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Edfu: Temple of Horus (French Expedition, 1799)

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The Temple of Horus at Edfu (drawing by Vivant Denon, in Description de l'Egypte 1802).


Located on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt, 100 km south of Thebes, Edfu contains a well-preserved Ptolemaic temple complex devoted to Horus, the falcon god. A rectangular colonnade connects with a 36 meter-high twin pylon or gateway, leading to the temple's inner sanctuary.

Considered as the most intact structure of any ancient Egyptian temple, Edfu's Temple of Horus was built over a 200-year period, starting with Emperor Ptolemy III in 237 BC. The site had previously contained a much older temple complex from the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC; Hobson 1987).

Both the temple and its entrance pylon are covered with bas-relief sculptures made in 57 BC, showing Ptolemy XII defeating his enemies (Clayton 2006). This is similar to decorations on the first pylon at the Temple of Isis at Philae.

When the French expedition visited Edfu in 1799, the site was partly buried in sand, as shown by Denon's drawing. The view in the drawing faces diagonally across the colonnade pavillions, showing details of plant motifs (including papyrus and palms) on both columns and capitals. The twin ridges of the pylon or entrance gate are visible at left
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