Abydos temple: history, description, facts

History of Abydos

Abydos (the Greek version of the ancient Egyptian name Abdu) is situated on the western bank of the Nile about 7 km west of the modern town Bolyana. It made its debut on the stage of Egypt’s ancient history even before the dynastic period & retained its aura of sanctity longer than any other site in Egypt. This was because Abydos was the cult centre of Osiris, Egypt’s most beloved hero and the central figure of the country’s most popular myth.

During the Middle kingdom Abydos was fully established as a city of prime importance and a place of pilgrimage. The 12th Dynasty pharaoh Senusert I erected a large edifice on the site of the earlier shrine at Kom el Sultan, which became known as the Temple of Osiris. During the New Kingdom Abydos rose to its peak as a holy city. Thutmose I ordered a barge of cedar and electrum to be built for Osiris, and almost every pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty left evidence of his devotion to the god, making additions to the temple at Kom el Sultan.

In the 19th Dynasty Abydos and its chief deity were honoured by Seti I on an unprecedented scale. He constructed a marvelous temple with separate sanctuaries for each deity and with seventh chamber, of equal size, to himself as a god. His son and successor Ramses II, built a temple of his own to the north.

The most visited temples at Abydos are those of the New Kingdom of Seti I & Ramses II. The temple of Seti I is decorated with some of the finest reliefs sculpture of any age to be found in the Nile valley. And the reliefs of the nearby temple of Ramses II are so finely carved that they lead us to suspect that the temple was constructed at the beginning of his reign and decorated by the very artists who worked under his father, Seti I.

Seti I seems to have desired a return to the orthodox canons of Egyptian art after the breakaway art movement in the "Amarna period". The representations in his temple are majestic, delicate and conservative. The temple is built of fine-textured limestone and has many unique features: one is a wing at the southwest corner, compare with traditional temple, another is the so-called Osirion, and the most unusual, is the seven-fold dedication. The temple of Seti has sanctuaries for Osiris, Isis and Horus - the Triad associated with Abydos; Ptah the god of Memphis, Ra-Harakhte, Amon-Ra and the last shrine for Seti himself. The Entrance Pylon & First Court are in ruins. Only the rear section of the second Court is preserved. It is approached by a graded stairway leading to a terrace on which there were 12 square pillars, on each of them Ramses II is depicted embracing the principal gods of Egypt.

Osirion - is a separated structure and lays behind the temple of Seti I to the southwest. Its purpose is unclear and architectural features are unique.

The temple of Ramses II is not well preserved but it must once have been among the most beautiful temples in the Nile valley. Some of the temple's blocks were reused during the last century and only the lower part of the walls and the bases of the columns remain. The temple was built of fine-grained white limestone, black granite, rose granite, red and brown sandstone, and flawless alabaster. The Entrance Pylon and the First Court have unfortunately been destroyed. Though not in a good condition but surviving battle scenes on the outside of the temple can be found on the eastern face of the northern tower and the western wall.

Royal tomb from Second Intermediate Period discovered in Upper Egypt in January 2014

At the small town of Abydos near the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag excavators from Pennsylvania University stumbled upon what is believed to be the tomb of a previously unknown ancient Egyptian pharaoh who ruled during a forgotten local dynasty called Abydos. The existence of this dynasty was first put forward in 1997 but evidence to prove its existence was not found until the name and tomb of one of the early kings of the Abydos Dynasty called Woseribre-Senebkay was uncovered.

The story of this discovery started in summer 2013 when the team discovered the 60-ton red quartzite sarcophagus of the founder of the 13th Dynasty, Sobekhotep I, during routine excavation work at the Middle Kingdom necropolis in Abydos. More excavations in the area uncovered the tomb of Sobekhotep I and fragments of his funerary stelae. A collection of burials belonging to royal figures of a later period, probably the Second Intermediate Period, was also found. Early studies revealed that the funerary collection of Sobekhotep I was reused by these later kings, one of them reusing a sarcophagus and another reusing wooden canopic jars.

During winter’s archaeological season, the team continued its excavations in the area surrounding Sobekhotep I’s tomb, eventually stumbling upon the tomb of one of the early kings of the forgotten Abydos Dynasty called Woseribre-Senebkay who ruled in 1650 BC during the Second Intermediate Period. The tomb is modest and consists of four chambers with a decorated limestone burial chamber painted with scenes depicting the goddesses Nut, Nephthys, Selket, and Isis flanking the canopic shrine. Hieroglyphic texts bearing the names of the four sons of Horus and records of the pharaoh’s different titles identifying him as the “king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Woseribre, the son of Re, Senebkay” are engraved on the tomb’s walls. The tomb was badly plundered in antiquity, and its funerary collection and equipment were stripped of their gilded surfaces. The team succeeded in uncovering the remains of Senebkay’s skeleton amidst the debris of his fragmentary coffin, as well as his funerary mask and canopic chest carved in cedar wood.

Studies carried out on the skeleton indicate that he was a man of moderate height around 1,75 metres high and probably died in his mid to late 40s. The studies had also revealed that the cedar wood beams used for the canopic chest had originally belonged to Sobekhotep I as some of the beams still bore his name, covered over by gilding. It is a very significant discovery as it not only provided evidence of a forgotten local ancient Egyptian dynasty and the location of its royal necropolis, but also highlighted the political and social condition of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period.

The existence of an independent Abydos Dynasty contemporary with the 15th (Hyksos in the north) and 16th and 17th (Theban kingdom in the south) Dynasties had first been hypothesised in 1997. The present discovery had confirmed this and identified the location of the royal necropolis at South Abydos in an area called Anubis-Mountain in antiquity.

About 16 royal tombs from the Abydos Dynasty spanning the period of 1650–1600 BCE had been found adjacent to the tombs of earlier Middle Kingdom pharaohs including Senwosret III (Dynasty 12, around 1880–1840 BCE) and Sobekhotep I (Dynasty 13 around 1780 BCE), and Senebkay appeared to be one of the earliest kings.

The reuse of the cedar beams of Sobekhotep I’s tomb by Senebkay to carve his canopic jars and the reuse of the quartzite sarcophagus by another Abydos Dynasty king who is not yet identified suggests limited resources and the isolated economic situation of the Abydos Kingdom. Continued excavations and studies in situ will reveal more of such a forgotten dynasty as well as shed more light on the political history and society of an important but poorly understood era of Ancient Egypt.

Sours: Ahram Online


Published: 2018-11-01
Last update: 2019-04-17