A Visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu

This destination guide details a visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Egypt.

Morning in Edfu

After an interesting visit to the ancient Egyptian crocodile temple of Kom Ombo, my Nile river cruise ship sailed overnight to Edfu.

When I woke up in my comfortable cabin on the river cruise ship, I was treated to an absolutely gorgeous sunrise over the Nile.

Just like all the previous sightseeing trips on my itinerary, I had arranged with my guide to set out as early as possible in order to beat the crowds.

Indeed, it seemed we were the very first people to disembark the ship at Edfu for a visit to the famous Temple of Horus as we decided to visit the temple first and have breakfast on board when we would return.

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Gorgeous sunrise over the Nile at Edfu. ©Paliparan
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Nile sunrise. ©Paliparan
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Beautiful sunrise over the River Nile at Edfu. ©Paliparan

Horse carriage

As the Temple of Horus is located away from the river, you have to get some wheels to get there from your cruise ship.

To my surprise, the transport in Edfu turned out to be a horse-drawn carriage, with dozens of carts and horses waiting on the road right alongside the quay where the river boats dock.

Most Nile cruise itineraries will have transport to and from the Temple of Horus included, although you’d have to arrange it yourself if you arrive in Edfu on your own.

That is certainly the case independent travellers who arrive by train, as Edfu’s railway station is at the other bank of the River Nile from the Temple of Horus.

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A horse-drawn carriage took us from the docks to the Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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Riding through the streets of Edfu. ©Paliparan
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Passing by a local mosque. ©Paliparan
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Making our way through the streets of Edfu towards the Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan

Entering the temple

Once we reached the entrance to the temple complex we dismounted the horse-drawn carriage and walked towards the Temple of Complex.

Even though it was still early in the morning, a diverse crowd of Egyptians and foreign tourists had already assembled.

Fortunately, the crowds were light so we could enjoy the historic surroundings in relative peace and quietness.

Before you pass through the first pylon – the main entrance gate to the actual temple – you will pass by a number of other sights.

The stone foundations and piles of rubble you see are ruins of the ancient city that used to be located right next to the temple.

Shortly before you approach the pylon you can admire the mammisi of the temple.

Mammisis were small chapels attached to the main temple and associated with a god’s nativity, which is why a mammisi is also known as a birth house.

The mammisi at Edfu is dedicated to the birth of the child god Harsomtus, one of the children of Horus and Hathor.

The reliefs at the mammisi depict vivid images of Hathor giving birth to Harsomtus and suckling her child.

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Approaching the Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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The mammisi in front of the Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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The reliefs on the walls of the mammisi show the birth of Harsomtus. ©Paliparan

About the Temple of Horus

The Temple of Horus at Edfu is considered to be one of the best preserved of all ancient Egyptian temples, which becomes clear as soon as you approach the magnificent first pylon.

The pylon is the name for an entrance gate of an ancient Egyptian temple, with most temples having multiple pylons, all demarcating different areas.

If you want to learn more about the archetypical layout of Egyptian temples do read the article I wrote about the Temple of Isis at Philae  which will explain more about their design and religious rites and practices.

Just like the temples at Philae and Kom Ombo, the Temple of Horus at Edfu was built during the Ptolemaic Era, it being completed in the year 57 BC.

Unsurprisingly, the pylon is adorned with giant reliefs of the Falcon god Horus as well as Pharaoh Ptolemy smiting his enemies, a scene similar to what you can find at Abu Simbel.

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The main pylon of the Temple of Horus at Edfu. ©Paliparan
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The falcon god Horus watches as Ptolemy smites his enemies. ©Paliparan
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Standing underneath the grand entrance of the first pylon. ©Paliparan

Forecourt

When you pass through the first pylon, you will arrive on the colonnaded forecourt of the Temple of Horus.

This courtyard is flanked a total of 32 columns on three sides, with all of the column capitals being decorated with palm and plant motifs.

In front of the entrance to the inner areas of the temple you can find a large statue of Horus wearing the double crown of Lower and Upper Egypt.

There used to be two such Horus statues – one at each side of the entrance – but unfortunately only one survived.

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Looking back towards the first pylon from the courtyard. ©Paliparan
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The forecourt of the Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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A statue of Horus guards the entrance to the inner areas of the temple. ©Paliparan
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Statue of Horus. ©Paliparan
colonnade
Colonnade surrounding the forecourt. ©Paliparan
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The beautiful columns of Edfu’s Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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Edfu colonnade. ©Paliparan
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Walking around the highly impressive colonnade. ©Paliparan

Hypostyle hall

The first inner room of the temple is known as the hypostyle hall or column court and was out of reach for most of Egyptian society as it was the exclusive domain for lower-ranked priests to worship the gods.

There are 12 columns in the impressive hypostyle hall – 6 on each side of this symmetric temple.

You will see that the ceiling of almost every hall inside the temple is blackened due to arson.

This is likely happened when Egypt was part of the early Byzantine Empire as Christians back then considered the old Egyptian religion and all its imagery to be pagan.

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Inside the hypostyle hall. ©Paliparan
hypostyle hall
The ceiling of the hypostyle hall is blackened, most likely due to arson. ©Paliparan
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Egyptian man leaning against one of the columns in the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Horus at Edfu. ©Paliparan

Second hall

After the hypostyle hall you can find a second column hall which is both smaller in size and lower in height.

Again, the further you walk into an ancient Egyptian temple, the more exclusive the domain used to be back in those days, with only the high priest being allowed to worship the gods in the actual sanctuary.

There are two small rooms at either side of this hall which were used to prepare ointments, oils and perfumes which were used in rituals and special aroma therapy.

The reliefs on the walls show the full recipes of these perfumes and ointments and tell us more how they were actually made.

Many of these perfumes were actually stored in stone or alabaster jars and then buried in sand between 3 to 6 months to get a concentrated fragrance, much in the same way how wine was made back in those days.

column hall
Inside the second column hall. ©Paliparan
side chamber temple
Door leading to one of the side chambers. ©Paliparan
aroma therapy recipe temple horus edfu
Recipe for special oils and perfumes to be used in aroma therapy. ©Paliparan
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Reliefs showing how the ancient Egyptians made their ointments and perfumes. ©Paliparan

Sanctuary

Just like other ancient Egyptian temples, the heart of the Temple of Horus is the sanctuary.

In the middle of the sanctuary you can see the sacred barque on top of a pedestal, which was the focal point of the entire temple.

Originally, a golden statue of Horus stood here as well and it was the duty of the high priest to give offerings and perform rituals in this room.

To do this, the high priest had access to multiple storage rooms around the sanctuary where candles, oils and perfumes were stored.

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The sanctuary of Horus in the temple at Edfu. ©Paliparan

Outer areas

It really pays off to have a licenced tour guide with you when you visit an Egyptian temple such as the one in Edfu as without you won’t understand the deeper symbolism and meaning of reliefs and hieroglyphs.

This certainly is the case when you walk along the walls of the outer passageway which runs all around the back of the temple.

For example, you can see Horus watching over Pharaoh Ptolemy as he hunts a hippopotamus, with the hippo actually symbolising the evil god Seth, Horus’ big rival.

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Door leading from the temple to the outer areas. ©Paliparan
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Passage between the temple and the outer walls. ©Paliparan
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There are some fine reliefs to admire at both sides of this passageway. ©Paliparan
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Pharaoh Ptolemy hunting a hippopotamus with a spear under the watchful eye of the falcon god Horus. ©Paliparan
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The god Shu can be seen here in the top right corner lifting up the sky to create space for human life on Earth. ©Paliparan
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Old Egyptian numerals from one to a million. ©Paliparan

Back to the boat

After the wonderful guided tour around the Temple of Horus, I enjoyed some free time to wander around the site and to marvel at all the fine architecture, reliefs and sculptures.

Outside the temple, we again took a horse and carriage to get back to the river boat to continue the cruise down the Nile.

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Door inside the temple. ©Paliparan
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A last look at the magnificent Temple of Horus. ©Paliparan
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Taking the horse and carriage back to the river boat. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

The Temple of Horus at Edfu is one of the best preserved of all Egyptian temples, which makes it a delight to visit.

Both architecturally as well as symbolically the Temple of Horus is a magnificent place as the reliefs are stunning and are full of interesting details.

Whether it’s the reliefs detailing stories about the falcon god Horus and other divine powers or those showing more mundane aspects of ancient Egyptian life such as perfume recipes, the temple at Edfu is a fascinating place to visit.

Acknowledgements

This Edfu article was written with the help and support of Mohammed Badawy, my Aswan-based guide and professional archaeologist.

If you require a professional guide when you visit a temple or other sight, I can highly recommend Mohammed’s services 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) as well as 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
18. A Visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu (current chapter)
19. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Edfu to Luxor

** 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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