– SEPTEMBER 05, 2015
The cruise ship docked very early this morning while we were sleeping. At 7am we were up for breakfast and our guide chatted with us regarding today’s tours. First up was the city of Kom Ombo where we would visit the unique Kom Ombo Temple. Its unique due to it having a split entrance dedicated to separate gods. The building is unique because its ‘double‘ design meant that there were courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods. All other temples were dedicated to a particular god which would aid that specific location. Here they decided to honor two gods to double their chances of success in life.
The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world with Hathor and Khonsu. Meanwhile, the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god Horus. The temple is atypical because everything is perfectly symmetrical along the main axis.
The scene on the inner face of the rear wall of the temple is of particular interest as it displays what appears to be modern surgical instruments with a story of medical procedures done back then. This temple was also used as a mental health hospital back in ancient Egypt.
Much of the temple has been destroyed by the Nile annual flooding, earthquakes, and later builders who used its stones for other projects. Some of the reliefs inside were defaced by the Coptic who once used the temple as a church. A few of the three-hundred crocodile mummies discovered in the vicinity are displayed in The Crocodile Museum (seen later in this post).
Right beside Kom Ombo Temple is the Crocodile Museum, as this particular site was overflowing with crocodiles back in ancient Egypt (not now as the High Dam prevents crocodiles from getting onto the northern side of the Nile). The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods sent physical manifestations of themselves to earth in the form of their totemic animals. Thus, at Sobek temples the people believed that a live crocodile (recognizable by specific markings) was thought to contain a spark of the god within, and was worshipped and cared for by the priests during its lifetime. After its death, the spirit of the god would move to another crocodile’s body, while the dead crocodile would be mummified and ceremoniously buried in a specific cemetery. Pilgrims who came to pray to Sobek would also give votive offerings in the form of small mummified crocodiles, stelae, or statues to the god; these too would be buried in cemeteries, such as that of el-Shatb.
Below, the mummified crocodile placed on a wooden plank with carrying poles, and balanced on a wooden plinth shaped like a shrine. This was likely a sacred crocodile, revered during its lifetime and preserved for eternity. The crocodile is from Kom Ombo, although the base comes from the Fayum, also a great cult center for Sobek. According to classical authors, these sacred crocodiles were often bejeweled and even had their nails gilded.
The association of Sobek’s eggs with the act of creation made mummified crocodile eggs and foetuses a popular votive offering to the god. These were buried in special cemeteries sacred to Sobek, such as el-Shatb. Crocodiles were seen as very fertile prowess, and the females for their fecundity – they lay between 25 and 80 eggs at a time. As parents, they carefully guard their young and are fierce fighters. Often mothers take their infants into their mouths in order to protect them from prey. Thus, Sobek, like an actual crocodile, was a creator as well as a guardian of the people.
This bronze figure of Sobek-Re was once enhanced with inlaid or enamelled colours. It depicts the well-muscled human body of the god with the head of a crocodile, wearing a headdress of ram horns surmounted by a sun-disk and feathers. This manifestation of the god underlines his association with the sun and fertility.
Stelae (decorated stone slabs) often were given as votive offerings to the different forms of Sobek and erected in the temple or in the cemeteries where the sacred crocodiles were buried. The stelae were carved with images of the god and the dedicator. Inscriptions giving the name of the devotee, and a short prayer to the god were frequently also carved on the stelae.
Then we rode back on the horse carriage to the cruise ship for some afternoon tea and some sailing. We sailed to the next stop at the town of Edfu to see Edfu Temple. The Edfu Temple is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. The temple, dedicated to the falcon god Horus, was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BC. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Greco-Roman period in ancient Egypt. In particular, the Temple’s inscribed building texts provide details both of its construction, and also preserve information about the mythical interpretation of this and all other temples as the Island of Creation. There are also important scenes and inscriptions of the Sacred Drama which related the age-old conflict between Horus and Seth.
Edfu Temple’s size reflects the relative prosperity of the time. The present temple initially consisted of a pillared hall, two transverse halls, and a barque sanctuary surrounded by chapels. It was built on the site of an earlier, smaller temple also dedicated to Horus, although the previous structure was oriented east-west rather than north-south as in the present site. A naos of Nectanebo II, a relic from an earlier building, is preserved in the inner sanctuary, which stands alone while the temple’s barque sanctuary is surrounded by nine chapels.
The temple of Edfu fell into disuse as a religious monument following Theodosius I’s edict banning non-Christian worship within the Roman Empire in 391. As elsewhere, many of the temple’s carved reliefs were razed by followers of the Christian faith which came to dominate Egypt. The blackened ceiling of the hypostyle hall, visible today, is believed to be the result of arson intended to destroy religious imagery that was then considered pagan.
Over the centuries, the temple became buried to a depth of 12 metres beneath drifting desert sand and layers of river silt deposited by the Nile. Local inhabitants built homes directly over the former temple grounds. Only the upper reaches of the temple pylons were visible by 1798, when the temple was identified by a French expedition. The Temple of Edfu is nearly intact and a very good example of an ancient Egyptian temple.
Back onto the cruise ship to head overnight to Luxor!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.