City of Edfu


You want to know more about the city of Edfu and its mythical temple? To know what was hidden inside this temple? Or understand what the Great Procession of Edfu was?

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That's perfect: as enthusiasts of ancient Egypt, we have prepared an article about this very ancient temple of Upper Egypt!

The city of Edfu is a city in Upper Egypt where is located the temple of the Egyptian falcon god Horus. Known for its legendary state of preservation, the temple of Edfu built in -57 BC is famous for its gigantic pylon consisting of two massive towers of 36 meters high.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The history and myths of the city of Edfu
  • The history of its temple: the temple of Horus
  • A detailed presentation of this temple and the divine Egyptian myths surrounding it

Let's start without further ado!

1) The city of Edfu

Edfu is a city known worldwide for its temple of Horus, the falcon-headed god who is supposed to be the last pharaoh of divine nature before the advent of human pharaohs.

Edfu has been known by the following names according to the periods of history:

 - "Beheedet" in ancient Egyptian.

 - "Apollinopolis Magna" in ancient Greek. This name is derived from Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun and reason. Indeed, the falcon-headed god Horus was known as the "Egyptian Apollo" because Horus too was a representative deity of the Sun.

 - "Atbo" in Coptic (Copts are the ancient Egyptians who became Christians).

In the civilization of the ancient Egyptians, Edfu was located in "Upper Egypt" (the north half of Egypt).

Today, the city of Edfu (today known as Tell el-Balamoûn) is one of Egypt's largest cities and had 140,000 inhabitants in 2020.


Wall on which is represented Horus

At the center of this wall in the temple of Edfu is the falcon god Horus, protector of the pharaohs and deity of the Sun.

2) The temple of Horus of Edfu

If Edfu is so important today, it is mainly for its temple, which is the pride of all its inhabitants.

We will therefore present you the history of the temple of Edfu and then give you a room by room description of this building which has been incredibly well preserved through time thanks to some of its characteristics.

A) History of the temple of Edfu

The construction of the temple of Edfu began in 237 BC and was completed in 57 BC, during the Ptolemaic Period (the period when Egypt was ruled by the descendants of Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great's generals who took control of Egypt after Alexander's death).

The exact date of the beginning of temples' construction is rarely known. However, for the temple of Edfu, the date is very clear: it is "the 7th epiphi of the year X of Ptolemy III" or "August 23 of the year 237 BC".

To provide you with a historical landmark, when the temple was completed, Cleopatra was 12 years old at that time (for she was born in 69 BC).

If the temple of Edfu is so well preserved today, it is because it dates from the end of the so-called "ancient Egypt" period. Since the techniques of temple architecture and construction have evolved since the first Egyptian temples (built in 4000 BC), it is normal that the temple of Edfu has survived well.

Entirely covered by desert sand for more than a millennium, the temple was found by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in 1860.

B) Description of the temple (room by room)

Now that you know the history of the temple of Edfu, let's discover the temple room by room in the direction of the visit (i.e., starting with the entrance).

Scheme of the temple of EdfuIn this second part, we will also explain the different Egyptian myths related to the temple of Horus.

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I) The pylon of the temple of Edfu


The two statues of the god Horus

A pylon is a monumental doorway intended to impress visitors of a temple in order to honor the god or gods that the temple honors. The Edfu pylon is 36 meters high and 80 meters wide. On it, one can see scenes of massacres of Egypt's enemies and representations of the falcon god interacting with other Egyptian gods.

Visitors of the temple are greeted by two falcon statues of Horus, each 3 meters (10 feet) high and crowned with the crown of unified Egypt, the Pschent. The Pschent represented the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. By wearing this two-part crown worn by Horus (see image below), his priests confirmed that all of Egypt was under the protection of the falcon god: nothing could happen to the country!

Pschent crownIn addition to these two hawk-like statues of Horus, in antiquity, the temple of Edfu had two obelisks and two rows of four sphinxes lining the entrance to the temple (both obelisks and sphinxes are now gone).

II) The courtyard of the temple of Horus


Courtyard of the temple of Edfu

Behind the pylon, one arrives on a large courtyard 47 meters long and 42 meters wide. This large courtyard is surrounded by two rows of columns on which one can observe Egyptian narratives either written in hieroglyphic form or staged in the form of mural representations. These narratives are accounts of Horus' exploits in his battles against the evil god Set (whom Horus faced to avenge his father, Osiris, who was murdered by his brother Set).

This court was particularly important because, during the annual "Festival of Good Reunion" procession, this court received the statue of Hathor (the goddess of love and wife of Horus). This statue of Hathor, who would "become pregnant with a new Horus" was moved to the temple of Horus as follows:

1) - The statue of Hathor (from the temple of Hathor in the city of Dendara) is brought to Edfu in a long religious procession composed of priests of Hathor and Horus.

2) - The statue of Hathor reaches the temple of Horus in Edfu. It is then left beside the statue of Horus, her husband in Egyptian mythology.

3) - After a few days, the priests of Horus and Hathor declare that Hathor has become pregnant, so she can return to Dendara.

4) - Hathor is pregnant for 10 months (1 month longer than the 9 months needed for the birth of a human child, which will make the future child more vigorous and strong than any human being). This son will then have 2 months to reach adulthood.

5) - This son is called "Harsomtus" or "Horus-omtus" meaning "Horus who unites the Two Lands" (in reference to the two halves of Egypt that are Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt). Arrived at adulthood at the age of 2 months, Harsomtous will become one with Horus: Horus becomes stronger and the prosperity of Egypt is assured for a new year.

12 months having elapsed since the conception of Harsomtus, the statue of Hathor can thus return to Edfu so that the cycle starts again (and so that Horus and thus Egypt become even stronger).

III) The hypostyle room

Hypostyle hall with djed pillars

Crossing the courtyard, one finds oneself successively in a large and then in a small hypostyle room. These typical Egyptian halls (also found in the temples of Karnak and Luxor) represent the world as it was before the appearance of the creator god Ra (who then formed the earth and everything around it from the void in ancient Egyptian legends).

Originally, according to Egyptian myths, the lower half of the universe consisted of an ocean personified by the primordial ocean-goddess Nun. This ocean faced only one element: the Darkness of the sky.

If we dig a little deeper, we realize that the hypostyle halls are representations in the honor of Ra of the ocean and the Darkness:

- The floor and pillars of the hypostyle hall represent the primordial ocean and the papyrus and lotus stems coming out of it.

- The ceiling of the Hypostyle Hall is pierced so that light from the heavens can enter the room. Thus, the ceiling of the hall represents the original Darkness.

IV) The interior chapels

Map of the Temple of Horus of EdfuThe other rooms are dedicated to gods close to Horus in Egyptian mythology. As you can see in the picture above, there are different chapels:

- The tomb of Osiris, the father of Horus. Osiris is the first pharaoh of Egypt. After a righteous and prosperous start to his reign, Osiris is murdered by his brother Set, who is jealous of him. Thus, Osiris is often portrayed as a "dead god" or "god of dead Egyptians" since after his assassination, he now reigns over the Underworld and welcomes the dead.

- The Victory Chapel, commemorating Horus' victory over Set. Indeed, Horus was still a child when his father Osiris was murdered. It is only later (when he was old enough to fight) that he confronted Set in multiple trials. Although Set won all of the first events by cheating, Horus eventually won the last event (a boat race on the Nile with boats made of stones!) and became king of Egypt.

- The Chapel of Hathor is dedicated to the wife of Horus: the goddess of love and beauty, Hathor.

- The Chapel of Ra's Throne, dedicated to the supreme deity Ra (or Amun-Ra, depending on the era). Ra is the creator of the Earth, of the Sun and of the stars according to Egyptian cosmology (cosmology is an account of the creation of a world according to religious beliefs).

- The Chapel of gods' Throne, where the god Horus is depicted as "Horus Ra-Horakhty". This form of Horus is the form that the falcon god takes when he becomes king of the gods after Ra abdicates in his favor. Indeed, according to Egyptian mythology, after having had Ra poisoned by a snake, Isis (the mother of Horus) succeeded in forcing him to abdicate in favor of her son in exchange for a magical antidote.

- The Cloth Chapel, on which the principal builder of the temple of Edfu, King Ptolemy IV, can be seen making offerings of rich cloth to Horus and other gods.

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V) The Naos of Edfu


Sacred boat of Horus

At the temple of Edfu's center is the shrine (or Naos) containing the "solar celestial bark" of Horus. In ancient Egypt, solar barks were common in temples and tombs. They were worshipped as a symbol of the benevolence of the god Ra, who illuminated the world each day by crossing the sky in his celestial bark while carrying the Sun above his head.

However, it should be noted, that the bark in the temple at Edfu is a modern replica of the original wooden bark (the original wooden bark having been destroyed or stolen over time).

An Egyptian temple

You now know all about the city of Edfu and its temple of Horus. Indeed, we saw together:

  • The description and the history of the city hosting the temple of Horus
  • The description and history of the temple of Horus
  • Myths about this temple involving many Egyptian gods


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