Abydos, city of pilgrimage of the Pharaohs is part of the Tentative list of Egypt in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Abydos was a sacred city since the First Egyptian Dynasty. The archaeological complex holds the remains of a city, a pyramid and a funerary temple, a cenotaph, a temple with terraces and the sanctuaries of queen Tetisheri. Nearby at Umm El Qa'ab Royal necropolises have been unearthened.
Map of AbydosLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Abydos is a gem on the tentative list (since 2003). Together with Heliopolis, Hermopolis and Amarna, the site was one of the most important religious centres in pharaonic Egypt. It was a place of worship, pilgrimage and served as a burial place over millennia. The main attraction is the temple of Seti I (father of Ramses II) and the adjacent Osireion, a rather mysterious underground cenotaph for the Egyptian god of fertility and resurrection.
Abydos lies in the modern Egyptian Governorate of Sohag and can be reached by plane (three times per week from Cairo, boat (cruise ships used to come in pre-Corona times), car from either Cairo (about six hours) or Luxor (about three hours). The entire archaeological site is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (entrance was 80 Pounds at the time of our visit). If you want to get a good overview of the area you need to a full day at least. Abydos itself offers accommodations in a hotel not far from the archaeological site; otherwise you can choose from a couple of hotels in Sohag. One of the moored Nile ships now functions as a very attractive alternative both for sleeping and food.
The day we visited (in late May 2021) the site was totally deserted. I believe we were the only visitors. And it was hot - it’s important you take water with you. From the modern visitors centre (washrooms available) you step out into an open square that offers a panoramic view of Seti’s temple which you approach via a ramp walking through the remnants of pylons, court yards (on the walls are battle scenes, one of them showing the famous battle of Kadesh) and smaller buildings that are less well preserved than the temple itself. What catches your eye when approaching the temple are the bright colours on the columns, a strong red and blue. From the portico you step into the shade of the first hypostyle hall. It’s more than a shade it’s a mysterious atmosphere with sun rays coming through to openings in the ceiling. The main theme here on the columns and walls is Ramses II making offerings to the gods.
The second hypostyle hall consists of 24 columns with papyrus capitals and reliefs among the best and most spectacular Egypt can offer. Parts of the ceiling (the entire temple still has its ceiling) have been cleaned recently and display a bright blue colour as opposed to the other parts that remain dark from smoke. You need a good guide or a detailed guide book otherwise you will miss some of the scenes depicting Seti interacting with the gods. You might also miss the cartouche of Ramses II that shows a helicopter, a tank and a plane, all thanks to superimposing his name on his father’s and some parts falling off in the process. Further back in the temple there are seven chapels dedicated to the main gods of Egypt. The lower reliefs are defaced but still make impressive viewing. The sanctuary of Osiris opens up into a group of chambers decorated with exquisite reliefs showing the cycle of the mysteries of Osiris. One of the many highlights of the temple is the list of 76 kings from Pharaoh Menes (Narmer) of the first dynasty all the way to Seti I. of the 19th dynasty. This is an important monument for Egyptology - and it’s a surprise it has been hacked out by trophy hunters in the 19th century. We were lucky to meet an Egyptologist just there who then also showed us a place normally not part of the tour. Right at the end of the corridor with the list of the kings comes an interior courtyard which was the slaughter place of the sacrificial animals; adjacent to it is a storeroom with stacks of paper files which were recently discovered and include the files and correspondence of a number of Egyptologist from the mid 19th century. Sorting and digitalisation is underway and should provide a treasure trove for researchers into the early days of systematic excavations in this part of Egypt. From the corridor with the list of kings a staircase leads out into the open behind the temple. There is the mysterious Osireion, a cenotaph to the god, in a subterranean structure largely flooded by ground water which can be reached either through a 120m long corridor (imitating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings) or via a wooden staircase from above. The Osireion is most of the time closed to the public but we were lucky to find someone to show as around.
Further into the archaeological site stand the remains of the temple of Ramses II, which is less well preserved but also with chapels dedicated to the main gods and beautifully coloured reliefs. Beyond the Ramses temple extends a large ancient necropolis, including burial places of animals. In the most southerly part are the tombs of the New Kingdom, to the north are burial places of the late Old Kingdom. Still farther north are the tombs of the Middle Kingdom, many of them in the form of small brick pyramids. Finally, in the western hills of Umm el-Gaab, are the royal tombs of the earliest dynasties and the sacred Tomb of Osiris. As archaeological work is ongoing, this area is off-limits to visitors.
But this is not all. Don’t miss out on the many other important religious and cultural sites that make a visit to this part of Egypt worth the trip. The Red Monastery in Sohag with paintings recently restored to their former glory find their match only in the Byzantine paintings in Ravenna and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The nearby White Monastery looks like an ancient Egyptian temple and indeed is built with masonry from nearby Pharaonic buildings. In both places (open from 7 a.m. to sunset) monks will be very glad to show you around. The city of Sohag offers temples and burial places from the Ptolemaic period. Worthwhile to mention the Athribis project (near the modern town) that provides research into a large temple that was used well into the Roman period. The Sohag National Museum is now open again (daily from 9 a.m to 4 p.m.) and houses a fine and well displayed collection of findings from the area. On the eastern side of the river is Akhim, inhabited since the Pharaonic period. The new town covers the ancient city of Ipu but here and there it reveals ancient monuments, such as the two colossal statues of Ramses II and his daughter Meretamun, which with its 11 meters height apparently is the tallest statute of an Egyptian princess/queen ever found. If you are fond of textiles, Akhim has been home to a successful weaving industry since antiquity and still is today. El-Hawawish, Akhim’s ancient necropolis can be reached by car within 20 minutes and lays on a ridge overlooking the Nile. It is currently under excavation but a visit to its tombs (two are open) from the Old Kingdom is worth the trip.
Given its religious and cultural significance stretching over more than three thousand years, the rich variety of temples and tombs preserved remarkably well, the site of Abydos would deserve to be inscribed on the permanent WHS list.
I visited this tentative WHS and it is incredibly interesting as are all the ancient Egyptian sites. It is one of the oldest cities in Egypt and a must visit necropolis for the Egyptology enthusiasts. The King List was the highlight of my visit.
2003 Added to Tentative List
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