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Blog: Ptolemaic Temples

The Ptolemies ruled over Egypt from 304 to 30 BC. They were descendants of Macedonian Greeks, whose leader Alexander the Great had conquered the pharaonic lands and set up his capital in Alexandria in the far north. The Ptolemies (all their kings were named Ptolemy) did however contribute their own set of temples to the already existing landscape of sacred sites upstream along the Nile. Four of these temples are combined on the Tentative List under the name Pharaonic temples in Upper Egypt from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. They are located in Dendera, Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. I visited the latter two as side trips from a dahabiya cruise along the Nile.

Horus statue at Edfu

Edfu is a mid-size commercial town without any charm. Together with my 5 shipmates I crossed it quickly by horse carriage, the traditional form of taxi transport that also still can be found in Luxor. The temple’s parking lot even has a shaded section to park the horses.

The temple at Edfu is dedicated to the falcon-headed warrior god Horus. His image is the trademark of this temple, and the various granite sculptures of his face that stand guard at the site are especially picturesque. Due to having its roof intact, the temple itself feels more like a complete building than the ones I visited so far in Egypt. Inside there are dozens of separate rooms that were used for storage and as chapels. All of its walls are decorated with bas-reliefs. They have lost most of their colours however, and the ceilings have been badly damaged by smoke. Numerous pigeons contribute daily to the deteroriating condition of the building. Access to the roof has even been closed off – this is to fend off another annoying animal species: bats.

I enjoyed roaming around this temple on my own, discovering fully decorated corridors that lead nowhere. I stayed for two hours and there were hardly any other visitors.

"Hidden" corridor

Kom Ombo lies a few hours upstream from Edfu. This temple is also located near a sizeable (and eponymous) town. No need for a taxi this time: the temple of Kom Ombo lies directly on the eastern bank of the Nile. From a distance it strongly resembles a Greek temple, showing off its many columns.

The distinguishing feature of the temple of Kom Ombo is that it is a double-temple, dedicated to two gods at the same time. They are Horus (like in Edfu) and Sobek, the crocodile god. This is one of the few places in Egypt where a cult around crocodiles developed. A live specimen used to live inside, and when it died it was mummified and replaced by another living crocodile. A number of the crocodile mummies can be seen at the on site museum.

Kom Ombo also has a fine example of a Nilometer (that measured the height of the river’s water level), and numerous interesting bas-reliefs in good condition. The display of surgical equipment is possibly the best-known among them. We had arrived early enough to have unobstructed views of the temple’s highlights, but after 3.30 p.m. the passengers of large cruise ships started streaming in. At least 12 of them were docked near the temple when we left.

Horus and Sobek together at Kom Ombo

These two sites are examples of the value that in my opinion still can be taken from Egypt’s Tentative List. It’s a miracle that these sites have never been nominated, as is the case with nearby Dendera. Dating from the Ptolemaic Period, they all represent a part of Egypt’s ancient history that is not covered yet by its WHS.  

Published 21 April 2017

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Responses to Ptolemaic Temples
Colvin (23 April 2017)

Great photos! I loved Kom Ombo and Edfu temples, and I hope these Ptolemaic temples are one day inscribed as World Heritage Sites. I was spoiled by magnificent temples traveling from Aswan to Luxor by dahabiya, leaving me to wonder if I would have enjoyed Luxor more if I took the trip in reverse.


Els (23 April 2017)

@Kyle: done!


Kyle (22 April 2017)

Can you link your Blog (Dutch) in the About portion of this website? I like following that as well, but I have to search the forums if I ever want to find it.