Journey to Egypt, Part 12: Esna & the Temple of Khnum

December 28, 2018

Most of the members of our group opted to take a balloon ride over the west bank of the Nile. We, however, did not go because Dale is afraid of heights and I was very tired because I had not slept well in either of the hotels we’d stayed in so far. Nevertheless, Dale was up at dawn and took this photo from our hotel room balcony.
20181228_064651dBy the time we went down to breakfast, it was almost 9:00 a.m. and the ballooners were just returning. They reported that it was a wonderful ride -very scenic with clear skies.

We boarded our motorcoach again and drove south to Esna, a town on the Nile’s western bank. Dale and I took these photos from the bus.
The countryside near the bank of the Nile was lush and green.
Banana plantation – banana plants are not actually trees; they are the largest of the plants in the herb family.

Donkey and cart seemed to be the most common form of transportation in the countryside.DSC_0211
Many men make their livelihood, or supplement it, as fishermen.
This photo betrays the image of a lush green country – only a narrow strip of land along the east and west banks of the Nile is fertile. A few miles away, hills rise up and beyond them is desert.
Esna was a larger town than I expected. About 55 km south of Luxor, it has a population of over 68,000.
Old juxtaposed with new: This traditionally dressed man, with his cart and donkey, is talking on his cellphone!

If one ventures into Esna, they will find a relatively peaceful market town, which has a rather extensive covered market and a weekly animal market (we would see one in another town later in our tour). You can also visit weaving and garment making shops and watch merchants and farmers bringing their agricultural products to sell in Esna.

Many people waved as we passed – Egyptians in general are friendly and welcoming.
Another common form of transportation are motorcycles with wagons mounted on back which can carry several people. We would have the experience of riding in some of these the next day.
What brings tourists to Esna initially is, of course, the Temple of Khnum, another of Egypt’s antiquities. (Note: It is not on the cruise ships’ itinerary, which generally bypass Esna going north and go directly to Luxor).

The bus dropped us off at the Temple of Khnum. From the street, we had to go down a flight of stairs to get to the temple site, which is about nine meters below street level and there is evidence it was built on top of an earlier temple. Although historians generally consider the temple to be connected with Thutmose III, but this is one that depicts several Ptolemaic rulers, who were the last of the true ancient Egyptian pharaohs. The temple was built by Ptolemaic rulers in the 2nd century BCE and the Romans in the 2nd century CE.
20181228_111513d.jpgThe temple is remarkably well preserved, and is one of the few of ancient Egyptian temples that retains a roof and various eras of construction are evident. The walls are covered with well-preserved images of kings, gods and ancient Egyptian daily life.
20181228_114744dIn the main hall there are four massive rows of columns, which retain some of their ancient colors to the present day.
Unique texts and hieroglyphics can be found at Khnum as well as at smaller buildings in the vicinity, which were dedicated to various gods.


In the courtyard outside the temple is an area of excavation as well as temple walls that rise up under the city of Esna.

The main hall with its 24 columns is the only part of the temple that can be visited today. Much of the temple is still buried under the town of Esna. The interior is dark and atmospheric, but soon one can discern hieroglyphic accounts of temple rituals carved on the walls and columns, and astrological (zodiac)  motifs on the ceiling.

If you look closely, you can see some differences in the depictions of pharaohs and gods on these walls compared to those at older temples like Karnak. Some of these are purely stylistic (and, I think, less sophisticated than their earlier counterparts) while others show clearly different facial features and headdresses that reflect later periods – the Ptolemaic and the Roman eras.DSC_0241SONY DSC


Thoth (left, the ibis god) and Horus (right, the falcon god) bless the pharaoh in the middle. 



Ceiling detail: Snake on the ceiling meant eternal life. The hippopotamus (to the left of the snakes) was known as the goddess Taweret. She was much feared (hippos, as ancient Egyptians knew, can be very dangerous animals) so to pacify her she was called Taweret, meaning “great one.” She was also the goddess of childbirth and fertility. 



The image of the scorpion possibly represents Serket, the scorpion goddess of healing, protector against venom and snakebite. 



In the middle of this wall is a panel showing Nekhbet (left), the vulture goddess holding a shen ring representing eternal life. To her right is Sobek, the crocodile god, who controlled the waters of the Nile and the fertility of the soil. To Sobek’s right is the pharaoh making offerings to these gods. 

The main temple was dedicated to Khnum, the ram-headed creator god. It was begun by Ptolemy VI Philometer (180-45 BCE). The hypostyle hall (hall of columns) was added by the Romans, with varied floral capitals (column tops) in the form of palm leaves, lotus buds and papyrus fans. Some even have bunches of grapes, a Roman feature.
20181228_113038dInside the corners are two hymns to Khnum: a morning hymn to awaken Khnum in his temple, and a hymn of creation, proclaiming him the creator of all. These hymns extensively use hieroglyphics of crocodiles and rams. The inscriptions on the columns are texts about different festivals held at the temple throughout the year.

Information for this post was obtained from my notes and from:
Egypttours: Temple of Khnum – A Must-See Attraction in the Quiet Town of Esna
Lonely Planet, Temple of Khnum
Wikipedia, Taweret and Serket
Fodor’s Egypt, 2009

Next: Cruising the Nile!





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