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The Temple of Satis (Satet) on Elephantne Island at Aswan


The Temple of Satis (Satet) on Elephantne Island at Aswan

by Jimmy Dunn

The reconstructed temple of Satis at Elephantine


The ancient island of Elephantine, opposite modern Aswan in southern Egypt, was served by several temples dating back from the Ptolemaic Period to the Early Dynasty Period. Perhaps the most famous of the temples on the island is the Temple dedicated to the god Khnum, but to the north of this, behind the museum building there is the site of a small Temple of Satis, which was only recently restored by the German Archaeological Institute under Dr. Gunter Dryer. Satis was the consort of Khnum.

This earliest shrine was set in a niche formed by the granite rocks of the cataract just below the reconstructed temple. Now excavated, this temple dating to the Early Dynasty Period must be one of the oldest remaining temples in Egypt, though it is not certain whether Satis was worshipped here. Though no texts has been discovered, many votive offerings found within the shrine are figures of children (and also a squatting ape holding it's young), and it has been suggested that the shrine may have been frequented by mothers either hoping to give birth, or bringing thanksgiving offerings for a newly born child. Originally, there was thought to have been a cult image that stood here that was protected by two small mudbrick rooms, but unfortunately, it is no longer extant. In front of these rooms was either a courtyard enclosed by more walls, or possibly even a roofed hall.

Votive Offerings

By the Old Kingdom, the small shrine had been replaced by a larger court or hall, in the center of which was a pedestal made of layers of mudbrick and matting, with a wooden pole at each corner. This could have been a sort of stand on which to rest a portable tent shrine housing the image of the cult deity.

Among the votive offerings found at the shrine were objects inscribed with the names of a few kings from the 6th Dynasty. Most were plaques bearing the names of Pepi I and Pepi II. Rock inscriptions of the kings Merenre and Pepi II were found on the walls of the niche in which the temple sat.

Layout of the progressive temples dedicated to Satis


Above: Layout of the progressive temples dedicated to Satis
Below: Scenes from the New Kingdom Temple including (left) Khnum & Tuthmosis III,
(above right) Satis in a boat, and (below Tuthmosis III and Khnum

Scenes from the New Kingdom Temple including (left) Khnum & Tuthmosis III, (above right) Satis in a boat, and (below Tuthmosis III and Khnum

In the early part of the Middle Kingdom (11th Dynasty), a completely new shrine was built of mudbrick and also carved and painted stonework. In turn, this structure was replaced late in the Middle Kingdom, during the 12th Dynasty, by a temple built completely of stone. Both of these structures were basically extensions of the Old Kingdom temple.

Interior of temple showing the stairway leading to the more ancient temples
Interior of temple showing the stairway leading to the more ancient temples

However, in the New Kingdom, a dramatic change took place when the 12th Dynasty stone temple was dismantled and the ancient shrine filled in with blocks of stone to the level of the top of the boulders. The area was then paved over and the 18th Dynasty kings, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III, built a new stone temple on top of the old one. However, a shaft in the floor of the new temple built into it's floor connected it with the original shrine below. Hence, to travel down these steps is to descend back into time. This temple was modified and extended through the Greek period.

Hathor pillar in the temple

The main gods of Elephantine were all worshipped in the new temple built mostly by Tuthmosis III, including Khnum, Satis and Anuket. This small temple consists of several rooms and a surrounding gallery. Interestingly, the entrance is located to the right of the front facade of the temple. It communicates with a large hall with two pillars that are decorated with Hathor heads. Within this hall, a doorway on the northern rear wall leads to a chapel dedicated to Amun, while a door on the left of the rear wall leads to other rooms.

The newest, reconstructed temple has carved and painted stone blocks showing mostly Tuthmosis III in front of various members of the Elephantine triad. In some areas where the original blocks are missing (only 500 blocks were recovered), the German team literally drew in missing scenes, though in a very sensitive manner.

Scene, showing lines drawn by the German teem
Scene, showing lines drawn by the German teem

References:

Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Aswan Philae - Abu Simbel Magi, Giovanna 1995 Bonechi ISBN 88-7009-241-0
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
Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul 1995 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers ISBN 0-8109-3225-3
Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture, The Arnold, Dieter 2003 Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-11488-9
Sacred Sites of Ancient Egypt Oakes, Lorna 2001 Lorenz Books ISBN (non stated)

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