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The Temple of Hibis in the Kharga Oasis


The Temple of Hibis in the Kharga Oasis

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Brian Rosewood

Drawing of the Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis

Drawing of the Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis


The largest and best preserved temple in the Kharga Oasis is the Temple of Hibis, probably because it was buried in sand until the excavators dug it out early during the twentieth century. The Hypostyle Hall of the Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis In fact, it is one of the finest temples anywhere in Egypt from the Persian period. Hibis, from the Egyptian Hebet, meaning "the plough", is located just over two kilometers north of the modern city of Kharga. The town associated with the temple, known as the Town of the Plough, was in ancient times the garrisoned (known as the fortress of Qasr el-Ghuieta) capital of the Oasis, easily covering a square kilometer. It lay in the valley between the foothills of Gebels al-Teir and Nadura. We know very little about the ancient town, though early excavations did unearth a few houses with vaulted ceilings and fresco paintings.

This temple, which was excavated and restored by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this century, has suffered from a locally rising water table. It has recently been repaired by the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and was scheduled for removal to another site due to problems with ground water. However, recently Zahi Hawass has decided that the temple can be restored in-situ. The temple has also recently been the object of a five-year epigraphic survey carried out by an American team led by Eugene Cruze-Uribe.

The temple of Amun at Hibbis is approached through a series of gateways

The temple of Amun at Hibbis is approached through a series of gateways

The temple is dedicated to the Theban triad, consisting of the gods, Amun, Mut and Khonsu, who's reliefs are in very good condition.

Floorplan of the Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis

Floor plan of the Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis


View of North Door Jamb to the temple Sanctuary

The temple as well as the fortress it was built within, dominates the desert road from the south by sitting on a volcanic outcropping. During ancient times, the temple was surrounded by a lake that has now disappeared. The temple was begun by Apries in 588 BC, during the 26th Dynasty, so the foundation may date somewhat earlier. It was completed by the Persian, Darius I in 522 BC. Later, Nectanebo II built the colonnade, and other additions were made during the Ptolemaic period. During the fourth century, a church was also added along the north side of the portico.

There are many aspects of the temple's plan, construction and decorations that are unusual. The temple was built from the speckled local limestone in an east/west orientation. A sphinx-lined approach leads through a series of gateways beginning with one built by the Romans. Inscriptions on this gate contributed greatly to our understanding of Roman Rule. Created in 69 AD, they provide information on various topics, including taxation, the court system, inheritance and the rights of women.

A depiction of offerings to the god, Min

Nectanebo I and II surrounded the temple with a stone enclosure wall which, at the front enclosed a monumental kiosk with eight columns. Because of the excessively wide span of 7.4 meters, the kiosk had to be roofed with wooden rafters. The composite capitals in the kiosk and hypostyle hall are the earliest known in Egypt. In front of the kiosk are two obelisks at the end of the avenue of sphinxes.

In the front of the temple is an early form of pronaos with four smoothed papyrus columns and screen walls. Beyond the pronaos lies the hypostyle hall covered with decorations dating to Ptolemy III and IV. On the south door jamb of the hypostyle all, the top register has the king making offerings to Amun-Re. The middle register depicts the king offering wine to Mut, and in the bottom register the king makes an offering, perhaps of Ma'at, to Amun-Re. On the north jab, the king offers wine to Amun of Perwesekh (the ancient name of Ghuieta).

After the hypostyle hall is an offering room with a sanctuary. On the north interior wall of the sanctuary are the figures of the god Khonsu (falcon headed with moon crown) and Amun-Re-Min. The make up part of a scene depicting the king making offerings to the triads. The north and south wall of the sanctuary are the only areas in the temple that have plaster and paint decorations. The remainder of the temple has "simple" raised or sunk bas relief with painted stone.

Part of the Hibis Temple complex at Kharga

There is also a chapel of the deified king and side rooms with stairs that lead to the roof. The roof contains areas dedicated to Osiris, with some scenes depicting the burial of the god, a feature that was not uncommon in the Graeco-Roman temples.

Many of the temples representations are distinctive, not only for their rather bold style but also for a number of themes such as the catalogue of deities represented in the sanctuary. In the hypostyle hall a winged, blue figure of Seth with a falcon head, who is overcoming the serpent Apaphis with his spear, has been regarded by some art historians as a precursor of the motif of St. George and the dragon.

Graffiti found in the hypostyle hall includes the names of several nineteenth century Eurpean travelers, including Cailliaud, who claims to have discovered the temple, Drovetti, Rosingana, Houghton, Hyde, Schweinfurth and Rohlfs.

In front of the temple are found Greek and Roman tombs.


References:

Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir

1980

Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.

2000

Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture, The

Arnold, Dieter

2003

Princeton University Press

ISBN 0-691-11488-9

Western Desert of Egypt, The

Vivian, Cassandra

2000

American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 527 X

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Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011

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