Almost completely buried in the desert sands when French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette stumbled across the site in 1860, the temple at Edfu had been completely consumed by the village. The roof of the sanctuary area was covered in mud-brick houses, exposed parts of the temple were filled with stables and storehouses, and the inner chambers (the ones that weren’t being used as houses, the soot and smoke of lighting which blackened most of the interior roof) were filled with rubbish almost to the ceiling.
Even so, this Ptolemaic temple (built between 237 and 57 BC and located approximately 60 miles south of Luxor) is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in all of Egypt.
Getting to the temple itself was a particularly memorable experience for us as our tour with the Sudan had hired horse drawn carriages (also called Hantours) to take all the passengers the mile from the ship to the temple site. The last passengers to board one of the carriages and set off to the site, our driver (accompanied by what I’m assuming was most likely his little brother) began to race the other buggies to the site. (like, as in literally race them…)
At the same time, the little boy noticed me trying to take a selfie with Joe, and offered to take our photo. He took my camera and proceeded to stand on top of the drivers seat with his brother holding his legs as we raced down the banks of the nile at top speed. I love the photo he snapped of us so much because through his smile, you can see how terrified Joe was that the kid was going to drop our camera…
And just in case you were wondering, yes we did beat everyone there and arrive first. The kid turned around when we arrived, raised one finger to us, and with the largest grin you’ve ever seen proudly exclaimed, “number one!”
Dedicated to the falcon headed God Horus, the temple at Edfu is situated on what the ancient Egyptians believed to be the exact location of the mythological battle between the god Horus and his evil uncle Seth. This location eventually took the ancient name of Wetjeset-Hrw, or “The Place Where Horus is Extolled.” The modern Arabic name, Edfu, came from the ancient Egyptian name Djeba, or Etbo in Coptic. Djeba meant “Retribution Town”, this being where the enemies of the god Horus were brought to justice.
What You Need To Know
Inside The Temple You’ll Find Ancient Perfume Recipes
Incense and perfumes were an essential part of temple life for the ancient Egyptians. I imagine it helped disguise all the smells that would have otherwise been a part of a day devoid of air-conditioning, modern sewage and waste disposal, deodorant and regular bathing. So one of the essential rooms in many temples what was archeologist refer to as the “laboratory.” This was the place where all the perfumes needed for the temple were either simply stored or made. At Edfu, the laboratory is so well preserved that the recipes used to create these ancient perfumes can still clearly be read on the walls.
Many of these would have been sweet, spicy smelling perfumes, Kyphi being the most popular scent. Burnt daily in the temples it’s ingredients included things such as frankincense, myrrh, mastic and pine resin and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, juniper, mint and the patchouli-like spikenard, along with raisins and honey.
It’s The Tallest Temple Still Standing In Egypt
With its gigantic front pylons reaching the height of 118 feet and its width spanning 450ft, this is the tallest of all the surviving Egyptian temples.
And although this temple is considerably newer that many of the other temples in Egypt, it has proven a relative gold mine for egyptologists due to its excellent state of preservation, helping to fill in may historical gaps as a 2,000 year old example of an architectural style that would have already been archaic by the Ptolemaic times when it was constructed.
This would sort of be like if 2,000 years from now some archeologist discovered a replica we built today of an ancient greek building, just to put that in some perspective for you.
The Legend Of Horus & Seth
While the details vary from one telling to the next, the basic details of the story go something like this:
Once upon a time Osiris (the firstborn son of Geb, the god of the earth, and Nut, the goddess of the sky) ruled Egypt with his sister/wife Isis. The two of them reigning over a golden age of peace and prosperity. Then in a very Lion King inspired moment, Seth (Osiris’ brother) decides to kill Osiris so he can be king by chopping him into little pieces and scattering the bits across the earth.
Once they’ve put him back together, Isis is able to use her magic to revive zombie Osiris long enough to conceive a son with him. Enter baby Horus.
This obviously make his wife Isis sort of pissed off and upset, and eventually she convinces Seth’s wife Nephthys to help her find all the pieces of Osiris. Which they manage to do… mostly… and reassemble him at Abydos. Once they’ve put him back together, Isis is able to use her magic to revive zombie Osiris long enough to conceive a son with him. Enter baby Horus.
While at first Isis hides Horus (and at one point even leaves him on an island to be trained in combat by his zombie dad Osiris), eventually when he is grown up he approaches the assembly of gods under the authority of Rē and asks for his legitimate right of succession. He wants to assume the throne of his father, Osiris, as king and to have Seth deposed as a usurper.
And while the other Gods are sort of on Horus’ side here and no one really likes Seth, eventually it’s decided that Horus and Seth should just battle it out together and whoever wins would get to be in charge. Cue epic battle scene.
Locked in a fierce battle, the two Gods, Seth & Horus, duke it out with physical might and magic spells and what every epic battle needs, a contest to see who can hold their breath longer underwater. (lamest action movie ever lol) To accomplish this Seth slyly turns himself into a hippo and sinks to the bottom of the Nile, and then Horus yell’s “hold my beer mom” and does the same. Isis is pretty freaked out by this whole thing and so she throws a harpoon at Hippo Seth, but then totally regrets it immediately since dude is still her brother after all and removes her harpoon and heals Seth. But this totally enrages Horus and he’s like “mom, seriously!? whose side are you on anyway?” and chops off his mom’s head…. woah…
Seth is now pissed that Horus killed his sister, and apparently everyone has totally forgotten about the whole who can hold their breath longer underwater contest. He chases Horus across the desert, gouges out his eyes and buries him in the sand.
Luckily the goddess Hathor has a bit part in this drama and enters to save the day by pouring gazelle milk on Horus’ eyes healing him… and somehow Isis is back to being just fine and alive again too… so no harm done there.
The battle is back on and now Seth challenges Horus to see who can sail the furthest down the Nile in a boat made of stone…
Horus, wet and angry that we’re back to hippos again, lifts a harpoon and is just about to spear his uncle to death when the other Gods are like “woah, woah, woah! We didn’t actually want him killed!”
Horus… the bright guy that he is decides this is a hella dumb idea and so he makes a boat out of wood and disguises it to look like stone. Seth on the other hand chops down a mountain and hollows it out into a giant boat which immediately sinks. This apparently clues Seth into the fact that Horus has cheated. So he turns himself into a hippo again and smashes the boat Horus made. Horus, wet and angry that we’re back to hippos again, lifts a harpoon and is just about to spear his uncle to death when the other Gods are like “woah, woah, woah! We didn’t actually want him killed!”
Osiris, who has now set himself up with the cush gig of God of the underworld, reenters the story is is like “listen if you don’t let my kid be king I’m going to basically let all the bad stuff down here loose on you and that’s going to suck…” To which the Gods all in unison responded “All hail the new king Horus!”
From then on every King of Egypt was identified with Horus while he ruled and then subsequently identified with Osiris after he had died.
The End… ish…
If you pay a visit to the temple at Edfu, you can actually see this whole story set in stone on the walls of what is referred to as the Passage of Victory, complete with little hippos and all.
Again, this temple is easiest to see as part of a Nile cruise like the one we took on the Steam Ship Sudan. However, it’s completely possible to see this temple as part of a day trip from Luxor or even Aswan either by hired car (easiest) or by train (more challenging as you’ll probably also then need to hire one of the local kabouts, or pick-up trucks to take you into town). Those looking to do a day trip often pair this with a visit to Kom Ombo Temple, which is located just a bit further south.