considered the best-preserved cult temple in Egypt. This is partly because it was built later than all the other temples: during the Ptolemaic period from 237 to 57 BC.

Still, despite its late date, the temple accurately reflects the traditional architecture of the pharaohs and clearly represents what Egyptian temples looked like. The temple of Edfu is also very large: the second largest in Egypt after the temple of Karnak.

The 2,000-year-old Temple of Horus makes an overwhelming impression. Founded on the site of an earlier temple, it was dedicated to the sun god Horus, Hathor of Dendera and their son, the young Harsomtus, the “Unifier of the Two Lands.” The history of its construction and a description of the entire temple are preserved in long inscriptions on the outside of the circumferential wall, especially on the northern part of the eastern and western sides.

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In 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. After his death in 323, Egypt was ruled by his successors, the Ptolemaic dynasty. It was the last dynasty of independent Egypt. The Ptolemies were Greeks, but presented themselves as pharaohs by birth and imitated the traditions and architecture of ancient Egypt.

The temple of Horus at Edfu was built during the Ptolemaic era over an earlier temple of Horus, which was oriented east-west instead of the newly chosen north-south direction.

The oldest part of the temple is the section from the Celebration Hall to the Sanctuary; the temple was begun by Ptolemy III in 237 BC and finished by his son, Ptolemy IV Philopator. The decoration of the walls with reliefs and inscriptions was completed in 147, during the reign of Evertes II, exactly 90 years after the foundation stones were laid. Evergetus II also added a large vestibule (completed in 122) and decorated it with reliefs. At the time of Ptolemy IX Soter II and Ptolemy X Alexander I, a forecourt with colonnades, circular walls and a pylon was built, but the pylon was only decorated with relief under Ptolemy XII. The entire building was completed in 57 BC with sandstone as the building material.

The temple was surrounded by a high brick wall, some of which has survived. The main gate was to the south along the central axis of the temple and a smaller gate was built to the west. Horus (Horus) with the head of a falcon was originally a sky god, whose eyes were the sun and the moon. He was later assimilated into the popular myth of Osiris and Isis as the child of the divine couple. Reborn by Isis and Hathor after Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, Horus avenged his father’s death at the battle of Edfu. Seth was deposed and Horus sat on the throne, Osiris ruling through him from the underworld. Thus all the pharaohs asserted themselves as the incarnation of Horus, the “living king.”

The temple of Edfu was abandoned after the introduction of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and paganism was outlawed in 391 AD. In Christian times some of the reliefs were lost. The temple lay hidden in the sands until it was discovered and excavated by Auguste Mariette in the 1860s. The sand had protected the monument from destruction all these years, so it is very well preserved to this day.

In 2005, a tourist center parking lot appeared near the southern side of the temple, and in late 2006, a sophisticated lighting system that allowed evening visits.

Installed by Ptolemy IX (88-81 B.C.), the Great Pylon is one of the last parts of the temple. Rising 37 meters in height, it is one of the largest pylons in Egypt. The pylon, originally built within a circular brick wall, was enclosed by a double door. It is covered on all sides with reliefs and inscriptions. The relief on the pediment is particularly famous: below, King Neos Deonis striking his enemies, whom he holds by the hair, with Sokol-Horus and Hathor. On either side of the main entrance are two perpendicular niches for flagpoles. In front of the pylon stand two colossal falcons of black granite; in front of the left falcon is a figure of a priest in Roman dress.

The climb to the top of the pylon is quite problematic. The stairs on the south side of the forecourt consist of 242 steps and 14 spans. The staircases in the two towers are connected with each other by a passage over a central doorway; in each tower a door leads to the roof of the colonnades around the front courtyard.

On the roof of the west colonnade are the marks of the working pylons. From the platform there are views of the whole temple, the Nile Plain with its green groves and villages.

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Behind the Pylon is the spacious Court of Offerings or Front Court, where people made offerings to the image of Horus. The courtyard is surrounded on three sides by 32 columns and is decorated with festive reliefs. Beginning on the inner walls of the Pylon and continuing around the courtyard along the base of the wall, the relief depicts the Feast of the Beautiful Encounter, during which the image of Hathor sailed from Dendera to meet Horus in the sanctuary of the Temple of Edfu. Below the western colonnade is a relief by Ptolemy IX (88-81 BC) depicting offerings to Horus, Hathor and Ichi.

In the middle of the courtyard was once a large altar on which offerings to the gods of Edfu were made.

To the left and right of the entrance are a pair of statues of Horus with a double crown of black granite. One statue stands taller than a human being and is a favorite photographic object for tourists, the other, without legs, lies on the ground.

At the far end of the front courtyard is a beautiful vestibule facade, with a cornice running along the top. Between the columns on either side of the large central doorway are low stone panels on which King Everget II is depicted in the presence of Falcon Horus and Hathor.

The Vestibule has 12 columns with elaborate floral capitals. The ceiling is covered with astronomical reliefs, now blackened beyond recognition. On the walls are four rows of engraved reliefs with Everget making offerings or performing ritual actions (such as laying the temple building). A door in the east wall leads to an inner passage around the temple. On each side is the entrance to the chapel. On the left is the Hall of Dedication because of the relief in which Gor and Thoth pour sacred water on the King; on the right was the Library, with a list of books on the wall and an image of Seshat, the goddess of writing. On the architrave of the door to the Hypostyle Hall is an interesting relief of a solar boat steered by two falcon-headed figures.

The rectangular Hypostyle Hall (built under Ptolemy VII (145-116 BC)), the roof of which is supported by 12 columns with elaborate floral capitals, is lit by apertures in the walls and roof and has reliefs similar in theme to those in the vestibule. On each side are two small rooms. One on each side leads to the inner passage around the temple, the second on the left served as a laboratory, and the second on the right leads to the east staircase to the roof of the temple.

Behind the hypostyle hall is the Celebration Hall or First Vestibule with stairs on either side leading to the roof. This hall marks the beginning of the oldest part of the temple, built in 237-212 BC under Ptolemies III and IV. As at Dendera, the relief frescoes depict a procession of priests led by the King. During the festivities, this hall was decorated with earthenware, flowers and herbs, aromatic frankincense and myrrh. Offerings of libations, fruit, and sacrificial animals were carried through the aisle on the right, while gifts for long storage were left in the room on the left. The room in the far left (northwest) corner is the Laboratory, where recipes for frankincense and ointments are written on the walls. The rooms on the east side of the roof were probably used for the cult of Osiris.

A small doorway decorated with a luxurious relief of the sacred boats of Horus and Hathor leads from the Celebration Room to the Hall of Offerings or Second Vestibule. On the east side of the Second Vestibule is a small Court of Offerings, to the left is an elegant porch with a roof on two columns; on the ceiling are the sky goddesses Nute with sun figures in boats. On the other side of the Second Vestibule is a small room dedicated to the cult of the god Ming.

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During the New Year’s Eve, the image of Horus was carried up the ascending staircase on the left to enliven him with the sun and then carried away down the descending staircase. Reliefs on the walls of both staircases depict this event.

In the Sanctuary, illuminated by three small square holes in the roof, the most interesting reliefs are in the bottom row on the right. The king (Philopator) removes the lock from the Temple of Horus, opens the doors of the chapel, and offers offerings to his divine parents, Evergetus I and Berenice. At the back wall is a granite shrine dedicated to Horus by King Nektanebo II, it is the oldest object in the temple. A gilded wooden cult image of Horus once stood here. Next to the shrine is a table of offerings and a ceremonial boat on which Horus was carried during the festivities. The relief on the right (east wall of the shrine) shows Philopator (Ptolemy IV) worshipping Horus, Hathor and his deified parents. Around the sanctuary is a corridor that leads to ten small and poorly lit rooms with reliefs, which served as storerooms for ritual utensils or for some kind of cultic purpose. In the corners of two rooms there are openings in the floor (formerly covered with stone slabs) leading to crypts.

Around the temple there is an inner passage leading from the Hypostyle Hall, which is also decorated with reliefs and inscriptions. On the outer side of the temple wall are lion heads as gutters and four rows of religious reliefs. On the west wall is a striking relief of Horus’ battle with his enemies (crocodiles and hippos).

The description of the Nilometer left by the Greek geographer Strabo (ca. 63 BC – 20 AD) still holds true: “The Nilometer is carved in stone on the bank of the Nile and registers the rising water level. On the side of the well are left marks of the height of the river water, sufficient for irrigation, etc. It is important for peasants to know the water level for agricultural work, and for officials for the purpose of water taxation.”

An underground staircase leads from the east side of the inner passage to the ancient Nilometer, a shaft outside the temple, surrounded by a spiral staircase. A scale on the wall of the shaft marks the depth levels. Nilometer is no longer connected to the Nile.

The corridor surrounding the sanctuary contains several interesting rooms. To the left (west) is the Linen Room between the chapels of Minah and the Throne of the Gods. Behind is a series of rooms nominally dedicated to Osiris, with a colorful relief of Horus receiving gifts (left room), a life-size depiction of Horus’ boat (middle room) and a relief of his incarnations (back room in the right/east wall). The right corridor to the south leads to the New Year’s Chapel with an imposing blue relief of the goddess of heaven Nut on the ceiling.

A passage in the west wall leads to a corridor with a relief of Horus’ triumph over Seth. The Secret Game is definitely depicted here, part of a festive ritual in which Seth appears as a hippopotamus hiding under his brother’s boat. At the end of the performance, the priests cut and ate a hippopotamus-shaped cake.

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