A Day to Remember in Egypt 1.5 - Edfu & Kom Ombo

After a night of sailing, we woke up early in Edfu, located almost exactly halfway between Luxor and Aswan along the Nile River.  We congregated with our tour group after another bountiful breakfast buffet and were met with a line of horse drawn carriages as we disembarked the ship.  Decorated with colorful tassels and painted designs, no two carriages were alike as they ranged from gaudy to gorgeous.  We were quickly assigned to a driver who nimbly drove us between buses and through markets until we arrived at Edfu Temple.    

Considering the height of the temple (36 meters), it's hard to imagine that it was completely buried by sand two centuries ago.  Even a part of Edfu village was unwittingly built on top of the temple structures.  Today the temple sits on a sprawling plot of land and we approached it via a long walkway.

As we closed in on Edfu's pylon, it was easy to see that it is among the most well preserved Egyptian temples.  Built on a hill above the Nile river valley, it was spared from destructive floods.  Even many of the ceilings were still in tact (top), thus heightening the sense that you were experiencing the temple just as the Ptolemaic pharaohs once did.  Perhaps the greatest threat to the preservation of the temple was vandalism and arson committed by Christians trying to destroy religious artifacts that they considered to be pagan.  Soot from these fires blackened the temple's ceilings which is still visible today.  

* The Laboratory
Deeper into the temple we were led into a room that our guidebook refers to as the "laboratory."  Here the walls are completely inscribed with perfume and incense recipes that temple priests would brew for religious offerings and ceremonies. 

* The Nilometer (not pictured)
Really cool in concept but a somewhat underwhelming sight.  Nilometers were structures used to measure the water level and clarity of the Nile during the flood season.  The height of the water was typically measured by counting the number of steps the waters could overcome.  This then informed the amount of tax farmers would be expected to pay out of their harvest.  The nilometer at Edfu Temple can only be reached using a very narrow staircase that easily gets uncomfortably crowded.

* The Sanctuary of Horus
Located in the second antechamber of the temple, the Sanctuary of Horus contains the shrine that once held a golden statue of Horus, the god for whom the temple was built.  At first the shrine almost appeared to be made of silver as the sunlight reflected off of its polished granite so radiantly.  Placed in front of the of the shrine is a replica of the wooden ship that would be used to carry the Horus statute in procession during festivals.  

* The Second Floor
I don't know if it was customary to include a second floor in ancient Egyptian temples as most of them have long lost their ceilings and sustained considerable damage due to floods and vandalism.  However, at Edfu a 242 step staircase still leads to a roof that is still mostly intact.  Unfortunately, the roof was closed to visitors at the time of our visit but we still got to wander up and down the dark staircases while admiring the eerie reliefs along the walls. 

After our jaunt through Edfu Temple, we were corralled with our tour group and headed back to the ship.  As we enjoyed lunch, our cruise gently embarked on its way south to Kom Ombo.

Sixty-five kilometers later, we docked at the doorstep of Kom Ombo Temple.  In the dimming light of dusk, we walked along the river, sadly fending off children peddling souvenirs until we reached the dramatically lit temple.

We learned that Kom Ombo Temple is unique in that it is dedicated to not one but two gods, a fact which we found to be evident in its layout.  It was built symmetrically along its main axis, including twin entrances and sanctuaries.  The western (left) side of the temple was dedicated to the ancient god Haroeris (Horus the Elder) while the eastern (right) side was dedicated to Sobek, the local crocodile god (above).  

* The Calendar
Among the more popular features of Kom Ombo was a calendar found inscribed on one of its walls (above).  The calendar marks the beginning and end of seasons throughout the year, particularly that of the harvest and also indicates important festival dates.

* Wall of Surgical Instruments (not pictured)
In the far back corner of the temple we found yet another unique feature of Kom Ombo: an unusual relief of surgical instruments including scalpels, forceps, scissors, and various medicine bottles.

* The Nilometer
The nilometer at Kom Ombo was much more impressive than the one we found at Edfu (above).  I only regret that a fair amount of trash had collected at its bottom.  At first, it appears to simply be a larger well, but our tour guide pointed out the spiraling staircase used to measure the water level.

*  Secret Passageways
Due to floods and earthquakes, the sanctuaries of Sobek and Haroeris are no longer intact.  However, where they would have stood there is evidence of a stairway leading down into the ground.  According to our guidebook, this was a secret passage "that enabled the priests to give the gods a 'voice' to answer the petitions of pilgrims."

* The Crocodile Museum
Before returning back to the ship, we stopped by the neighboring Crocodile Museum where we found a prominent display of the mummified crocodiles found in and around the temple (below).  Also on exhibit were a number of other artifacts relating to the crocodile god, Sobek.


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