Temples of the Nile
The Temple of Khnum (Khoum) is located in the centre of the town of Esna which lies on the west bank of the River Nile, approximately 35 miles from Luxor. Esna was known as Lunyn or Ta-Senet, by the Egyptians and Latopolis by the Greeks.
Originally dating back to the 18th Dynasty when it was constructed by Tuthmosis III; around the 1500’s early 1400 BC it fell into disrepair and the existing temple was reconstructed during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (332 BC to 641 AD) and was one of the last temples built in Egypt.
The oldest part of the existing temple is the rear wall which was the façade of the original temple. The reliefs on this wall depict Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII.
Built of red sandstone, the temple is situated in a pit 9 metres below that of the modern town. For many centuries it was covered by the mud from the Nile and parts have still to be excavated. The part that is currently visible is around a quarter of the size of the original building. The temple façade is 37m long and 15m high and is typical of the style of the period with the screen walls being inset with columns. At the top of the façade is a cavetto cornice with a winged sun in the centre, and on either side are the names of Claudius and Vespasian.
The reliefs on the façade show the cartouches of the Pharaohs and Roman Emperors, before many of the deities from Upper Egypt, and a frieze of the Gods can be seen along the base of the façade.
On the south side of the outer wall Domitian is shown smiting his enemies in the presence of Khnum and Menhet, while the north side shows Trajan smiting his enemies.
Egyptian temples consist of the Pylon, courtyard, Hypostyle hall and the sanctuary. The pylon, which was constructed of mud brick was destroyed by the Nile and only the courtyard and hypostyle hall remain visible.
In the courtyard at the front of the temple there is a statue of the goddess Menhet who was a lion-headed war goddess and who was the consort of Khnum. Reliefs of the pair can be found in the hypostyle hall.
The hypostyle hall is supported by 24 columns, which are 37ft high and 18ft in girth with varied floral capitals. This type of capitals indicate that they date from Ptolemaic and Roman times. Each of the columns is decorated with reliefs and inscriptions describing the religious festivals and show several Roman emperors making offerings to the Gods.
On the walls are four rows of reliefs showing the Emperors dressed as Pharaohs, and who are making offerings to the Gods, or performing other rituals relating to the building of the temple. In the middle of the rear (west) wall is a pylon-like doorway topped by a cavetto cornice, which would have led into the sanctuary; it shows reliefs and inscriptions relating to Ptolemy VI Philometor. The carvings on the south wall depict the Roman Emperors Domitian, Septimus Servius and Caracalla.
The ceiling of the hypostyle hall - with its roof still intact - appears to be floating above the capitals. This is achieved by resting it on a square block hidden by the capitals themselves. The central aisle ceiling is decorated with two rows of flying vultures while the side aisles show astronomical figures and signs.
On each side of the entrance to the temple are chambers which were used as storerooms or robing rooms by the priests.
The temple is undergoing a programme of restoration with some of the colours being restored to their former glory.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.