Overview of other Edfu monuments

Overview of other Edfu monuments

In addition to the remains investigated by the Tell Edfu Project, there are other monuments and archaeological remains at the site that have been studied by other institutions. In this section, you will find information about the Ptolemaic temple of Horus, the mammisi, the Pharaonic period cemetery, as well as the general history of excavation at Tell Edfu.

Temple of Horus

Dedicated to the god Horus of Behedet, lord of Edfu, the Temple of Horus is the most famous monument at Tell Edfu. Due to its completeness and state of preservation, it is the best example of Ptolemaic temple building in Egypt. The temple is oriented from south to north, measuring little over 140m long and occupying an area of about 7000m2.

Although there are mentions of a first sanctuary at Edfu since at least Dynasty 3, the Temple of Horus, as it currently stands, was started much later by Ptolemy III Euergetes I in 237 BCE. It was continued by Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II who, 95 years later in 142 BCE, inaugurated the temple. He also initiated work on the enclosure wall and mammisi. Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos finalized the work on the enclosure wall, the main courtyard, and pylon. He then inaugurated the temple for the second and last time in 70 BCE. The temple was officially finished in 57 BCE with the installation of the main entrance wooden doors between the two pylons. In total, it took 180 years to complete the building and decoration of the Temple of Horus at Edfu.


The Pylon 

The entrance to the Temple of Horus is marked by a monumental gate with two large towers measuring approximately 36m in height. The Lebanese cedar doors which originally closed the gate were installed in 57 BCE by Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos. The four depressions on the facade of the pylon, two on either side of the gateway, show the location of the four 40m high wooden flagpoles which would have adorned the entrance to the temple. Within the towers of the pylon are four storeys of chambers and storerooms accessed via staircases which also lead to the roof of the temple.


The Festival of the Living Falcon 

The Festival of the Living Falcon was an annual celebration of the crowning of the sacred bird and the reestablishment of the pharaoh’s kingship and power. The ritual began with the transportation of the main statue of Horus of Behdet from the sanctuary of the Temple of Horus to the Temple of the Sacred Falcon, an outer temple likely located east of the mammisi but which no longer exists. Living sacred falcons were raised within it, and were considered to be representations of Horus and the reigning king. On this day, one of them was chosen by the statue of Horus as its rightful heir through an oracle. To make its appearance to the crowd, the falcon and the statue of Horus of Behdet were brought to the top of the monumental gateway, on the bridge between the two pylons. After its appearance, the falcon was taken back to the main temple for its coronation. Upon completion of the ceremony, the falcon and the statue of Horus of Behdet were returned to their respective temple and festivities began for the people of Edfu.


The Forecourt

The monumental gateway of the Temple of Edfu leads to a large paved courtyard which is surrounded on three of its four sides by 32 columns. Immediately to the right and left are scenes carved on the forecourt walls concerning the Feast of the Joyous Union, one of the most important festivals at Edfu. This festival celebrated the sacred marriage between Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera. The majority of the rites took place outside the temple, allowing the wider population to witness them. The 15-day festival began with the arrival of the statue of the goddess Hathor, who had left Dendera by boat 14 days earlier. The celebrations included feasting and drinking, visits to the burial mounds of the ancestors across the desert, and various rites carried out within the confines of the temples. On the 14th day, Hathor left the temple of Edfu in great pomp, and travelled back to her own temple at Dendera.


Evidence of Older Temples 

Evidence for older temples of Horus, built on the same location as the current temple, have been found in the forecourt. Beyond the door leading out of the courtyard to the east,
remains of a monumental entrance from the New Kingdom temple have been found, inscribed with the names of Ramesside kings from Dynasty 19 and early Dynasty 20 (1295-1069 BCE). Below the pavement of the forecourt, fragments of reused sandstone bear the names of King Djehuty, perhaps of Dynasty 13 (1773-1650+ BCE, Middle Kingdom), and Psamtek II of Dynasty 26 (Late Period, 595-589 BCE), whereas reliefs show a Kushite king of Dynasty 25 (Third Intermediate Period, 747-656 BCE).


The Outer Hypostyle Hall 

Two large statues of Horus, carved out of a single block of granite from Aswan, stand before the entrance to the first hypostyle hall— that is, a room with a roof supported by rows of columns. The doors of the hypostyle hall restricted access to the central portion of the temple. They were usually closed to the public, except during some festivals.

The hall’s ceiling is adorned with astronomical imagery. The hall is flanked by two rooms used by the priests before carrying out their duties. To the left was the House of Morning, a place for ritual purification, necessary before proceeding further into the temple. To the right was the House of Books which acted as a library. It housed religious and scientific texts as well as all of the papyri necessary to carry the daily rituals and festivals. A list of the papyri kept in this room is carved on its walls.


The Inner Hypostyle Hall 

The smaller of the two hypostyle halls lies directly beyond the larger. It marks the beginning of the naos, the most sacred area of the temple. From this point on, the level of the floor slightly raises while the ceiling lowers, leading to the focal point of the naos, the sanctuary. The smaller hypostyle hall has three side rooms. To the left is the Room of the Nile which was used to store the water necessary for purification, while the Laboratory was used to make the unguents and perfume used during the rituals. To the right was the Treasury which contained objects and amulets made of precious metals and stones used to adorn the statues of the gods.


The Court of Offerings 

This narrow room was used for the burning of food and oil offerings for the god, who would be nourished through their aroma and smoke. The wall’s decorations of offering and purification scenes contribute to the eternal sustenance of the deity.


The Vestibule

This room acted as a buffer zone before accessing the most sacred portions of the temple: the sanctuary and its surrounding chapels. The vestibule, also called transversal hall, is flanked on either side by two staircases providing access to the roof. The roof was used for several ceremonies in the past.


The Sanctuary

The sanctuary was the most sacred and important portion of the temple. It contained the sacred barks of Horus and Hathor, used in processions, as well as the permanent shrine for the sacred image of the god which was likely a wooden falcon statue. The shrine, made of black granite, is located at the rear of the sanctuary and is one of the few remnants of an older temple of Horus. The shrine was made by Nectanebo II (360-343 BCE), around a hundred year before the beginning of the construction of the current temple of Horus. The door frame of the sanctuary is inscribed with hymns which were sung in the morning before opening the bronze doors of the sanctuary to wake up Horus and the other deities sleeping in their chapels.


The Chapels 

Surrounding the sanctuary is a series of 13 chapels and additional side chambers which contain the statues of other deities sharing the temple with Horus. The door jambs and lintels of each of these chapels provide details on which gods and goddesses inhabited them.


The Nilometer 

A circular well is located to the east of the temple, outside the enclosure wall. It can be reached by a flight of stairs starting inside the enclosure, extending beneath the wall, and reaching the outside of the temple. This flight of stairs gave access to the well for the temple staff. The well was the temple’s water supply, necessary for daily purification. However, it was also a Nilometer, used to measure the height of the annual Nile flood. Scales were carved on the wall of the sloping staircase to measure the rise of the water table.


The Mammisi

What is a Mammisi?

A mammisi, also called Birth House, is a type of temple which developed during the Late Period (664–332 BCE) and continued being built up to the Roman Period (30 BCE–395 CE). The main purpose of these small temples was to annually re-enact the birth and coronation of the divine child of the main god and his/her consort of the town. By association, the celebration was also linked to the renewal of the king’s power. Mammisis were always attached to the town’s main temple, and located in front of it. Over time, mammisis acquired their own permanent cult statue and set of daily rituals, ultimately becoming small, independent temples of their own.


The Mammisi of Edfu

The mammisi of Edfu was built during the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BCE). Two kings are mentioned in the temple’s inscriptions: Ptolemy VIII-Evergete II (170-116 BCE) and his son Ptolemy IX-Soter II (116-107 BCE). The mammisi was the destination of an annual procession leaving from the main temple to celebrate the festival of the divine birth of Harsomtus (Hor-sema-tawy), son of the divine couple Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera. Performances of singing and dancing took place in the courtyard area, which was open to the public. Inscriptions on the walls of the mammisi suggest that the festival also included a dramatic recreation of the divine birth scene. Approximately 200 ritual scenes are depicted throughout this temple, and the most important are concerned with the birth, nutrition, and coronation of the divine child. Additionally, the walls were covered with various protective gods and spells to safeguard the mother and child during childbirth. 

Because the divine child was associated with the rising sun, the mammisi of Edfu is oriented facing east. Walls of the inner sanctuary and some other important scenes had been originally covered with gold sheets, which would have reflected the sunlight and remind the viewer of this association. At Edfu, there are scant traces of a former paneling of the western inner wall of the sanctuary with gold sheets. The core of the building was composed of a sanctuary (a) for the temple’s main statue, which was fronted by an offering room with two side chapels (b). The northern chapel gave access to the roof via a staircase. A corridor around the structure (called an “ambulatory” (c)) was delimited by tall columns linked by screen walls. These columns represent bundles of papyrus, marsh plants, and flowers, and refer to an important myth in ancient Egypt: the myth of Isis giving birth to and hiding her son Horus in the Delta marshes. Inscriptions and scenes depicted on the external walls of the sanctuary and the ambulatory refer to this myth. At the top of each column, there is a carved image of the god Bes, protector of mothers and children during childbirth. Access to the columned ambulatory and core of the temple was controlled by wooden doors. The temple was fronted by a vestibule (d) and two courtyards (e-f), opened to the public during festivals.

The mammisi of Edfu is currently investigated by the the Institute für Altertumswissenschaften Ägyptologie of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

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The Edfu Necropolis

Located on the southwestern edge of Tell Edfu were the tombs and funerary monuments of the local elite used from the late Old Kingdom (Dynasties 6, 2345-2160 BCE) through the end of the Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties 15-17, 1650-1550 BCE). The cemetery contains numerous mudbrick mastaba tombs built mainly during Dynasty 6 of the Old Kingdom. Mastaba, from the Arabic word for “bench”, is a type of tomb composed of an underground burial chamber covered by a rectangular superstructure that with chapels and niches that served as a place where offerings to the deceased could be made. Old Kingdom mastabas at Edfu were usually made of mudbrick and had sloping walls. The mastabas at Edfu were laid in rows, with an approximate north-south orientation. The largest and richest tombs were found in the eastern and northwestern portions of the necropolis, while the poorer tombs lie in the southwest. One of the most prominent tombs was that of Isi, a local governor of Edfu during Dynasty 6, who was worshipped as a local saint after his death and his tomb became a local cult place (see below).

During the First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 9-11, 2160-2055 BCE), a town wall was built across the cemetery, cutting it in two and preventing further expansion to the east toward the settlement. During the Middle Kingdomand early Second Intermediate Period, multiple burials in subterranean and vaulted tombs filled the cemetery. An important collection of funerary stelae from this time period has been recovered, some inscribed with biographical inscriptions detailing the lives of the local elite. The latest interments in the necropolis are dated to the late Second Intermediate Period (Dynasty 17, 1580-1550 BCE) - early Dynasty 18 (ca. 1550-1425 BCE, New Kingdom), but it is difficult to know whether the burial ground was abandoned after that, as the southern, northern and western extensions of the cemetery have been destroyed by sebakh digging and are covered by the later town and its trash deposits.


Meet Isi, the Governor of Edfu

Isi’s tomb, which dates to the early Dynasty 6 (ca. 2345-2323 BCE, Old Kingdom), was discovered and excavated during the 1920’s and 30’s by French and Polish archaeologists. Isi started his career in the capital of Memphis under Kings Djedkare- Isesi and Unas (the last two kings of Dynasty 5) before being appointed governor of Edfu by King Teti (Dynasty 6). As the local governor, Isi went by the title ‘Great Overlord of the nome of Edfu’ indicating his regional importance and influence. The tomb of Isi’s son Qar, also called Pepy-Nefer, who would take over his father’s position in Edfu, was also discovered. Upon his death, Isi was deified and worshipped as a local saint. Many stelae dedicated to him were placed in close proximity of his mastaba tomb by worshippers during the Middle Kingdom (and Second Intermediate Period.


The Edfu blockyard was recently constructed to provide adequate shelter for 350 inscribed and decorated stone blocks from various structures built between the Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties 15-17, 1650-1550 BCE) and the Roman Period (30 BCE- 395 CE). The blocks, which were excavated in the first half of the 20th century, were initially stored at the base of the tell or in the temple’s pylon, making them vulnerable to the damage caused by rising groundwater level and bats’ droppings respectively. In 2012, a series of four benches were built in order to properly display the blocks and protect them from the moisture of the soil. Since then, efforts have been made to re-locate, clean, and properly document these various architectural features. In 2022 we added two additional benches to hold more blocks.

The blocks are arranged by type, to allow visitors to see all the columns, offering tables, and statues as cohesive units. The front bench is reserved for some of the best examples of each type. Most of the blocks come from Ptolemaic and Roman structures (332 BCE- 395 CE) which once stood on the tell of Edfu. Others appear to have belonged to chapels or private monuments built during the Kushite Dynasty 25 (747-656 BCE) and Saite Dynasty 26 (664-525 BCE). Among these are blocks associated with a jubilee door built by a Kushite king but usurped by the Saite king Psamtek II. Remains of this door were found re-used as foundations below the forecourt of the Ptolemaic Temple of Horus. Also found below the temple’s forecourt were the earliest blocks stored in the blockyard, naming king Sekhemre-Sementawy Djehuty of the 16th Dynasty.