Magic Carpet Journals
The Edfu Temple and the Temple at Esna
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
Our boat reached Edfu, during the night. I felt great, having had a long night’s sleep lulled by the gentle motion of the boat. I woke not long after six, in plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast before our eight o'clock tour departure.
Caleche and driver await the arrival of passengers
On emerging from our ship, we noticed the dock was lined with horses and black carriages. We discovered that they were caleches, waiting to take two or three of us at a time, to the Edfu Temple. The drivers were very competitive, so we were warned to be sure to note the number of the carriage or caleche and catch the same driver back from the temple. Also, we were told not to tip the driver because that is handled by our tour guide. A street of markets met us, as we got near our destination. Time did not permit us to stop to look at the merchandise though, much as I would have enjoyed the opportunity. We rushed on to see the largest and most complete of the existing temples, The Temple of Edfu.
Built out of sandstone, a thousand years after Thebes, the Edfu Temple is considered to be the best preserved of all the temples. The foundation was laid in 237 BC, during the Ptolemaic period, on top of an older temple that had been built during the time of Tuthmose III. It took two centuries to complete and is now considered to be the most important temple after Karnak. A large temple, it is 137 metres long and 79 metres wide. The pylons are 36 metres high. Depicted on the huge pylons are the giant figures of the goddess, Hathor and the god Horus, with the body of a man and the head of a falcon. Horus was worshipped here, because this was reputed to be the site on which Horus killed his brother, Seth, the murderer of his father, Osiris.
It was a hot, sunny morning. We moved quickly from the sunny forecourt, where much reconstruction is now taking place, through an entrance guarded by Horus, in the form of two black granite falcon statues on either side. The falcon statues are crowned with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Horus guards the entrance
We entered the hall of columns, especially impressive because the roof of this magnificent temple is still intact. I was able to observe the hypostyle hall as it once was, and experience some of the awe that must have been felt by the faithful of ancient Egypt, as they too stood here in the long distant past. Some of the 38 columns here have grasshoppers carved at the top or capital, to represent nature. Many of the beautiful colours still exist on the round etched columns. Leaving the hypostyle hall, we passed through the offering halls before coming to the dark inner sanctuary, with it's huge black sacrificial stone. The only one allowed to worship in the sanctuary was the Pharaoh. It is believed the high priest hid, behind and underneath the sacrificial stone, to make his god-like pronouncements, in the presence of the Pharaoh. Inside the sanctuary stands a large grey tabernacle, carved from a single block of granite. It was constructed in 360 BC. A ceremonial boat sits on a pedestal in the sanctuary. Important in their mythology, the boat was used to transport the ancient Egyptians into the afterlife.
Beginning in the Old Kingdom, 3000 years before the birth of Christ, a festival was held here every 30 years. Later it became an annual celebration. The physical fitness of the King had to be demonstrated, to show that he was still fit to rule. He had to run a fixed course, and also, he had to catch a bull by the tail. (Shades of Spain’s Running of the Bulls or the Calgary Stampede!)
A memmesi, or place of childbirth, is also situated on this temple site. It is the place where Horus was symbolically reborn every day. A wall displays scenes of the conception and birth of this god.
In later years this temple was occupied by Christians, who, having no use for the ancient gods, defaced the pictures by scratching out some of their faces. The smoke from their fires can still be seen on the walls and the ceiling of the sanctuary.
Notice that the faces of the ancient gods have been scratched out here
There were many tourists, here at this site, so it was difficult to keep track of our own group. Leaving the temple, we walked back to where the caleches were waiting to return us to our boat. We were careful to get the same one to take us back to the Sonesta Star Goddess.
The Temple of Esna
Looking back thirty years to my previous journey down the Nile, I remember an ancient site that was missed this time. I will include my memories of my visit to the Temple at Esna in my narrative here.
On that voyage, we were aboard a Sheraton Cruise Ship, the Anni, a tall white, golden yellow and turquoise vessel. The ship was due to dock at Esna at 1:00 p.m. and we were asked by our guide to be prompt, so that we could get away quickly to avoid the rush. We walked into the town and through a market street, to the temple site.
The Anni and the Tut docked at Esna
Once covered with sand, this temple had been painstakingly excavated and now, the top of it sat at the level of the town. The temple was reached by descending down a long staircase to the entrance level of the edifice. A huge depression existed, where the temple had been unearthed and further archaeological work was being done. It was believed that there would be many other parts of this temple yet to be uncovered, however, the town was built over those sites. The archaeologists had to wait patiently for the occupied buildings to decay and require renewal. Legislation prevented other houses being built to replace the existing ones, so further archaeological research could only be done whenever that occurs.
Temple at Esna dedicated to Khnum
The temple, as we saw it then, consisted of a large hypostyle hall, 33 metres by 18 metres, containing 24 columns 13.5 metres tall. The capitals of these columns had various sculpted floral motifs. Overhead the ceilings were painted with stars, the walls with scenes. Built in the Roman period, between 30 BC and 337 AD, the temple was the centre for the worship of a sacred fish, called Latopolis.
Excavated after 1842, this building was subsequently used by Mohammed Ali Pasha, to store gun powder. We could see traces of the black, from the gunpowder, inside the temple during our visit.
This temple was dedicated to the cult of Khnum who, it was believed, created the whole world on a potter's wheel.
Walking through the grounds, on our way back to the stairs, we passed a large area covered with broken pieces of stone, etched with various symbols. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the archaeologists and Egyptologists piece these together, hoping to solve more of the conundrums and mysteries of the distant past here at Esna.
We had to hurry back to the ship, because the Captain wanted to sail on time. Coming back through the market street, we rushed to nearly the end of the street before we succumbed to the lure of the merchants. I began to bargain for a t-shirt for my husband, Dick, then Margaret pointed out the little brass pyramids being sold across the street. Walking across to look at them, I was followed by the first merchant. Consequently, I found myself bargaining with the two merchants at the same time. Those little pyramids still sit on my coffee table, as they have done for thirty years.
On board the ship, we hurried up on deck, wanting to see the ship pass through the barrage or locks. The laugh was on us. The ship pulled anchor at 2:30 and here we all spent the afternoon, sitting on deck, while the ship moved only with the gentle motion of the water, as we waited our turn. The real rush was to get our place in the line-up of ships, all waiting to pass through the barrage. We did get out in time to beat our sister ship, The Tut. We spent a lazy afternoon, enjoying the pleasant scenery. Among the vegetation growing along the river bank, there were palm trees growing in abundance, along with mimosa and many other trees. Sugar cane grew right up to the shore line in most places, reminding me of the biblical reeds that the baby Moses was found in. Looking out across the water, beyond the barrage and the green trees, the barren mountains, appeared in a purple haze. Waiting on deck, for the ship to go through the locks was a peaceful way to spend our time. A gentle breeze was blowing off the Nile, keeping the temperature quite comfortable. Off in the distance, I spotted a caravan of camels crossing the barrage. Life is certainly different for people in this distant land.
Passengers gather on deck
Tea was served up on deck that day, which was nice because most of the passengers were already up there. A bored American started a pool to see who could come closest to guessing the time that the ship would go into the locks. Dinner time arrived and we were still waiting.
We were on first seating for our meals: breakfast 6-8 a.m.; lunch 12-1 p.m.; and dinner 7-8 p.m. Tea, consisting of tea or coffee, cakes and pastries, was served at 5 p.m., usually in the lounge. During dinner, one of the passengers was celebrating a birthday. A birthday cake with sparklers emerged from the kitchen, carried high by the Maître'd, followed by all of the dining room staff, including the cooks in their tall white hats and aprons, chanting and beating drums. The birthday person had to get up and dance with them. We tried the red wine tonight. The water was better.
Camels crossing the barrage
The boat was still waiting to go through the barrage, when we finished dinner. We went up on deck to see if there was any change. We found our boat was anchored right next to The Tut. Several of us stood at the railing, talking to a young boy on the other ship. Looking down, we saw the staterooms of our sister ship. Being dark, we had a bird's eye view right into those cabins. In one, a lady was changing her clothes. In another, a couple were sitting on the bed. The lady began giving her male companion a massage. When their intentions appeared to become amorous, our group began to clap, thus letting the couple know that they had an audience. It seemed to have the effect of a cold shower. They very rapidly closed the drapes.
We were to have an early start tomorrow, so soon gave up our vigil and headed for bed. We watched our journey through the barrage from our cabin window before falling asleep. The person with the last time won the pool. The ship was passing through well after the last time guessed. The ship continued on to dock at Luxor while we slept. I wish I had been able to visit Esna again on my second trip as I would like to have seen the changes that have been made by those people restoring the temple. The various sites that I have visited, on my return to Egypt, have had a lot of work done to them in the interval between those visits.
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
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Last Updated on November 05, 2018 by M. Maxine George editor.