The Temple of Edfu is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. It’s also the second largest temple in all of Egypt, with the Temple of Karnak being the first.
The Temple of Edfu was originally dedicated to the falcon god, Horus of Behdet (the original name for Edfu). It was built on top of the remains of an older, smaller temple dedicated to the same god.
The ancient Egyptians believed that this was the location where the infamous battle between Horus and Seth took place. Horus was the sky god, whose eyes were the sun and moon. Seth, on the other hand, was the god of chaos, and Horus’ uncle. They battled to determine who would succeed Osiris as king.
In the story, Horus and Seth had various competitions to determine the successor. Horus beat Seth in every competition, and was eventually declared the king of Egypt.
Meet Horus, the falcon god:
Egypt was very prosperous at the time the shrine was built, which is why it’s so immense. It was built during the Ptolemaic Dynasty, between 237 and 57 BC. Ptolemy III started construction of the building on August 23, 237 BC. But it took 180 years to complete. By this time, Egypt was under the rule of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, Cleopatra VII’s father. It’s important to note that the Ptolemies were actually Greek. but they presented themselves to the Egyptians as native pharaohs.
In ancient Greek texts, Edfu was known as “Apollopolis Magna” because the Greeks identified Horus with their God Apollo. Due to the Greek influence from the Ptolemaic era, you’ll notice elements of both Egyptian and Greek architectural styles blended together in the temple structures.
The Temple of Edfu
This is the entrance to the Temple of Edfu:
The pylon is 37 meters tall and depicts battle scenes of King Ptolemy VIII smiting his enemies before Horus. It was one of the last elements constructed. Note the size of the people in front for scale:
The Court of Offerings
This is the open courtyard, known as the Court of Offerings. This area was open to the public in order to make offerings to Horus. The carved reliefs depict festival scenes.
Note the Greek style columns lining the peristyle hall:
The Pronaos and Hypostyle Hall
This is the back of the courtyard. The vestibule, known as a pronaos, leads into a hypostyle hall. The hypostyle hall and pronaos were built around 140-124 BC. There are two statues of Horus carved out of black granite flanking the entrance. The Horus to the left is wearing the double crown of Egypt, while the Horus on the right has been damaged and is now legless:
The Sanctuary of Horus
This is the interior of the Sanctuary of Horus, the holiest room in the temple. The black granite shrine, dedicated by Nectanebo II, was from an earlier building, making it the oldest relic in the temple. It once housed a gilded wooden image of Horus. The room also houses an offering table and a ceremonial barge which carried Horus during festivals.
The temple fell into disuse during the reign of Roman emperor Theodosius I, when he banned all forms of non-Christian worship in 391 AD. Many of the temple’s reliefs were damaged by Christians during this time. The blackened ceiling of the hypostyle hall also suggests an attempt at arson to destroy pagan imagery.
Over the centuries, the temple was swallowed up by 12 metres of drifting sand and river silt from the Nile. By 1798, only the upper edges of the pylons were visible. An archaeological dig commenced in 1860 to finally free the temple from its sandy crypt. The sands actually helped to preserve the building, which is why its integrity is so impressive.
Edfu is located 60km north of Aswan. If you’re travelling on a group tour, you’re very likely to visit the Temple of Edfu, as it’s a very popular tourist destination. It’s usually in combination with a visit to nearby Kom Ombo Temple.
GPS Coordinates: 24.9779° N, 32.8734° E