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 the Third Dynasty, 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.

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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 in order 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.