A Visit to the Ancient Crocodile Temple of Kom Ombo

In this destination guide we will visit the ancient Egyptian temple of Kom Ombo, a common stop on a Nile cruise itinerary between Luxor and Aswan.

A visit to Kom Ombo

After a pleasant river cruise from Aswan, our ship arrived at its first stop of Kom Ombo at dusk.

The ancient temple at Kom Ombo (alternatively written as Kom Ombu or Kom Umbu) is usually the first port of call after departure from Aswan on a downstream river cruise.

Indeed, three other river boats had already beaten us there and were docked along the Kom Ombo wharf.

nile cruise cabin
Enjoying a book, gin tonic and some fine views over the Nile riverbanks from the cabin on my river cruise ship. ©Paliparan
sunset river nile
The journey by Nile cruise ship between Aswan and Kom Ombo is certainly beautiful. ©Paliparan
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Twilight colours in the sky just before arrival at Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
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Nile river cruise ships docked at Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan

To the temple

The temple of Kom Ombo is located on a hill just above the riverbank and will only a short walk away from the disembarkation point of your cruise ship.

I met up with my guide Mohammed in the lobby of our river cruiser so we could immediately disembark the ship as soon as the gangway was put out.

Having a private guide again worked out in my favour during my visit to Kom Ombo.

While all other passengers on group tours were still assembling in the lobby or outside on the dock, we were already well on our way towards the temple.

As a result, we could enjoy the splendour of Kom Ombo away from the crowd and without other people walking in front of the fine details of the temple.

Kom Ombo is beautifully illuminated in the evening, making it a great time of the day to visit this ancient Egyptian temple.

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Climbing up from the riverbank to the temple. ©Paliparan
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The temple of Kom Ombo is beautifully illuminated at night. ©Paliparan

Temple construction

The Temple of Kom Ombo was constructed around 180BC during the Ptolemaic Era and is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek as well as to the falcon god Horus.

The temple is entirely symmetrical with the left side being devoted to Horus and the right side to Sobek.

Before you enter the temple it’s well-worth it to have a look at an interesting construction technique used in ancient Egypt.

To join two blocks of stone together, the Egyptians would cut a hole in both stones and insert a piece of wood.

As wood expands from moisture, the wooden joint would firmly hold the stone blocks together.

At Kom Ombo you can see how this was done was done as in front of the temple there is a large stone block with a clearly visible wooden stake in it.

wooden stake stone
A piece of wood was commonly used to join blocks of stone together. ©Paliparan

Pillar

Before you enter the temple, make sure you also admire the pillars on the forecourt.

Although just like some other parts of the temple these pillars are damaged by earthquakes and the passage of time, some traces of their original colours still remain.

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One of the pillars on the forecourt of Kom Ombo temple. ©Paliparan
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The pillars on the forecourt of Kom Ombo temple. ©Paliparan

Inside the temple

As a temple from the Ptolemaic period, Kom Ombo has a similar layout as other temples from this era such as Philae which I’ve visited earlier this trip.

If you want to learn more about the everyday functioning of an ancient Egyptian temple you are well-advised to read my Philae guide.

The great Hypostyle hall at Kom Ombo – which acted as a colonnaded court for minor priests to worship the gods – is one of the most impressive parts of the temple.

Make sure you have a look upward as well to see the spectacular blue-coloured vultures symbolising Nekhbet and Wadjet painted on the ceiling.

I’ll talk more about their meaning a bit further down!

kom ombo temple visit
The temple of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
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The impressive columns in the hypostyle hall of the temple of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
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Kom Ombo hypostyle hall. ©Paliparan
ptolemy column
Pharaoh Ptolemy burning incense in front of the gods. ©Paliparan
The gorgeous painting on the ceiling of the temple of Kom Ombo showing Nekhbet. ©Paliparan

Reliefs

One advantage of exploring Kom Ombo with a professional guide is that you can learn more about the meaning and symbolism behind all the amazing reliefs.

I particularly liked the vivid reliefs showing the traditional Egyptian coronation ceremony of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Neo Dionysos.

In one scene showing the first stage of the coronation, you can see Ptolemy in a purification ceremony standing between the gods Thoth and Horus.

Ptolemy is then presented the double crown of Lower and Upper Egypt by Nekhbet (the patron and protector of Upper Egypt) and Wadjet (the protector of Lower Egypt).

As you can see, the crown of Upper Egypt worn by Nekhbet and the crown of Lower Egypt worn by Wadjet are combined into a single crown for all of Egypt which is worn by Ptolemy.

egyptian relief
The temple of Kom Ombo has some gorgeous reliefs. This one shows a priest wearing a panther skin burning incense and figures carrying different standards as part of a royal procession. ©Paliparan
coronation relief egypt temple
The first stage of the coronation, showing the purification ceremony with Pharaoh Ptolemy standing between the wisdom god Thoth and Horus. ©Paliparan
Pharaoh coronation ritual kom ombo
The Pharaoh with the double crown of Lower and Upper Egypt standing between Nekhbet and Wadjet. ©Paliparan

Birthing chair

Another striking and highly interesting relief at Kom Ombo shows Isis giving birth to a baby on a birthing chair.

This birth chair or stool had a hole in the seat and was a common way to deliver babies in ancient Egypt.

It’s however not the relief of the woman on the birth chair that is interesting but the image right above it of a man sitting on a similar chair.

According to my guide Mohammed, it shows her husband supporting his wife and sharing the experience and pain of giving birth to her firstborn, a clear symbol of marital love and respect.

birth chair relief
The relief with the birth chairs. ©Paliparan

Sanctuary

Just like any other ancient Egyptian temple, the heart of Kom Ombo was the sanctuary where the High Priest of the temple worshipped the gods, using offerings and goods from the adjacent storage rooms.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much remaining of the sanctuary at Kom Ombo as the roof and walls have almost completely disintegrated over time.

However, the altar of Horus is one of the objects which is still visible.

temple kom ombo altar
Altar of Horus the Elder in the temple of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
side chamber
Side chamber in the temple. ©Paliparan
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Temple detail. ©Paliparan

Nilometer

The temple of Kom Ombo also features a well in the north-western part of the complex.

This well doubled as a Nilometer, which was used to determine the floodwater level of the River Nile and to calculate the height of the annual taxes.

Simply put, more water meant a higher crop output on farms, thus more taxes to be paid to the Pharaoh!

nilometer kom ombo
The Nilometer at Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan

Some last impressions

After the informative tour, I had some free time to explore the temple complex at leisure.

This was much appreciated as besides needing some more time for photography I also really enjoyed having the extra time to absorb the unique surroundings in all quietness.

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Walking through the temple of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
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The temple of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan
relief
Large relief on one of the outer walls. ©Paliparan
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Kom Ombo relief. ©Paliparan
passage
Temple passage. ©Paliparan
columns hypostyle hall
The impressive columns of the hypostyle hall. ©Paliparan
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Kom Ombo temple. ©Paliparan
kom ombo night
A final look at wonderful Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan

Crocodile museum

When you exit the temple of Kom Ombo, you will pass through a small crocodile museum showing a number of mummified crocodiles in all sorts and sizes.

Crocodiles used to be plentiful along the shores of the River Nile at Kom Ombo, so it isn’t entirely a surprise why they would venerate the crocodile god Sobek here.

However, since the construction of the Aswan Dam there aren’t any crocodiles in the Nile north of the dam, so if you want to spot them in the wild you have to go south to Lake Nasser or other countries along the Nile such as Sudan.

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Mummified crocodiles. ©Paliparan
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A mummified crocodile in the small museum at Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan

Back to the boat

Having completed my visit of the ancient Egyptian temple of Kom Ombo, it was time to return to my Nile river cruise ship M/S Princess Sarah.

After enjoying a delicious dinner it was time to go to bed early, as early in the next morning another Egyptian temple would be on the itinerary.

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Some succulent grilled meat was prepared by the on-board chefs on the M/S Princess Sarah. ©Paliparan
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Some tasty food was waiting on my river cruise ship after the visit of Kom Ombo. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Kom Ombo was a fascinating stop on my Nile river cruise itinerary.

The temple of Kom Ombo – dedicated to the falcon god Horus and the crocodile god Sobek – was beautifully illuminated in the darkness and certainly a highly impressive sight to behold.

If you have a good quality guide with you, it’s a wonderful experience to discover the symbolism and meaning behind all the striking reliefs and functioning of the temple.

Whether you visit it in the evening like me or in the day, Kom Ombo is a must-see destination for anyone travelling between Aswan and Luxor.

Acknowledgements

This Kom Ombo article was written with the help and support of my Aswan-based guide Mohammed Badawy, who is a professional archaeologist.

If you need the services of a professional guide on your Egypt tour, I can highly recommend Mohammed as he is extremely courteous, hospitable and also a great source of knowledge about everything related to ancient Egypt.

Mohammed can be contacted by e-mail (mohammed_badawy95 *at* yahoo.com) or by phone or WhatsApp on the number +201005448691).

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo
4. Exploring the Medieval Old Town and Islamic History of Cairo
5. Visiting the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo
6. Mar Girgis: The Churches of Christian Old Cairo
7. Review: Ernst Watania Sleeping Train Cairo to Aswan
8. The Ancient Quarry of Aswan and the Unfinished Obelisk
9. A Boat Ride From Aswan to the Temple of Isis at Philae
10. A Visit to the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser
11. A Visit to the Nubian Village on Aswan’s Elephantine Island
12. Aswan Guide: A Visit to Egypt’s Most Stunningly Located City
13. A Half Day Trip From Aswan to Amazing Abu Simbel
14. Nile River Cruise Guide: All Info for Your Egypt Boat Trip
15. Review: M/S Princess Sarah Nile River Cruise Ship
16. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Aswan to Kom Ombo
17. A Visit to the Ancient Crocodile Temple of Kom Ombo (current chapter)

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

koen paliparan rhodes rodos

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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