If you’ve been to Egypt before, it might have felt like a whirlwind of temples, tombs, monuments, pyramids and artifacts that probably wowed and confused you in equal measure. We know, it’s hard to remember all the different tombs and temples and... what was the difference between them again?
We’re going to try to make things as nice and simple as we can. We already spoke about the awesome pyramids (besides the Pyramids of Giza) that you need to see in Egypt, so today we’re going to talk about the most awe-inspiring temples.
Temples were a huge part of Ancient Egypt, and luckily we still have some mighty impressive ones still standing in Egypt today.
So what’s the difference between a temple, tomb and pyramid?
A tomb is where a person in Ancient Egypt was actually buried, and the types of tombs varied throughout the different kingdoms: they evolved from mastabas to pyramids (yep, pyramids are tombs) to underground chambers like at the Valley of the Kings and Queens.
So what’s an Ancient Egyptian temple?
A temple was an official place of worship dedicated either to a god (or gods) or pharaoh. At the temples dedicated to the gods, priests would perform rituals and people would leave offerings, all with the purpose of maintaining maat, which was divine peace and order and which the Ancient Egyptian religion was built upon. The mortuary temples of the pharaohs were memorials to sustain their spirit in the afterlife.
It’s kind of a simplistic explanation but we don’t want to lose you before we get to the juicy stuff… the temples themselves:
1. Karnak Temple
The temple complex of Karnak is the largest religious building ever built, and was constructed over a span of 2,000 years. Construction started in the Old Kingdom and was continuously added to up until the Ptolemaic era, with approximately 30 different pharaohs contributing. It’s the second most visited site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza.
It’s also home to the Open Air Karnak Museum -- for more important museums in Egypt, head here.
2. Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is comprised of two massive rock temples, about 3 hours from Aswan. The twin temples were constructed in the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom as an everlasting monument to Ramses II and his Great Royal Wife Nefertari. The massive temples were relocated from their original spot in an international effort to save the ancient monuments from Nile flooding, and are one of Egypt’s 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
3. Luxor Temple
Constructed around 1400 BC (more than 3,400 years ago), Luxor Temple differs from most other ancient Egyptian temples due to the fact that it wasn’t built for worship of a particular god or pharaoh. It was mainly used as a place where pharaohs were coronated and crowned, sometimes even conceptually (for example, Alexander the Great claimed he was crowned there but no evidence suggests he was ever there).
During medieval times, the Muslim community built on the Luxor Temple site, and until now a functional mosque remains part of the temple complex (you can read more about Egypt’s most beautiful mosques here).
4. Temple of Seti I at Abydos
The Temple of Seti I is one of the most impressive temples found in Abydos, an ancient sacred city in the modern Egyptian governorate of Sohag. It was built as a memorial to Seti I, a New Kingdom pharaoh, and is famous for being where the ‘Abydos King List’ was carved; it was a chronological list of pharaohs (that Seti recognized), starting from Narmer/Mena, the first Egyptian pharaoh, up to Ramses I (Seti’s father).
The Ramessum is the mortuary temple of Ramses II (the same pharaoh who built Abu Simbel, and Seti I’s son). It was built with the intention of being a place of worship after Ramses II died, so his memory would be kept alive; this was of the utmost importance in the Ancient Egyptian religion.
6. Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri
Known primarily for the mortuary temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut of the New Kingdom, Deir el Bahri was originally chosen as the location for the mortuary temple of the pharaoh who founded the Middle Kingdom, Mentuhotep II. Hatshepsut’s temple though is the star of the show, and the massive terraced monument is surrounded by a steep cliff. It was in this cliff that archaeologists found a cache of royal mummies, moved in antiquity from the Valley of the Kings.
7. The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu
Ramses III is widely considered the last truly powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, and his mortuary temple dominates the archaeological site of Medinet Habu in Luxor. The temple is especially known for the depictions of Ramses III defeating the ‘Sea Peoples’, invaders of Ancient Egypt whose origins are unknown.
8. Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo, about an hour’s drive from central Aswan, is an unusual double temple dating back to the Ptolemaic era. A ‘double’ temple means it has two sets of halls, sanctuaries and rooms dedicated to two different gods; in the case of Kom Ombo, the two gods were Sobek (the crocodile god) and Horus (the falcon god). Over 300 crocodile mummies were found at the site, and they’re now in the adjacent Crocodile Museum.
Kom Ombo also has engravings of what it is believed to be the first representation of medical tools and surgical instruments in the world.
9. Temple of Horus at Edfu
Location: on the Nile between Aswan and Esna
Built during the Ptolemaic times, the Temple of Horus at Edfu (or Edfu Temple) is one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt. It’s also the largest temple dedicated to Horus. The wall inscriptions provided archeologists with important information about Ancient Egyptian religion and language during the Hellenistic/Ptolemaic era.
10. Temple of Khnum at Esna
Location: south of Luxor
Khnum was the Ancient Egyptian ram-headed god who created the world on his potter’s wheel, and this temple to him was built during Ptolemaic times but added to by the Romans. Because it was such a deeply religious site, inscriptions on the temple walls instruct visitors that to enter they must have trimmed fingernails and toenails, wear linen, remove body hair, wash their hands with natron (a type of salt) and not have had sex for several days (makes modern-day places of worship seem like a walk in the park).
11. Temple of Hathor at Dendera
Known for its still-startling blue more than 2,000 years later, the Temple of Hathor is the most impressive site at the temple complex at Dendera. Built in the Ptolemaic era, it shows Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman influences and has several shrines to different gods. It’s also known for the clear depictions of Cleopatra and her son Caeserion, fathered by Julius Caesar.
The temple complex at Philae was primarily built during Ptolemaic times, and finished during the Roman conquest. It’s known for being the last place where hieroglyphs were written, and the last place where the Ancient Egyptian religion was practiced. Christianity became present in Philae starting the 4th century, where it first was practiced alongside the Ancient Egyptian religion and then solely. Today you can see both the original Ancient Egyptian temples and the temples that were converted into churches.
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