For anyone with a passion for ancient history, archeology, myth or just an adventurous spirit,
Egypt is a premier destination. Although recent events may make some travelers reluctant to
visit Cairo or Sinai, the region of Upper Egypt (south of Cairo along the Nile River) has been
stable and without major security concerns for the last several years. Upper Egypt is also the
area where most of the great archeological discoveries related to the Pharaohs are. Luxor is
home to the Karnak and the Luxor temple, as well as the Valley of the Kings, a series of utterly
impressive tombs carved into mountain sides on the West bank of the Nile. Aswan, 220kms to
the South, is also a tourist hub, offering a mix of Egyptian and Nubian culture on a calm
expanse of the Nile.
While Aswan and Luxor get most of the acclaim, there are some truly special sites to visit in the
stretch between the two cities. The temples of Esna, Edfuand Kom Ombo are smaller and somewhat less historically significant, but offer a unique look into the Ptolemaic period. They also have some of the most well preserved complexes in Egypt.
The temple at Esna is the closest to Luxor. Dedicated to the creator deity Khnum, it was built between 180 and 145 BC then taken over, and eventually abandoned, by the Romans several centuries later. The roof is still intact, which is unusual for structures in the region. This is because the temple was buried under more than 9 meters of sand, silt and debris. The currently accessible
area was excavated beginning in the 1840s and allows visitor to see the ornately carved columns that support the roof of the main hypostyle hall.
The temple at Edfu was dedicated to Horus and built around 237 BC. Also buried under centuries of sand, the temple is one of the best preserved in the region despite efforts by opposing religious believers to destroy pagan imagery inside the temple. Replicas and the original remains of statues of Horus, depicted as a regal falcon, line the entrance. The interior is full of intricate wall carvings and elaborate columns.
The temple at Kom Ombo is a hidden gem. Not as well preserved as Edfu and a bit harder to get to than Esna, it’s not visited as often. Situated on the edge of the Nile about 50 kilometers north of Aswan, the temple is unusual because it was dedicated to two deities. The southern half is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, while the northern half is dedicated to Horus the elder. Both halves of the temple are perfectly symmetrical. The temples have been damaged over time by Nile flooding, earth quakes and scavengers, but there are still interesting reliefs and carvings to be seen. The contemporary addition of the Crocodile museum, included in the entry price, showcases some of the more than 300 mummified crocodile remains found in the area.
So, worth it? Yes, if you’re already in Egypt and don’t mind being in and out of the car all day. Depending on how long you take at each temple and if or where you stop for lunch, seeing all three can take between 6 and 8 hours. But if you’re a history junkie, this area is not to be missed. And if you didn’t get a fill of Ptolemaic temples, once you reach Aswan you can also take a trip to the temple of Philae on a quite island in the reservoir of the Aswan Low Damn.