August 14, 2013

Double Temple of Sobek and Horus at Kom Ombo

Double Temple of Sobek and Horus at Kom Ombo
The ruins of the town of Ombos is situated on a hill that rises some eighteen metres above the surrounding plain Kom Ombo (the ancient Nubyt) means ‘Hill of Ombos’. At this point there is a curve of the Nile with a large island in front of it. This island may once have been a haven for crocodiles that were at first propitiated by the local populace, and then venerated.

Temple of Sobek
Kom Ombo was a site of no great prosperity until Ptolemaic times when it became capital of a separate nome. The town commanded the trade routes in the area and it was, therefore, of strategic importance. The Ptolemies pleased the local populace by building a temple; they had seen much of Egypt’s tradition presented in dualistic terms (Double Crown, ‘Lord of Two Lands’, Upper and Lower Egypt, etc.) and, apparently, saw nothing unusual in building a Double Temple to two hitherto unrelated deities: the hawk god Horwer or Horus the Elder (corrupted to Haroeis by the Greeks) and Sobek, the crocodile god. The temple is, in this respect, unique.

The Double Temple is built on a traditional plan but there is an invisible division down the middle; two separate doorways extend its entire length, past the halls and ante-chambers, ultimately leading to two sanctuaries, one to Horus and the other to Sobek. There is evidence that construction and building continued for some four hundred years, the latest Roman emperor featured being Macrinus (AD 217). In addition to the main temple there is a Birth House and a Shrine to Hathor, both of which date to the Roman period.

The Entrances face south. The left-hand tower, which is mostly destroyed, depicted scenes relating to the triad headed by Horus the Elder with Isis as his wife and Horus, ‘son of Isis’, as his son. The right-hand tower shows scenes relating to the triad headed by Sobek with Hathor as his wife, and Khonsu as their son. The triads are depicted on the lower parts of the wall (a). At (b) praises are sung by fifty-two lines of hierogly phic inscriptions. At (c) a procession is led by the Roman emperor Domitian, as pharaoh. Behind him are Hapi and other deities bearing offerings. In the upper register Domitian leaves the palace, led by a priest who burns incense and is accompanied by priests who bear the tribal standards.

Temple of Sobek
The Court (1) is spacious. It has eight columns on each side and an altar near the centre (d). From the vantage of this court one can look northwards through each of the double doors towards the rear of the temple. The eye passes from doorway to doorway, from decorated capital to curved cornice, towards one of the holy sanctuaries. The fine proportions of the temple are best observed this way.

On the right-hand wall (e) is a line of figures of Hapi, led by the pharaoh (in this case Tiberius); each figure bears libation water, bread, cakes and lotus flowers. The screen walls to the rear of the court show the deities pouring libations over Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysos): on the right-hand wall (f) the deities are the hawkheaded Horus and the ibis-headed Thoth; on the left-hand wall (g) it is Horus (to whom this section of the temple is dedicated) who pays the pharaoh honour. Each section is crowned by a row of uraei, which bear the sun disc on their heads.

The Great Hypostyle Hall (2) has ten columns supporting a roof that is decorated with flying vultures along the two main aisles, and astronomical figures beneath the architrave. Attention is drawn to the elegance of the capitals, and their variety of decorative motifs. Many show elaborate palm frond and flower capitals. The wall reliefs are well-preserved; they show all the Ptolemaic rulers who contributed to the decoration of the temple: Ptolemy VI (Philo-meter), Ptolemy IX (Euergetes II) and Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysos).

Horus at Kom Ombo
The reliefs on the inside of the temple, which date to Ptolemaic times, are finer than the crude sunken reliefs on the outer walls of the temple, which date to Roman times. The best reliefs of the Ptolemaic period may be seen at (h). Ptolemy XII stands in the presence of Horus; he receives the symbol of Life from Isis (depicted in the form of a cat) and Nut, the Sky-goddess. The goddesses place their arms around the pharaoh. Thoth and Horus, ‘son of Isis’, stand behind them.

The corresponding scene (at i) is less carefully worked and not as well preser^d. It shows the king being crowned by two ancient goddesses: tne vulture-goddess of the pre-dynastic capital of Upper Egypt, and the serpent-goddess of the pre-dynastic capital of Lower Egypt.

To the rear (j) and (k) are scenes of sacrifices and offerings; those to the right relate to the triad headed by Sobek, and those to the left, to the triad headed by Horus.

Horus at Kom Ombo
Unfortunately the two sanctuaries (7) are in a poor state of preservation. Horus’s granite pedestal stood to the east, and Sobek’s to the west. Between the two sanctuaries, a hidden corridor has been built into the thickness of the wall. This secret place could only be approached from a chamber situated immediately to the rear, where a portion of the floor could be raised to admit a priest to a passage below ground level. The priest must have played a part in the oracular power attributed to the two deities.

Horus at Kom Ombo
The inner corridor (8) leads to seven chambers to the rear of the temple; access is gained from (2) and (3). The entire corridor is decorated with reliefs, some unfinished. (The central chamber (p) has a stairway leading to the upper level.)

The outer corridor (9) is also decorated throughout. It is approached from the Court (1). Here again, the scenes on the left- hand corridor relate to Horus and those to the right to Sobek.

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