Temple of Kalabsha


The temple on Kalabsha is the largest freestanding Nubian temple in Egypt. It, took, was relocated by UNESCO with the building of the High Dam. It is now marooned on a small island reachable only by boat, near the west end of the dam. The area was under military control until 1987, and only since the early 90s has the temple been accessible to tourists. Compared to the other temples in the area (notably Philae), it is not crowded and few tourists take an hour or so to wander the site.


the first pylon on the temple, from the boat

The original temple was built in the 18th Dynasty to honor Mandulis, a particularly Nubian form of Horus, and was located bout 50 km south of Aswan. Mandulis is normally shown with an elaborate headdress of cobras and a sun disk. The elaborate temple that now exists is a Ptolemaic-roman version, which was moved to the current site in 1970. The German consortium that moved it cut the temple into 13000 blocks and reassembled them here.


the inner courtyard, roofless now

While Nubia was a powerful force in early Egyptian history, by the time of Ptolemy it was a small, insignificant power. THe Romans had abandoned Nubia by the time Diocletian was in power.


one of the elaborate column capitals in the hypostyle hall

A 30m causeway leads up from the water’s edge, which is used for those arriving by boat. THe causeway and pylon are set at a slight angle to the rest of the temple, a detail that has been faithfully represented in the new location. THe first courtyard is strangely shaped, in order to bring the whole temple into line. THe columns on one side of the courtyard are closer together to make everything match up. The temple was never completed.


the island of Kalabsha (or peninsula, depending on the water level

There are stairs to the roof at either end of the pylon and inside the pylon itself are storage rooms, two on each side. The granite gate of the temple is in the Berlin Museum


the awkwardly-shaped courtyard and hypostyle hall

Inside, the temple is decorated with scenes of the pharaoh being blessed by Thoth and Horus and decrees from the local governors — including one to expel the pigs from the temple in 249 CE. THere is also a large relief of a horseman in roman dress and a winged Victory, a very Greco-Roman image.


the king, offering to Mandulis


brackets on the outside of the temple. Water spouts? For walkways?

The hypostyle hall is roofless (one of the only complete temples is Dendara, by the way) and the columns have ornate capitals. The walls are decorated with the same type of symbolic images — the king offering to the gods, the king being crowned by the gods, the king smiting his enemies — that are in nearly every temple. AFter a while, it’s easy to see the “standard” images.


the gods blessing the pharaoh

Beyond the hall lies a series of vestibules and the sanctuary. The images here contain figures that personify the nomes of Egypt, and an image of the deified architect Imhotep (on the left–hand wall of the inner room. The statues that would have graced the sanctuary are gone. They were probably destroyed by the early Christians who used this temple as a church.


cobras and the sun disk protecting the huge entrance

There are two other monuments on the small island, The Kiosk of Qertassi and the small temple of Beit el-Wali — neither of which have any real relationship to the larger temple here.

 
the damaged courtyard; inscriptions of hathor


the roofless hypostyle hall

It’s hard to believe that this entire temple was moved, piece by piece, from another site. It was cut into 13000 pieces and reassembled. Frankly, if I hadn’t known that it was moved, I never would have guessed. You can’t see the seams, nor does there appear to be any mismatch in the pieces. In the picture above you can see the smooth places on the columns, which are recent reconstructions to replace lost or broken stones.

Most temples have these modern repairs — some better than others.


greek graffiti


view of Kalabsha from the temple of Beit el-Wali on the island


Inside the temple sanctuary, pictures of votive offerings

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