August 14, 2013

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Temple of Horus at Edfu
Edfu (Greek Apollonopolis), which is situated between Esna and Aswan, is a site with a long-standing tradition. Its name is derived from the ancient Edbo; it means ‘The Town of the Piercing’ and refers to the triumph of Horus over Set.

Temple of Horus
There is evidence of occupation in Edfu from pre-dynastic times through to the end of the Roman period. The temple of Horus, however, is entirely Ptolemaic. Texts on the outer face of the girdle wall indicate that it was begun in 237 BC and completed in 57 BC. Ptolemy III, who started the building, claimed that he was constructing it on an original plan made by Imhotep, builder of Zoser’s Step Pyramid at Sakkara that was raised some two thousand five hundred years earlier. The ruins of the ancient town show that the site was, indeed, an important province during the Old Kingdom, and that it retained its importance in the Middle Kingdom.

When the festal journey between Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera was instituted as a regular ceremony in the New Kingdom, Edfu gained great prestige and popularity. This ‘Good Reunion’ took place in the second month of the Egyptian year, when Hathor of Dendera came to visit her husband Horus in his temple at Edfu. The statue of Horus was placed on the sacred boat that was placed on a Nile vessel to be borne northwards to meet his mate. Hathor’s sacred statue was likewise travelling from Dendera towards Edfu. Great was the joy of the populace lining the banks of the river when the craft came together in mid-stream; husband and wife were united.


Temple of Horus at Edfu
Amidst joy and celebration the two boats would make their way to Edfu, where the entire population assembled to watch the priests enter the temple with the sacred statues.

The Temple at Edfu, along with those ofPhilae, contains some of the finest art and architecture of the Ptolemaic period. It is dedicated to Horus, Hathor and their son, ‘Horus the younger’ or ‘Uniter of the Two Lands’. It comprises a Great Court (1), the Pronaos (2), Hypostyle Hall (3) and two ante-chambers (4) and (5), leading to the Sanctuary (6). Around the sanctuary is a corridor leading to smaller chambers; around the rear part of the temple runs an Outer Corridor that is accessible only from the Outer Court, or from the two Hypostyle Halls.

The entire temple - corridors, halls, ante-chambers, sanctuary, inner chambers, outer walls - are embellished with wonderful reliefs. This is one of the most beautiful, and certainly the best preserved of Egypt’s monuments. In fact there is no ancient monument in the world that can match it.

A large granite statue of Horus the Hawk - one of two found outside the western tower — stands in front of the entrance guarding the temple. On its head is the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The Entrance Pylon is completely covered with inscriptions and reliefs, both inside and out. They mostly show Ptolemy XIII in the Egyptian tradition; he clasps enemies by the hair and raises his arm to smite them, in the presence of Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera. (Access to the top of the pylon can be gained by small stairways approached from outside the temple and from the Great Court, but is not normally accessible.)

The Great Court (i), where offerings were once made to Horus on a great altar, is a spacious enclosure surrounded on three sides by a gallery supported by thirty-two columns. The shafts are decorated with reliefs; the capitals are ornate flower and palm-fronds.

The wall reliefs relate to the Good Reunion between Horus and Hathor; on the lower reaches of the right-hand wall (a) the festal boats of Horus and Hathor may be seen on the Nile; they arc towed to Edfu. On arrival, the priests carry the statues, in their barges, towards the temple; there they make offerings and conduct prayers.

To the rear of the Court, Ptolemy IX makes offerings; he presents four libation jars to Horus, and a sphinx to Hathor in the presence of Horus (b). There is a similar scene at (c) with offerings of electrum to Hathor. Before the screen, to the left of the doorway is a superb granite hawk of Horus, distainfully surveying the court.

Temple of Horus
The central doorway leads to the Pronaos (2), the roof of which is supported by columns with various floral capitals, and the ceiling is decorated with astrological scenes. The walls are covered with reliefs that, unfortunately, have lost much of their vivid colour. The themes relate to the consecration of the temple. To the left (d), Ptolemy IX breaks ground with a hoe, before Horus and Hathor. Incense is cast on the broken ground to purify the area. The completed temple is then encircled and blessed, in the presence of Horus.

Two tiny chambers have been built up against the walls to left and right of the entrance. The chamber to the left (e), is the Consecration Chamber. The inscription over the doorway informs us that golden vessels used for purification ceremonies were stored here. These were used when the pharaoh came to participate in the great festivals of Horus, and, in fact, there is a niche in the wall where they were kept. The wall reliefs show the actual purification ceremonies that were performed in the presence of the deities. Afterwards, the pharaoh, crowned King of Upper and Lower Egypt, is shown being led into the Temple of Horus.

The chamber to the right (f), was the library. The inscription over the doorway states that in this chamber the papyrus rolls of Horus and of Harmachis, arranged by the chief ritual-priest for the twelve hours of the day, were stored. From the small size of the niches inside the chamber we can see that the library probably only contained those texts relating to the traditional ceremonies of this particular temple. Over the doorway is a winged sun disc. Immediately beneath are representations (damaged) of the four sensesihearing, sight, taste and reason, each depicted as a human figure honouring the scribe’s palette.

Crossing the Pronaos, on the rear doorway we can see representations of Ptolemy IX performing foundation ceremonies before Horus on either side. Above the doorway is a symbolic scene that shows the sun, with the figure of a winged beetle (Kheper), being guided above the horizon by two hawk-headed figures. The gods Thoth, Neith, Wepwawat, Maat and Hathor are shown to the left.

The Hypostyle Hall (3) has twelve columns in three rows. They are slender and also have decorative capitals. Note the openings near the top of the walls, and in the ceiling, which admit light to this otherwise darkened place. The scenes on the walls relate to pegging out the limits of the temple by Ptolemy IV, breaking ground and the final presentation to Horus. It would appear that as each Ptolemaic king succeeded to the throne of Egypt, he would repeat these rituals, thus paying honour to the local populace and to their temple. He would then have the scenes depicted on the temple walls. How joyful the people of Edfu must have been when the Ptolemies honoured Horus and brought them prestige.

The New Year Festival is represented on the walls of the two staircases, which are approached from the first Antechamber (4). On the walls of the eastern stairway (g) the king, accompanied by priests bearing the standards that represented Egypt’s ancient provinces, mounts to the roof. Behind him is a long procession of priests of a lower order, chanting and reciting hymns. Some of them shake sistrums, burn incense or carry offerings.

At the turn of the passage two caskets are being carried; the statues of Horus and Hathor rest on them. Behind and in front of them are priests of a higher order, who burn incense to safeguard the treasures from any evil spirit that might lurk in the temple. The king and queen look anxiously around to ensure that all is well.

Towards the top of the staircase, priests with standards are depicted once again. At the top, the king heads the procession. He will watch the sacred statues being placed on the roof, where they will remain until dawn. The descent from the roof is depicted on the walls of the western stairway, after the statues have been revitalised from the rays of the rising sun.

Temple of Horus
The second Antechamber (5) lies immediately in front of the sanctuary. Turning to the right, six steps lead to a small open court and a tiny chamber (h) which contains superb reliefs of Ptolemy IV and his wife Arsinoe, making offerings to Horus and Hathor. On the right-hand wall they are enthroned. On the left-hand wall they make offerings to the memory of their royal parents: Ptolemy III and Queen Berenice. Over the doorway are seven representations of Hathor beating tamborines. They might be prototypes of the legendary fairy-godmothers.

The chamber to the left (i) is dedicated to Min, the god of fertility, and to Hathor. The scenes relate to the birth of Horus and the mysterious renewing of life.

In the Sanctuary (6), the sacred barge of Horus stood on a low altar at the centre. To the left is a magnificent shrine of dark, highly polished granite in which the sacred statue stood. The reliefs on the lower reaches of the right-hand wall show the king, Nektanebos II, the last Egyptian pharaoh, who was responsible for building the shrine, as he removes the lock from the shrine, opens the door, stands in reverential attitude before the sacred statue, and makes offerings. The pivot holes to the sides of the door indicate that the chamber once had double doors.

The corridor around the santuary leads to ten small chambers. All are decorated and relate to items placed in them for storage, and their ritual purpose.

The Outer Corridor (accessible from (1) and (3)), has reliefs relating to the overcoming of evil - represented by either a crocodile or a hippopotamus - by good, represented by Horus. They may be found to the west of the temple: at (j) Horus is depicted in a boat, and the king on land. Together they spear a hippopotamus which is held on a rope by Isis. At (k) Horus stands on a chained hippopotamus which he spears. At (1) (where the corridor narrows) is a relief showing three figures: the first figure kills a hippopotamus with a knife; the second shows the sage Imhotep reading from a sacred text, and the third shows the king fattening a goose for sacrifice. T o the east of the temple (m), a staircase leads to an ancient Nilometer.

The outside of the Temple is also embellished with reliefs.

Those to the rear (n) show Ptolemy XI in the presence of various gods, particularly Horus, Hathor and their son.

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