Temple Ruins In and Near Qift and Qus
By John Watson
Modern Qift, somewhat north of Luxor (ancient Thebes) and located on the east bank of the Nile, is the site of ancient Gebtu, called Koptos (Coptos) by the Greeks and by the Coptics themselves, Kebto or Keft. Though a provincial capital during antiquity, its real importance during ancient times was its location near the entrance to the Wadi Hammamat and therefore to the Wadi's quarries and the Red Sea beyond.
Furthermore, during the Ptolemaic Period, after the foundation of the important port at Berenike, Qift became even more important. Though the normal route to Berenike would have originated on the Nile at Edfu, after the Theban rebellion of about 207 or 206 BC, that route was no longer available, and caravans probably started out to Berenike from Koptos.
Qift was also an important settlement mentioned in ancient literature as a port for the import of African elephants, which were needed for warfare.
Finally, during the Byzantine Period, Qift continued to be an important center. It became a bishopric and during the reign of Justinian, its name was changed to Justinianopolis.
Though all of the architectural structures of a Naqada, or Early Dynastic temple at Koptos are destroyed, finds, including the Koptos lions (today in the Petrie Museum) and three monumental statues (now in Cairo and Oxford), dating to this period demonstrate the importance Qift at this time.
The main deity of the area was Min, who was regarded as a god of the eastern deserts and worshipped here since early times. Later, Isis and Horus were also venerated in the region. Note that at Qift, Isis was viewed as the consort of Min. Various archeological work continues in the area around Qift, but the main ruins are those of three temples. The northern most temple is that of Min and Isis, built during the reign of Ptolemy II, with later additions added under Ptolemy IV, Ptolemy VII and the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero. Nevertheless, this temple was never fully decorated. Blocks from a gateway that was almost certainly connected to this temple, discovered on its north side, have relatively recently been reassembled in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The temple was originally excavated by Petrie, but apparently it was already heavily damaged by then.
The temple seems to have been built on the site of an earlier chapel or temple, for there are the remains of a shrine possibly built by Tuthmosis and dedicated to Osiris in one of the newer temple's inner courts, according to Petrie.
Somewhat south of this temple, the structure known as the Middle Temple was also built during the reign of Ptolemy II, with additions by Caligula, Claudius and Trajan. However this site has many earlier features, including a gate of Tuthmosis III, and even various blocks of Senusret I of the Middle Kingdom. It was here that stalae dating to the 6th and 7th Dynasties were found with the famous "Koptos Degrees", which detailed royal provisions made for the temple and its personnel. However, there is also a series of reliefs belonging to king Nubkheperre Intef (17th Dynasty), from a building of his, and there are important objects (colossi statues, figures of lions) of the Pre-and Early Dynastic Periods, showing the importance of this sacred site during the earliest of times.
To the south of this in the enclosure is the temple of Geb, which appears to be less ancient, with elements only dating from the Later Period and after. The entrance to this temple was constructed by Nectanebo II with later additions, and the present inner shrine, built in the reign of Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XV. This temple appears to have been the site of a popular oracle, and a small crypt where a priest would sit at the rear of the shrine can still be seen.
Current excavation work at Qift has also revealed a settlement outside the ancient Middle Temple enclosure walls, and the remains of a cemetery at Kom el Momanien (Kom el Koffar), where tombs dating from at least as early as the 8th Dynasty have been unearthed. There are also several large, mudbrick buildings of ancient date, some preserved up to over ten meters high.
A little to the northeast of Qift at al-Qal'a, there is also a small temple, measuring about 24 by 16 meters, that was dedicated to Min, Isis and Horus during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius.
Just to the South of Qift is Qus, which was ancient Gesa, known to the Greeks as Apollinopolis Parva. It too was important as an entrance to the Wadi Hammamat. Here, a temple of Haroeris (Harwer, or Horus the Elder) and Heqet was built during the Ptolemaic Period, but all that remains of these structures today are the pylons. During medieval times, Qus replaced Gift as the primary commercial center for trading with Africa, and was in fact one of the most important towns in Egypt during this period.
On the other side of the Nile from modern Qus is Tukh, the ancient town of Nubt, know to the Greeks as Ombos. Though it has a history dating back to the Predynastic period, relatively little has been found at this specific location. Although the site contains the ruins of a temple dedicated to Seth, it appears only to date to the New Kingdom, with construction by Tuthmosis I and III, Amenhotep II and several of the Ramessid kings. There was one remarkable object found here, a massive was scepter dedicated by Amenhotep III. It is the largest object made of Faience ever discovered. Unearthed by Petrie, it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. However, one must remember that Nubt lies in the heart of the region known as Naqada, a prime Predynastic sites in this part of Egypt.