Horus Temple in Edfu

Page update - Sep 7, 2023

Many people refer to this temple simply as 'Edfu Temple' so many tourists are under the false impression that Edfu is one of the many ancient Egyptian gods. However, this is not the case. The temple is not far from the city of Edfu, and it is dedicated to the god Horus, who has played a variety of roles at different points in Egyptian history.

This temple can be called one of the least ancient Egyptian temples, as strange as it may sound. The point is that it was built during the Hellenistic period, when Egypt was ruled by the descendants of Ptolemy, a Macedonian general, close friend and associate of Alexander the Great.

Construction began around 250 BC, very recent by the standards of ancient Egypt. This explains its remarkable state of conservation, especially the inscriptions which are a valuable source of knowledge about the ancient script for Egyptologists.

Inside the temple, you can see not only classic Egyptian writing, but also ancient Greek features, which again is due to the mixture of cultures that took place after the conquest of Egypt in 332. To give the reader a better idea of why this happened, we will dive into this part of the country's history just a little bit.

In 332, Alexander the Great entered Egypt with no resistance, as he suited the local nobility and priests much more than the Persians. The most combat-ready part of the Egyptian army had by this time perished at the Battle of Issus, fighting on the Persian side. Because of these circumstances, Alexander was proclaimed son of the god Amon-Ra and became a Pharaoh.

Alexander has left Egypt, he spent his life on campaigns and died in Babylon in 323 BC. By the time he died, Alexander's heir had not yet been born. And without a strong power, the empire was falling apart.

Alexander's commanders began to divide the empire. The most successful of whom was Ptolemy, who served with the king in units of heavy cavalry called 'hetaires'. Above you see a shot from the film "Alexander", Ptolemy is at the far left in this shot (played by Elliot Cowan and Anthony Hopkins).

For more than 20 years after the great commander's death, his associates, nicknamed 'Diadochi', fought each other. This series of wars was so called 'Wars of the Diadochi', few of those who had fought alongside Alexander at Issus and Gaugamela survived them.

Ptolemy declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt. He made significant gains in these wars, annexing Syria and parts of Palestine, the island of Cyprus and even parts of the Asia Minor peninsula to Egypt. The photo to the right is the most famous bust depicting Ptolemy I Soter.

His descendants had enough to rule for more than 300 years. All later pharaohs descendants of Ptolemy traditionally took his name. The last was Ptolemy XIV, his fate was not enviable - he was poisoned. Though there was also Ptolemy XV, but it was difficult to call him a full member of the dynasty, he was a son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

All queens in this dynasty were called Cleopatra. The most famous was Cleopatra VII. She too was a pharaoh, a regent under her younger brothers and their wife, but only a formal wife.

The story of the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty is quite long, bloody and sad. None of the last members of the family died their own deaths.

The temple of god Horus in Edfu began to be built by Ptolemy III, and finished to be built by Ptolemy XII. The temple has opened for divine services at Ptolemy X. We understand that you are already tired of this name and we will not mention it anymore, we will only say that the temple was built for almost 200 years.

After the Greeks began to rule Egypt, they did not interfere with the local religion or impose their beliefs on the Egyptians. The Greeks found many parallels between the gods, for example, the god Amon-Ra was considered to be the same entity as the Greek Zeus, and the god Horus, to whom our temple is dedicated, was considered to be an incarnation of the god Apollo who commanded the sun.

Edfu is reached by ship on the Nile, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) upstream from Aswan. The temple of Horus is not too far from the bank of the river, only about one kilometer (0.6 mile), and can be reached by foot. But, a little entertainment is provided for the tourists and they are driven by horse-drawn carts.

Not without a visit to a small market with very annoying vendors. After all these little adventures, you arrive at the temple. The gate is a short walk away from the parking lot.

The temple is not to be confused with anything else. The massive stone gates, often called 'pylons', are well preserved. There are ancient inscriptions and drawings on the surface, which are not seen on the gates (pylons) in either Karnak or Luxor temples.

You can see the features of Greek architecture even before the gate. Just watch around.

The temple is said to be very well preserved, although your own impression may be a little different. In the 4th century, already in Roman times, worship of the ancient gods there was forbidden by law and the temple fell into disrepair.

It was during this time that many of the frescoes were damaged. Ardent Christians tried to destroy the faces of the gods, but the inscriptions in the ancient language were not touched, and the inscriptions survived almost entirely. The results of their religious zeal are well captured in the photo below.

Immediately after the entrance, you come to a square with a colonnade in which you will also see many Greek 'notes'.

An important place inside the central sanctuary is the ceremonial boat, symbolizing the boat on which Gore navigated the Nile. There are many shrines, each dedicated either to a different god or part of the famous legend of the feud between Horus and Seth. According to the legend, Seth was the brother of the supreme god Osiris. Seth deceived Osiris and killed him to take the throne. Horus, who was miraculously conceived by the already dead Osiris, took revenge on Seth and founded the city of Edfu after his victory.

We cannot say exactly what the significance of each sanctuary in the temple is, as even Egyptologists have different opinions on this.

This place was inhabited by people a long time ago, and the temple itself was built on the site of another temple built by Pharaoh Ramses III. On the territory of the temple, you will see the ruins of the Ramses temple gate, you can easily distinguish them by their poor (in comparison with other elements) degree of preservation.

The temple of Ramses, on the other hand, was built on the site of an older temple dating back to the 3rd dynasty. Excavations are still underway and elements of buildings from all periods have yet to be fully excavated. It is safe to say that religion services have been held at the site for over 4500 years.

The God Horus was worshiped in Egypt since very ancient times. It is certain that he was worshiped already in the pre-dynastic period when Egypt was not yet a centralized state, but consisted of independent provinces called "nomes".

God Horus is depicted either as a man with the head of a falcon, or simply in the form of a falcon. The most world famous statue of the god is located right there in the temple square. The statue is 3 meters (10 feet) tall and is very popular for tourists to photograph. Two statues stand at the entrance of the temple near the gate.

Horus was responsible for different aspects of life in different times. Traditionally, he is the patron saint of pharaohs and royalty, and the rulers themselves are the embodiment of him on earth. In different periods, he was also considered to be the god of strength and war, he was thought to give power to the army. The Greeks even associated him with the god Ares. In some times he ordered the Sun, the Greeks associated him with Apollo.

The temple is not very big if compared with Karnak, only 140 x 80 meters (460 x 260 feet). The whole tour and free time to look around takes about 2.5-3 hours, time enough to see everything up close.

In the city of Edfu, except the temple, there are other attractions, which tourists are not shown, but they are not so important, and the excursion program is not included. There are ancient pyramids 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the city.

At first glance, it doesn't even look like a pyramid, but it is a royal tomb, no more than 5 meters high (16.5 feet). It is being clarified exactly who is buried there. The main hypothesis is that it is the tomb of Huni, a 3rd dynasty pharaoh.

Ticket price

300 Egyptian pounds. For the current exchange rates of the pound, see our review "Money in Egypt".

Opening hours

6 am to 5 pm (6-00 to 17-00). No days off.

Useful tips

- Edfu is not a tourist city at all. Dollars and Euros are not accepted everywhere, so please make sure you have enough Egyptian pounds. Read our detailed review "Exchange in Egypt".

- Edfu is a hot city. Certainly not as hot as Aswan, but still. Do not forget about safety in the sun. A hat and shoulders covered are a must, sun cream is desirable. We talked about safety in the in-depth review "Dangers in Egypt";

- Read about the next stop on cruises "Kom Ombo".

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