Kom Ombo Temple
The rich, irrigated sugarcane and cornfields near Kom Ombo Temple, 65 kilometers south of Edfu, feed not just the original community of fellaheen (peasant farmers), but also a huge number of Nubians who were forced from their farms when Lake Nasser was created.
The primary attraction these days, however, is the one-of-a-kind riverfront Temple of Horus the Elder (Haroeris) and Sobek, located approximately 4 kilometers from the town center and perched majestically on a cliff overlooking the Nile.
If you’re not on a felucca tour or a Nile cruise, it’s preferable to visit on a day trip from Aswan (40km to the south) on the morning police convoy, or on the morning convoy from Aswan to Luxor, which pauses for just 30 to 35 minutes.
Kom Ombo was formerly known as Pa-Sebek (Land of Sobek), after the region’s crocodile deity. When its name was changed to Ombos during the Ptolemaic era, it became the capital of the first Upper Egyptian nome under the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor.
Kom Ombo served as an important military outpost as well as a commerce hub between Egypt and Nubia. It was a market for African elephants transported from Ethiopia, which the Ptolemies required to combat the Indian elephants of their long-term opponents, the Seleucids, who governed the majority of Alexander’s former kingdom to the east of Egypt.
Kom Ombo Facts
The Temple of Kom Ombo is on a peninsula near a bend in the Nile, where holy crocodiles formerly basked in the sun on the riverside. It is unique in Egypt since it is dedicated to both the local crocodile deity Sobek and Haroeris, from har-wer, which means Horus the Elder.
This is mirrored in the temple’s design, which is exactly symmetrical along the temple’s main axis, with twin entrances, two shared hypostyle halls with carvings of the two gods on each side, and twin sanctuaries.
It is thought that there were two priesthoods as well. The temple’s left (western) part was devoted to Haroeris, while the right (eastern) half was dedicated to Sobek.
Reused stones imply an earlier Middle Kingdom temple, and there are traces of 18th-dynasty constructions, but the main temple dates from Ptolemaic times; it was begun by Ptolemy VI Philometor, but the majority of its adornment was finished by Cleopatra VII’s father, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos
The beautiful riverbank site of the temple has resulted in the erosion of some of its partially Roman courtyard and outer parts, but most of the complex has remained and is quite similar in plan to the two Ptolemaic temples of Edfu and Dendera, although smaller.
The Ptolemaic entrance on the southeast corner leads to the temple. A modest shrine to Hathor stands close, to the right of the temple wall, and presently serves as storage for mummified crocodiles and their clay coffins discovered in a nearby sacred-animal cemetery; four from the collection are on exhibit.
The remnants of a tiny mammisi, to the left (southwest) corner of the temple, are on the other side of the property, painted with reliefs, including one depicting Ptolemy VIII Euergetes on a boat in a reed thicket before the deity Min.
Beyond this, to the north, is the deep well that provided water to the temple, as well as a small lake where crocodiles, Sobek’s holy animal, were reared.
As you reach the temple’s forecourt, where the reliefs are split between the two gods, you will see a double altar in the middle of the court for both gods. The common inner and outer hypostyle halls, each with ten columns, are located beyond.
A highly crafted relief depicting Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos being delivered to Haroeris by Isis and the lion-headed goddess Raettawy, with Thoth gazing on, may be seen within the outer hypostyle hall, to the left.
The walls to the right depict Ptolemy XII being crowned by Nekhbet (the vulture goddess worshipped in the Upper Egyptian town of Al-Kab) and Wadjet (the snake goddess worshipped at Buto in Lower Egypt), with the dual crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, representing Egypt’s unity.
Reliefs on the north wall of the inner hypostyle hall depict Haroeris handing Ptolemy VIII Euergetes a curved weapon symbolising the sword of triumph. Cleopatra II, Ptolemy’s sister-wife and coruler, stands behind him.
Three antechambers with twin doors go from here to the sanctuaries of Sobek and Haroeris. The now-destroyed compartments on each side would have held priests’ garments and liturgical papyri.
The shrines themselves are no longer totally intact, but you can see the hidden passageway connecting them that allowed the priests to give the gods a “voice” to answer visitors’ prayers.
The outer tunnel that wraps around the temple’s walls is unique. A perplexing tableau, on the left-hand (northern) corner of the temple’s rear wall, is sometimes interpreted as a collection of’surgical equipment.’ It is more likely that they were tools employed in the temple’s everyday ceremonies.