Tuesday,26 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1422, (13 - 19 December 2018)
Tuesday,26 March, 2019
Issue 1422, (13 - 19 December 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Esna restoration begins

The entrance of Esna Temple

In the small town of Esna almost 50km south of Luxor stands the Esna Temple dedicated to the god of the Nile Khnum with its distinguished architecture and wall paintings, reports Nevine El-Aref.

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 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 the town and goes back to the reign of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III and was built on the remains of a Saite temple.

The present temple dates from the Graeco-Roman period when the town of Esna was the capital of the third district of Upper Egypt.

Although it was originally dedicated to the god Khnum, the Temple was also dedicated to other deities, including Neith, the goddess of war and weaving, Heka, the personification of magic, Satet, the goddess of the Nile, and Menhet, the lion goddess who was the wife of Khnum.


Engravings and paintings on the temple walls

The temple consists of a hypostyle hall and chamber as well as a sanctuary and a gallery. It was built almost nine metres below ground level and was 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,” Director of the Antiquities Documentation Centre (ADC) Hisham Al-Leithi said.

Although some masonry blocks indicate that the Temple was constructed during the reign of Thuthmosis III, it was reused in later periods.

The oldest complete part of the Temple is on the west side where the back wall of the hypostyle hall, built during the Ptolemaic period, features depictions of Ptolemy VI Philometer and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes.

The rest of the building was built by Roman emperors from Claudius to Decius.

The roof of the hypostyle hall is supported by 24 columns with beautifully carved and painted foliage capitals in different shapes and designs. The columns are decorated with texts describing religious festivals and depicting Roman emperors before the ancient Egyptian gods.

Among the most impressive is one depicting the emperor Trajan before the goddess Menhet.

On the northern wall of the hall an ancient Egyptian king is depicted catching wild birds to show him subduing evil spirits.

At the east corner there is a hymn to Khnum in which the name of the god is written using the hieroglyph of a crocodile. At the opposite corner the hymn is repeated but with the name of the god written with the more traditional ram’s head.


Engravings and paintings on the temple walls

The decorations also include a number of calendars, and the ceiling is decorated with Egyptian astronomical figures on the northern side and Roman zodiacal signs on the southern side.

The earliest king mentioned is Ptolemy V, who is offered a libation by his son Ptolemy VII. The part of the temple we see today is around a quarter of the size of the original building.

The temple façade is constructed in the style of the period with the usual screen walls inset with columns.

The Ministry of Antiquities’ restoration project includes the consolidation of the walls, the cleaning of the paintings and strengthening of their colours, the removing of bird deposits, and installing a new lighting system, said Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The restoration work came after the completion of state-of-the-art documentation work in June 2017.

Al-Leithi told Al-Ahram Weekly that the documentation of the Esna Temple had started in 1993, but that it had stopped due to the high level of subterranean water that had leaked inside the temple at the beginning of the restoration work.

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