Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1431, (21 - 27 February 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1431, (21 - 27 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Reaching the Hathor Temple

Nevine El-Aref enjoys a fascinating adventure up the rocky mountain of Serabit Al-Khadim in South Sinai to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Hathor 

El-Enany during the hiking trip
Al-Ahram Weekly

The ancient Egyptian Hathor Temple, known as “the Lady of Turquoise Temple”, and the surrounding ancient mines are the only sightseeing at Serabit Al-Khadim in South Sinai. However, the stunning natural environment and the traditions and hospitality of the local Bedouin make this mountain very special.

Armoured with a bottle of water and an Indiana Jones-style hat, I started my hiking trip towards the Temple of Hathor that stands on a massive rocky mountain at a height of 850 metres above sea level in South Sinai.

Although the ruins are not as impressive as others in Egypt, and the road is like going on a trekking expedition, it is worth the muscle-ache afterwards because of the spectacular natural scenery, the silence at the top of the mountain, and the unforgettable and fascinating exploration experience.

The trip begins with the visitor centre giving an overview of the area and information about the temple and its structure. To facilitate the climb, the Ministry of Antiquities has established a less strenuous route with a path and a series of steps up the western side of the mountain. It is an easier route, but also a longer one than the previous steeper one that some in our party used on their journey back along the mountain paths.


A stelae at Hathor Temple

Guided by local Bedouin, it took about an hour and a half to reach the temple. Anoir, an 11-year-old Bedouin boy, was my guide along the mountain trek. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mustafa Waziri were also on the hiking trip to inspect the temple and the restoration work being carried out there.

“El-Enany is the first minister and Waziri the first SCA secretary-general to climb the mountain to visit the temple,” said Abu Rabie, one of the Bedouin guides.

Along the road, we passed several inscriptions carved on the mountain in the shape of prehistoric engravings. Among the most beautiful was a rock inscribed with pictures of the boats used to transport turquoise from the ancient mines to destinations in Egypt for the fabrication of amulets, jewellery, and the blue pigment beloved of the ancient Egyptians. 

There were also many shafts where the turquoise was mined, and in some of them hieroglyphic tablets of ancient Egyptian kings have been found. The rock colours and formations were reminiscent of Petra in Jordan. The view was stunning, and not a soul was stirring along the road except our group.

We had three stops to rest and recharge our lungs and stretch our muscles while local children started singing Bedouin songs for our entertainment.

The ruined temple was further along, with engraved columns with hieroglyphic texts along with bas-reliefs, stelae and blocks depicting the face of Hathor scattered all around. Although the temple and the environment around it are awe-inspiring, I could not help asking myself why the ancient Egyptians had built this temple on top of a mountain.

Regretfully I did not get a clear answer, but Waziri said that according to a legend Sinai was thought to be the place where Hathor, the goddess of the sun, music, the arts, and the sky, placed the seeds of her beauty to grow among the high mountains and narrow valleys of the region.

The Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Senefru was the first to send expeditions to Sinai where turquoise was found. By 3,500 BCE, the great turquoise mines of Serabit Al-Khadim had been discovered. 

The Hathor Temple was originally built during the reign of the 12th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat I. During the New Kingdom, the temple was enlarged and extended during the reigns of queen Hatshepsut and the Pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep III. 


The original design of the temple

This was a revival period for mining operations after a decline during the Second Intermediate Period. Hathor was then called the “Lady of Turquoise”, and she became the patron goddess of miners.

The temple was rediscovered in the early 1900s by British Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie, but later parts of it and many of its engravings were destroyed during attempts to reopen the mines.

A number of scenes in the temple portray the role of Hathor in the transformation of the Pharaoh upon ascending the throne into the deified ruler of Egypt. Shrines dedicated to the god of the eastern desert Sopdu are also among the temple’s ruins.

On our way back down the mountain, we had two choices: either to return the same way we had come, or to descend on the other side via a rocky path. We selected the latter as it was shorter, even if it involved some scrambling.

After 45 minutes among unstable rocks, steep slopes, and very high steps, we succeeded in reaching the area where a four-by-four car was waiting. Then we started another adventure crossing the steep sand dunes, forcing our driver to undertake a sometimes rough and ready drive.

“It was more of a trekking adventure than an ancient Egyptian sightseeing tour,” El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly. He described the trip to the temple as a stunning adventure and called on all mountain lovers to come to Serabit Al-Khadim to enjoy an unforgettable climb in the mountains and admire the temple of the “Lady of Turquoise”, the only ancient temple in the area.

Upon reaching the visitor centre, local Bedouin welcomed us with hot cups of tea.

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