Monday,20 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)
Monday,20 May, 2019
Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Documentation work begins

State-of-the-art technology is being used to document the Esna Temple south of Luxor and the Tanis archaeological site in the Delta

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

In a step towards scientifically documenting all archaeological sites and monuments in Egypt, the Antiquities Documentation Centre (ADC) of the Ministry of Antiquities has started to document the Esna Temple south of Luxor and the Tanis archaeological site in the Sharqiya governorate in the Delta.

Director of the ADC Hisham Al-Leithi told Al-Ahram Weekly that the documentation of the Esna Temple had started in 1993 but had stopped due to the high level of subterranean water that had leaked inside the temple and the beginnings of the restoration work.

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

The whole project to document all the archaeological sites in Egypt was also stopped in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution due to budgetary problems. Al-Leithi said that the ministry had resumed the documentation project earlier this year and had started with the Esna Temple and the Tanis site.

The documentation project, he explained, aims to register every inch of every monument in Egypt according to the most up-to-date scientific and archaeological techniques.

“The actual documentation methods will consist of computer-data sets, plans and sections, as well as photographs, drawings and illustrations, recording forms, logbooks, site notebooks, diaries and dive logs,” Al-Leithi said. He added that GIS systems, 3D reconstructions, applications that support on-site recording processes, modern measuring techniques and data-processing software used in geophysical research would also be used.

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

The Esna Temple is located in the town of Esna roughly 50km south of Luxor. Its history goes back to prehistoric times, although Esna was first mentioned in the Pharaoh Thutmose III’s annals when it was part of the Upper Egyptian region extending from Al-Kab in the north to Armant south of Luxor.

During the ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom, Esna was an important centre for trade, as it was the focal point of trading convoys from Sudan going to Thebes. During the Graeco-Roman period, Esna was called Latopolis in honour of the Nile perch that was worshipped there. In 1971, a necropolis dedicated to the Nile perch was uncovered west of the town.

The Esna Temple is one of the most important archaeological sites in Esna, Al-Leithi said, adding that the temple goes back to the reign of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III and was built on top of the remains of a Saite temple.

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

The present temple, he continued, was built during the Ptolemaic era, although most of its engravings and decorations go back to the Roman period.

The temple is dedicated to the god of the Nile, as well as other deities such as the ancient goddess of war and weaving Neith, god of magic Heka, goddess of the Nile Satet, and the lion goddess Menhet.

The temple was built almost nine metres below ground level and was completely uncovered in 1843 during the reign of the khedive Mohamed Ali. Earlier the area had hosted French soldiers during the French expedition to Egypt in 1799. “The names of some of the soldiers are engraved on the upper surface of the Temple,” Al-Leithi said.

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

Some masonry blocks attesting to the construction during the reign of Thutmose III were reused at the site, and the oldest complete part of the temple is the back wall of the hypostyle hall, built during the Ptolemaic period and showing scenes depicting Ptolemy VI Philometer and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes.

The rest of the temple was built by a series of Roman emperors, including Claudius, and Decius.

The hypostyle hall is decorated with 24 pillars beautifully carved and painted with different floral designs. Texts describing the religious festival that once took place at the temple and depicting Roman emperors standing before ancient Egyptian deities are also inscribed on the pillars.

On the northern wall of the hall, the pharaoh is depicted catching wild birds or conquering evil spirits. The decorations also include a number of calendars, while the ceiling is decorated with Egyptian astronomical figures on the northern side and Roman zodiacal signs on the southern side.

Different scenes depicted on the walls of Esna Temple

THE TANIS SITE: Tanis, or San Al-Hagar, was the capital of ancient Egypt during the Late Period. Many historians and archeologists believe that Tanis may even be the richest historical site in Egypt today. It is located about 150km to the north-east of Cairo and was once the capital of the 19th province of Lower Egypt.

Al-Leithi said that the city of Tanis first took the name “Janet” during the ancient Egyptian period, meaning “the city built in a void.” It is mentioned in the biblical Old Testament under the name Soan, and its Coptic name is San. When the Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh century CE, Tanis was called San. Because it had many rocks and stones, hagar in Arabic, they called the site San Al-Hagar.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1799, remains were taken from Tanis to Europe, including to the cities of Paris, Berlin and St Petersburg. The first Western archaeologist to excavate in Tanis was the Frenchman Auguste Mariette, followed by the English Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie and French Egyptologist Pierre Montet.

Montet began to excavate at the site in 1929, following interest in the connections between ancient Egypt and the Near East. Mariette had already explored the area in 1859, finding a series of sculptures mistakenly assigned to the Hyksos era and causing Tanis to be originally thought to be the ancient capital of the Hyksos called Avaris.

The city is divided into two sections containing the temples and the necropolis. Tanis boasts many ruined columns, obelisks, colossi, and stelae engraved with hieroglyphic texts that date from the Old Kingdom, go through the Middle Kingdom, and end with the New Kingdom.

The most important and largest structure in Tanis is the Temple of Amun constructed by the Pharaoh Ramses II. Inside the temple, there are two wells that were once used as a Nilometer. Beside the temple there is the royal necropolis that dates to the 21st and 22nd dynasties, and from which many golden and silver items have been unearthed and are now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where they are called “the Treasures of Tanis”.

“There are also the ruins of a sacred lake that the Amun Temple priests used for their rituals,” Al-Leithi said, adding that this lake is considered the second-largest sacred lake that has survived, with the other one being in the Karnak Temples in Luxor.

The geographical location of Tanis and its port situated on the Manzala Lake made the city an important destination until the establishment of Alexandria and its port in the Ptolemaic period.  

Some historical records say that Tanis dates back to the Old Kingdom, as some stone blocks found in Tanis have the names of Khufu, Pepi I, and other Old Kingdom pharaohs inscribed on them.

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