Temple of Edfu is the second largest temple of ancient Egypt,
after Karnak; it is also the best preserved, though this is
in part because it is also one of the most recent. Indeed, calling
it “Egyptian” is already something of a misnomer,
for its construction began in 237 BC and was only completed
in 57 BC – during Ptolemaic times, after Alexander the
Great had conquered Egypt and the rule of the pharaohs was no
therefore relatively modern, legend has it that the site itself
is as ancient as time, if not older, as it was said to be the
site where Horus defeated his evil uncle, Seth, to avenge his
father’s murder. The story of Horus's mythological triumph
over Seth was celebrated each year as a mystery play.
The temple complex is also known for inscriptions that argue
that its lay-out was actually designed by a mythical, pre-dynastic
group of people, known as the Shemsu Hor, the “Followers
of Horus” – which some authors have identified as
refugees from Atlantis.
Less known, however, is that Edfu can also shed light on the
infamous Temple of Solomon…
that the first temple that was built at Edfu was constructed
by Imhotep and his father Kanefer. Imhotep, of course, is best-known
as the engineer who built the first Step Pyramid at Saqqara
for King Zoser. This first temple was also dedicated to Horus,
the divine offspring of Osiris and Isis. Horus was magically
conceived after Osiris had been brutally slain and hacked into
fourteen pieces by the evil Seth – the Egyptian equivalent
of Satan. Isis searched the length of Egypt and beyond for Osiris’
pieces and – using both magic and love – reassembled
him. Alas, she was unable to recover his phallus, so she fashioned
one out of wood. Despite this, she was able to conceive Horus.
current temple at Edfu is not only dedicated to Horus, but also
to Hathor of Denderah, as well as her son Harsomtus. In the
case of Edfu, each year, Hathor travelled south from her temple
at Denderah to visit Horus at Edfu on a barge, and this event,
marking their sacred marriage, was the occasion of a great festival
and pilgrimage. On the south side of the paved courtyard are
carvings depicting this “Feast of the Beautiful Meeting”.
But Horus was the principal deity and – like every other
temple – the temple of Edfu was said to be the site where
the god lived on earth. The god itself was “present”
inside his statue that was at the very heart of the temple complex.
construction of the complex began on August 23, 237 BC by Ptolemy
XII, who constructed the present complex on top of an earlier,
smaller temple. Interestingly, whereas the previous temple was
aligned east-west, the Ptolemaic complex was aligned north-south.
This is an unusual orientation, and it is believed that it was
done to underline a connection with the Temple of Denderah,
which faces north, and which was constructed shortly before
Apart from its unusual orientation, Edfu largely does conform
to the standard Egyptian temple. The twin entrance pylons climb
to a stunning height of 36 metres and are covered with the standard
imagery of the king smiting his enemies before Horus. But apart
from standard iconography, Emil Shaker has shown hieroglyphics
on the wall close to sanctuary, pointing out how they specified
how a temple ritual had to be performed. The ritual involved
chanting a hymn to the sun and presenting the gods with offerings
and was said to activate the temple. Though few historians dare
to go there, we should take this activation very literally.
Indeed, the statues of the gods that lived inside the Egyptian
temples were no mere “dead objects”, but were believed
to actively contain the spirit of the deity, with which the
high priests could interact. It was also said that the statues
of the gods could physically walk – and in more recent
times, some museum staff have reported that, indeed, some Egyptian
statuettes mysteriously move about in their glass cabinets.
But further such discussions are best left for another occasion.
Of note at Edfu
is the Holy of Holies, the most sacred area of the complex.
In the Holy of Holies, only two men were ever allowed in: the
high priest and the pharaoh. It is here that we see the parallels
with the design of the Temple of Solomon. Edfu has a rectangular
hall with twelve gigantic stone columns, set in four groups
of three. The first of three main spaces within the shrine indicate
to us as to how the Temple of Solomon might have been. It too
divided into three parts and generally along the lines of the
standard Egyptian temple design – to which Edfu adhered.
Equally, the floor plan of the interior of the Edfu complex
is a double square and the hall is as high as it is wide, a
double cube – on par with the Temple of Solomon. Again,
as in the previous hall, there are twelve columns, set in a
configuration of four by three.
Inside the Holy of Holies, where in the Temple of Solomon stood
the Ark of the Covenant, at Edfu was a grey granite naos shrine,
four metres high, which would have contained the cult statue
of Horus, with cartouches of Nectanebo II of the 30th Dynasty.
The shrine therefore must have come from an earlier building.
Texts on the wall describe the rituals that took place here,
including the morning service when the high priest exposed,
washed, fed and dressed the image of Horus, burning incense
and reciting prayers to him.
In a chapel behind the sanctuary there is a low pedestal, also
from an earlier structure, on which stands a reproduction of
the barque of Horus – the Ark of Horus. Or could that
be an Ark of the Covenant, as this was the ceremonial barge
used to carry Horus’ statue during the processions? Indeed,
one of the bynames of the temple complex of Edfu was the “chest
of the son of Isis”.
of lost civilisations, however, it is not the Temple of Solomon
that intrigues them, but the so-called “Edfu Building
Texts”. The Edfu Building Texts speak of the “First
Time”, or Tep Zepi, which was the period from the first
stirring of the High God in the Primeval Waters to the settling
of Horus upon the throne and the redemption of Osiris by Horus.
They also relate that the region of Edfu was once inhabited
by the so-called “Shemsu Hor”, or “Followers
of Horus”. In Manetho’s List of Kings, these beings
ruled after the gods themselves, but before the pharaohs. It
are these predynastic people that are said have created the
design for the Edfu and Denderah temple complexes, as they were
said to have been built “according to a plan written in
ancient writing upon a goatskin scroll from the time of the
Companions of Horus”. Specifically, Edfu was built in
according with a plan “dropped down from heaven to earth
near the city of Memphis”.
With such ingredients,
no wonder that aficionados of lost civilisations have been immersed
in them for decades. The texts, with titles such as “Specification
of the Mounds of the Early Primeval Age”, “Sacred
Book of the Early Primeval Age of the Gods” and “Offering
the Lotus” speak of ancient and largely unknown rituals,
as well as an important “Island of the Egg”, also
known as the Wetjeset-Neter, which was seen as the homeland
of the Shemsu Hor. Some feel it should be identified with the
lost continent of Atlantis. From the Texts, it is clear that
this homeland was destroyed, with only one sole object surviving:
a djed-pillar, which is a pillar symbolising the backbone of
A lot of speculation exists about the identity of these Shemsu
Hor, but most historians unsurprisingly argue away from an Atlantis
connection, instead opting that they were the kings of Hieraconpolis
and of Buto respectively, the principal capitals of pre-dynastic
Egypt. The all important question is whether we live in an “or
universe” or an “and universe”, as the two
possibilities are not mutually exclusive.
therefore a mystery. Built in post-Dynastic times, it harkens
back to pre-dynastic times, if not the time of the gods themselves,
and the greatest “golden child” of all: Horus. There
was an ancient prophecy, written down in Ptolemaic times, which
argued that one day, the gods of ancient Egypt would be dead
and the land not understand. That time is now. The time is also
there to begin to peel back the layers, and see what is at the
core of this and so many other temples. For this was, and remains,
a place of magic. It is undoubtedly why even in Ptolemaic times,
the Greeks could be moved to construct a new and complex temple.
The Time Returns…