A One Of A Kind Temple
Kom Ombu Temple is unique in that it is, in fact, a double temple, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile God, and Horus the falcon-headed God (Haroeris). The temple has therefore been called both “House of the Crocodile” and “Castle of the Falcon”. The Temple is located on the bank of the Nile River between Edfu and Aswan at Kom Ombo, although the temple is better known as the Kom Ombo Temple.
Little is known of the town of Kom Ombo during the Dynastic Period, although it was known to have originally have been called Nubt, meaning the “City of Gold”. It became prominent during the Ptolemaic Period due to its location, where it exercised some control over the trade routes from Nubia, although changes in agriculture techniques are also thought to have influenced its rise.
It was also known to have been a garrison town and a training ground for African elephants used by the army during the Ptolemaic Period; factors which led to the construction of the temple in the 2nd century BCE, which had a significant effect on the town’s development.
Construction on the temple was started by Ptolemy VI Philometor, (180 – 145 BCE) although blocks of stone dating from the 18th Dynasty have been found at the site, indicating that some form of temple existed there prior to the construction of the current temple Although the temple was started by Ptolemy VI, it fell to the following Pharaohs – most notably Ptolemy XII Auletes (112 – 51 BCE) and Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator (61 – 47 BCE) to significantly add to it.
Built of local sandstone, the design and layout combine the two temples, with each temple being located on either side with its own gateways and chapels. The whole complex was surrounded by a mud brick wall built by the Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BCE – 14 AD) sometime after 30 BCE, although this has now mostly disappeared.
Approaching the temple from the Nile one passes the Birth House of Ptolemy VII which at one time abutted the pylon. Originally the Birth House measured 18 by 23 metres and 9 metres high although only half of this now remains, part of which includes four Hathor columns.
To the left of the temple, there is a large well with a descending staircase which was used as a Nilometer to determine the height of the Nile. Close by is another pit used to raise young crocodiles, for with Sobek being the crocodile God, crocodiles were held in great reverence at Kom Ombo, and many mummified crocodiles have been found. Many of the mummified crocodiles are now displayed in a specially constructed museum at the site.
Only a small part of the pylon now remains but this includes a long text of 52 lines in hieroglyphics. On passing through the pylon with its double gateway 14.5 metres wide, one enters the Courtyard of Augustus where at the centre of the courtyard the base of the altar can be seen. At each side of the altar base are small basins to accept the offering made to each of the Gods. The courtyard was enclosed on three sides by colonnades, with some of the columns containing images of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BCE – 37 AD).
Across the courtyard is the first hypostyle hall, which leads on to a slightly smaller second hypostyle hall of a similar design. From this are two separate processional ways leading through three narrow transverse halls or vestibules. These were probably used for the preparation of ointments and other offerings. These were built by Ptolemy VI, Philometer, and contain a calendar which records important festival dates of the temple. Passing through these chambers are the two inner sanctuaries. On the left (to the North) is that of Horus, while on the right (South) is Sobeks. The sanctuaries are surrounded by ten smaller cult chapels. The back wall has six small rooms, three on either side of a stairwell, which lead up to the roof. A number of reliefs in this area are unfinished, providing an insight into the methods of construction used during the Greco-Roman Period.
Situated below the inner part of the temple are a number of rooms, some of which have three levels. They also contain hidden passages. These could be used by the priests to hear petitions and respond on behalf of God. In this area is a relief depicting a set of surgical instruments including scalpels, curettes, forceps, dilator, scissors and medicine bottles. Horus the Elder was revered as a healer, and therefore many people would visit the temple as a pilgrimage in the hope of having any health problems cured. The hallway here contained game boards scratched into the stones of the floor which could be used by those who were waiting.
Surrounding these buildings is the inner enclosure wall, which in turn is surrounded by the outer enclosure wall. Throughout the temple, the exterior walls and columns contain deeply carved sunken reliefs, while the interior walls are fine quality bas-relief, typical of Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The upper part of the column displays a band of hieroglyphs containing the Ankh (the symbol of life) while the bottom depicts the Pharaoh rendering homage to the Gods.
In the first hypostyle hall, some of the reliefs used the ancient technique of inlaying the eyes, something that would have given a lifelike impression to the figure, although none of these has survived.
Much of the relief was covered with a very thin layer of painted plaster and many of reliefs still contain their original colour. The decorations of the inner rooms contain depictions of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II (185 – 116 BCE) and Ptolemy VII with Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III (161 – 101 BCE).
With the advent of Christianity, the Temple was converted into a Coptic church, which led to many of the reliefs being defaced.
The temple was further destroyed when many of the stones were removed for building materials. Further damage was sustained both by erosion caused by the Nile and by earthquakes. Restoration started at the end of the 19th century and continues today.