Pharaonic temples in Upper Egypt
Pharaonic temples in Upper Egypt from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods is part of the Tentative list of Egypt in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Pharaonic temples in Upper Egypt comprise the temples of Dendera, Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. They were all built during the dynasty of the Ptolemies and the Roman period (304 BC – 395 AD) and are reasonably well-preserved.
Map of Pharaonic temples in Upper EgyptLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
None of the previous reviewers has described the visit to Esna, which is part of this proposal, so in my post I will focus only on it. In short – don’t miss this one!
Esna is the first stop on the route of the temples of Upper Egypt from Luxor to Aswan. From Luxor leads to it a rather weak road, which takes about an hour. Esna and Edfu are connected by the same road, and the distance can be covered in an hour and a half. You should park on the main road, the last 300 meters walk around the souvenir stands.
The purpose of our visit in Esna was to visit a small but very well-preserved temple of the god Khnum. Its construction began in the fifteenth century BC, but was completed only in Roman times. The temple in Esna is undergoing intensive renovation and you can see the difference between renovated and non-renovated parts, especially on the vault. It is also surprising that architecturally it is similar to temples twenty centuries older. The Greek dynasty of the Ptolemaic, and later the Romans, managed to leave only a small mark on the architecture of this place.
I highly recommended this temple, after Dendera and Abydos, Esna has the best preserved wall and ceiling paintings of the entire Egyptian T-List. It is probably even better renovated than the aforementioned two.
Egypt, being one of the greatest ancient civilizations in the world, is quite underrepresented on the list of WHS for just how much impressive remains are left today, and that reflects in Egypt's very long and rich T-list. To this day, only 3 sites, though extremely comprehensive and rich sites, have been inscribed for their significance in Ancient Egyptian history, even less than the Anasazi, Mayans, Australian Aborigines, Vikings, and other less influential and prominent cultures. In my eyes, the Pharaonic Temples are an easy 4th site among many deserving sites across Egypt. I visited Egypt in May 2018, and between Luxor and Aswan, I got to visit the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. I arrived in Edfu around mid-morning, which had a pleasant temperature, and Kom Ombo at around noon, which was almost unbearably scorching, but luckily, both times gave me an almost empty temple to explore, with maybe a couple of other small groups in each.
Edfu was one of my personal favorite sites of the whole trip. It follows a relatively ordinary succession of chambers of many Egyptian temples, but the difference here is the preservation. Walking through the grand entrance in the impressively tall and intricately decorated pylon, the outdoor courtyard doesn't even look like a ruin. It's completely surrounded by strong walls and uniform numbers of columns. The columns themselves aren't uniform, though, as each one has a different floral design for the capital. The statue of Horus guards the entrance to the dark bowels of the temple, which is where the fun really begins. It's not common to be in the shade when exploring Ancient Egyptian wonders, especially outside of tombs, but in Edfu, the roof is still intact that the hypostyle halls can be seen the way they were meant to be seen: in the darkness. The first hall has a blackened ceiling because it was apparently used as a kitchen after (I forgot by whom and how long after, sorry), but luckily, the carvings on the columns stayed immaculately preserved, sans colors. In fact, the most impressive carvings I've seen in Egypt are here. The cuts made to highlight each figure are deeper than in other ruins, which really makes them come to life. The darkness also adds to the mysterious atmosphere. I proceeded inwards through more hypostyle halls before I reach the sanctuary, which is home to the ceremonial barque. I also walked around the walls of the temple outdoors, but the carvings there were unfortunately defaced by the Romans.
Kom Ombo was a bit of a different experience. Arriving at noon, it took effort to even climb up to the very ruined remains of the great temple. It's right by the Nile, which is a plus for setting, but a minus for preservation, as its position has cost the temple its pylon and courtyard. The hypostyle hall, to an even greater extent than Luxor or Karnak Temples, lacks its roof, but the few pieces of it are actually archaeological gems, as they have preserved some vibrant color. The overall layout is also strange because of Kom Ombo's character as a double temple, dedicated to both Sorek and Horus, and each god gets their own half of the temple with its corresponding halls. The interesting thing about Kom Ombo is really the depictions of the many wall and column carvings. My guide first pointed out the pharaoh's figure and its cartouche, which revealed that he was a Ptolemy. Next, we found a carving that depicted childbirth in the same position as it is done today. The most impressive and important one, though, is the collection of surgical instruments on the back wall. My parents, being of that profession, quickly recognized many instruments that they use today in the 2000 year old art, which reflects the influence of the Egyptian civilization even in today's modern society. Lastly, we visited the Nilometer and the crocodile pool by the side of the temple. There's also the on-site museum, which houses the really interesting crocodile mummies. We went through Kom Ombo a bit less leisurely, though, as the heat was really getting exhausting.
To me, both these temples could probably stand as WHS in their own merit, Edfu for its impressive state of preservation and Kom Ombo for its double temple and important depictions that show Egypt's influence on the modern world. Dendera, another temple in this serial site, is best known for its colorful interior. In truth, each of the 4 temples of this site could probably be their own WHS, but in line with the Egyptian way of inscribing, these sites have much more in common than the 3 existing WHS. They are all, in essence, Ptolemaic Egyptian temples, following a similar structure and layout, serving similar purposes, built around the same Ptolemaic period, in the same region around Luxor, and are all impressively large, detailed, and intact. It's a coherent serial site that really reveals an unrepresented period of an underrepresented culture in the list, and shows great influence on the world despite being one of the oldest civilizations in the world. This would be an above-par WHS if inscribed, and is one of the top missing sites of today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of the four temples mentioned in the description of the site, I have visited three. The largest, the Temple of Hathor at Dendera has some spectacularly engraved walls, columns and ceilings, a significant number of which still retain their original colouring. While some engravings have been defaced by religious zealots in more recent times this temple deserves listing and the protection this will provide.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu was outstanding for its carved stone figure of a falcon at the entrance, as well as engravings of Horus, the falcon and Seth, a yellow hippopotamus battling one another.
The Temple of Sorek the crocodile at Kom Ombo also contained a fine collection of engravings, including a calender and a medical library depicting a set of surgical instruments of 5000 years ago.
2003 Added to Tentative List
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