Dedicated both to the crocodile god Sobek, and Haroeris the falcon headed god, the Temple of Kom Ombo lies directly on a prominent bend in the Nile, a fertile place where sacred crocodiles would once gather and sunbathe on the riverbanks during the times of the ancient Egyptians. Originally commissioned by Ptolemy VI, most of the temple decorations were actually completed by Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos.
Perfectly symmetrical to reflect its dual dedication, the left (or western side) of the temple was dedicated to Haroeris, and the right (or eastern side) was dedicated to Sobek. Originally each side of the temple would have had its own gateway and chapel.
This temple is famous for two reliefs found within its crumbling walls. The first is the one in the image above, which depicts a detailed ancient Egyptian calendar indicating the Nile flood and harvest seasons down the the days of each month.
One of the more curious features at this site is this small secret passage which resembles a small door. Located high up on the wall in the rear of the outer passage that runs around the temple, it allowed the temple priests to stand hidden inside an echo chamber and mysteriously speak as the voice of god to answer the petitions of the pilgrims who visited the temple. Which is pretty cool in a sort of unscrupulous great and powerful wizard of Oz sort of way…
A place of healing, the temple at Kom Ombo was the closest thing that the ancient Egyptians would have had to a hospital. Which brings us to the second relief this temple is most famous for, which depicts what Egyptologists believe to be early surgical tools. If you look closely you can see implements that resemble everything from scalpels, curettes, forceps, speculators, scissors, medicine bottles, to prescriptions. On the left side of the relief you can also see two goddesses sitting on birthing chairs.
Like many of the sites in Egypt that we visited, Kom Ombo is still very much an active on-going dig, and archeologists are still working to excavate ruins found on the site. In fact it is estimated that we have only discovered a mere 40% of the ancient Egyptian artifacts that are still remaining, the other 60% still out there, lost to time and buried beneath the desert sands.
What You Need To Know
They Actually Raised Sacred Crocodiles Here
While over hunting due to tourism has depleted the population of crocodiles now on the Nile to practical extinction, originally this area of the country would have been infested by crocodiles. And unsurprisingly, that sort of freaked out the ancient Egyptians who spent much of their life on the Nile. However, they believed that if they used crocodiles as a totem animal, and as an object of worship, the animals would not attack them. (which is some pretty sound hobbit logic if you ask me…)
Which is why at the temple at Kom Ombo, a temple dedicated to the crocodile headed god Sobek, they actually raised sacred captive crocodiles inside the temple walls, going as far at to mummify many of them as well.
In fact over 300 crocodile mummies have been found at the Kom Ombo temple site, most of which now reside in the nearby Crocodile Museum. (which btw is well laid out, has great informational plaques in english and well worth a visit while you’re in the area.)
The Temple Was Known For It’s Healing Powers
Along with being known as the God of Victory, the ancient Egyptians also believed that Horus was a god of healing, a doctor (or at least his left eye was), and Kom Ombo quickly became known as a place with healing powers. Which you can imagine caused large numbers of individuals to make pilgrimages to the site in order to be healed from their ailments.
The Ancient Egyptians Invented Our Modern Calendar Year
You know how we have 365 day in a year? Well you can thank the Ancient Egyptians for that…. sort of… You see originally they got it a bit wrong and only allotted 360 days to each year. But then the seasons kept not lining up right and things were getting a bit wonky, so they tacked on an extra 5 days at the end (one for each of the five children of Nut: Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis and Nephthy) and BAM, 365 day year.
Which was great, except the system was still missing a quarter day each year, which sounds like not a big deal, but adds up over time and started to cause some issues. Ptolemy III tried to introduce and extra day every 4 years to make up for this discrepancy but the ancient Egyptians wouldn’t buy into the idea. It wasn’t until Augustus Caesar that the leap day was fully implemented in 30BC.
Like most of the people who come to this site, we visited Kom Ombo as part of our Nile cruise on the steam ship Sudan, however it is also possible to visit Kom Ombo as a day trip from Aswan (or Luxor if you won’t be making it all the way down to Aswan) by renting a private car to drive you there and back. If so, it’s often great to pair this with a visit to Edfu as well as both can easily be accomplished in one day trip. Trains here are also an option, however the station is around 3.5 km from the temple so you may still need to grab a taxi to get to the site.