We had the good fortune to visit a number of the most famous ancient Egyptian temples: Karnak, Luxor, the funerary temple of Hatshepsut, Philae, Kom Ombo, Dendera and Abu Simbel.
We have three different ways to share some of what we experienced and learned.
- In this post, we share some of our favorite photos from our visits. And a little bit of historical information.
- In the companion post, we share some of the stories we heard, as well as some of our own observations.
- And we’ve crafted a timeline of ancient Egypt to provide some historical perspective.
We hope you’ll choose the parts that interest you, and ignore the rest!
Karnak and Luxor
Karnak Temple 2055 BCE – 100 CE
Hypostyle hall 1300 – 1100 BCE
Luxor Temple 1392 – 1213 BCE
The temple complex of Karnak is the largest in Egypt and one of the largest in the world. It covers 247 acres and includes three precincts with some buildings outside the compounds. The modern name comes from the village of El-Karnak. The Egyptians called the complex Ipetisut which means “Most Select of Places.” The existing structures at Karnak date to the New Kingdom period. These buildings likely replaced older structures but no remains of them exist today. Successive rulers up to Roman times rebuilt, added to or restored Karnak’s buildings. Building at Karnak was a way to ensure immortality for the pharaoh and the favor of the gods. (source)
Funerary temple of Hatshepsut
The Temple of Hatshepsut is not only a memorial temple that honors Queen Hatshepsut, it is also one of the greatest Egyptian architectural achievements. Designed by Senenmut (Hatshepsut’s steward and architect), this mortuary temple closely resembles the classical Greek architecture of 1,000 years later.
Hatshepsut constructed many monuments and buildings. She also had many statues of herself erected at the sites of these monuments and buildings to impress upon the ancient Egyptian people her standing as a great leader and Pharaoh. Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir El Bahri is her greatest achievement. It took 15 years to complete. (source)
280 BCE – 138 CE
Philae is an Egyptian island located in Lake Nasser. During ancient Egyptian times, Philae was the cult center of Isis. It measures only about 1,500 feet by 500 feet. Due to its vulnerability to flooding, high walls with granite foundations were constructed around the island and its temples.
Although there are several temples and buildings located on Philae, the largest and perhaps the most famous is the Temple of Isis. Here, the ancient Egyptians worshiped Isis as well as Osiris and Horus (her son). Ptolemy II, Nectanebo I built the temple around 370 BC. (source)
Kom Ombo is one of the more unusual temples in Egypt. Due to the conflict between Sobek and Horus, the ancient Egyptians felt it necessary to separate their temple spaces within one temple. The Kom Ombo temple has two entrances, two courts, two colonnades, two Hypostyle halls and two sanctuaries, one side for each god.
The Kom Ombo Temple was built between 332 BC and 395 AD, during the Ptolemaic period, by Ptolemy VI Philometer. Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos continued the work and built the exterior and interior Hypostyle halls. The temple was built with local limestone by men who rode on elephants, considered to be a Ptolemaic innovation. (source)
Nile crocodiles were venerated as manifestations of the god Sobek in ancient Egypt. These crocodile mummies come from the site of El-Shatb, about 2 kilometers from Kom Ombo temple. Crocodiles are one of the oldest vertebrates on the planet, and indigenous to the Nile Valley. Once omnipresent, now they are only found to the south of the Aswan Dam. These majestic creatures were revered for their strength and virility. The largest of these 20 mummies is 4.3 meters long and the smallest is 2 meters in length.
[from exhibit panel]
The temple district 1995 – 20 BCE
Temple of Hathor 54 – 20 BCE
Dendera Temple was built in Greco-Roman times between 30 BC and 14 AD and was built on top of an ancient temple. It is dedicated to the cow goddess Hathor, one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. The cow goddess was the one who represented fertility, childbirth, motherhood, and was the one that the sick came to ask for healing. It was worshiped since pre-dynastic times and also represented love, beauty, eroticism, and joy. (source)
Ramses and Nefertari 1264-1244 BCE
The history of the Abu Simbel temples begins with the twenty year effort to build these impressive structures, along with four other rock temples built in Nubia during the reign of Ramses II. The construction of Abu Simbel started around 1244 BC and was finished around 1224 BC.
Many scholars believe that the two temples of Abu Simbel were an act of ego, pride and love on the side of Ramses II. He ordered these temples built to:
–Commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. To represent the battle, the base of the temple was carved with figures of bound captives.
–Intimidate Egypt’s neighbors, the Nubians. It was Ramses’ way of trying to make an impression upon Egypt’s neighbors, as well as to force Egypt’s religion upon these neighbors.
–Honor Nefertari: The Small Temple is a monument to his most beloved queen (out of his many wives), Nefertari. It is also dedicated to the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor.
–Honor himself: The Great Temple Ramses had built to honor himself, dedicating it to the god Re-Horakhty. (source)
These photos show the actual temples that Ramses the Great commissioned. However, these temples do not sit on their original site. In the 1950s, the Egyptian government planned the construction of the Aswan High Dam; the purpose of the dam was to manage seasonal flooding in the Nile Valley. To its south, the dam would create a vast lake, which would drown towns, villages, burial sites and ancient temples. The world responded to the imminent loss of cultural treasures. The great temples of Ramses and Nefertari were painstakingly disassembled, transported, and re-erected on the site we see today. You can read much more about the context and ambitious process here.
One last thing: Along the walkway from the temples at Abu Simbel back to the parking lot, we came upon this little shade pavilion. A nice spot to take in the view of Lake Nasser in one direction and the temples in the other. The perforated roof threw lovely patterns of hieroglyphs onto the ground.