Egypt: The Other Nubian Temples

Feature Stories

By Jimmy Dunn

Qasr Ibrim, A temple in Nubia (Southern Egypt)

Most every Egyptian enthusiast is familiar with the ancient temples at the north of Lake Nasser, specifically at Philae. And they are equally familiar with Abu Simbel far to the south. Far more obscure are the temples that lie in between, south of the High Dam and North of Abu Simbel along Lake Nasser. The land in between these monuments was once known a part of Nubia. When the High Dam was being built, many of these temples were moved during the salvage operation between 1964 and 1968.

Just south of the High Dam is New Kalabsha, which can be reached by bus or taxi from Aswan with just a 30 minute drive. Therefore, the main Temple of Kalabsha will also be familiar to many readers. The temple was moved to New Kalabsha during the salvage operation, and is the largest freestanding Egyptian temple in Nubia. It was built by Agustus Ceasar (27 BC - 24 AD) and dedicated to Osiris, Isis and Mandulis. The half finished column capitals, and fragments of relief decorations of the temple provide considerable insight about ancient Egyptian construction and carving techniques.

Connected by a path to the Roman era Kalabsha temple is the older Beit al-Wadi temple (the House of the Holy Man) that was also moved to New Kalabsha. This small rock-cut temple was originally fronted by a mud-brick pylon which was not moved, and consisted of an entrance hall, a hypostyle hall and a sanctuary. It is a delightful temple with painted decorations in reds, blues and greens that retain most of their original brilliance. In the entrance to the temple scenes of Ramesses II show him smiting his enemies, often accompanied by his pet lion. In the sanctuary are seated statues of Ramesses II and deities such as Horus, Isis and Khnum.

Finally there is the temple of Kertassi (Kiosk of Qertassi) on the south side of Kalabsha, with two Hathor columns and four elaborate columns with capitals.

Regrettably, many people who visit Aswan do not take, or have the time to visit these nearby monuments.

The other Nubian monuments are much more difficult to visit, and are rarely included in generalized tours. They generally require either a multi-day Lake Nasser cruise, or some may be visited on an overland trip to Abu Simbel.

Unfortunately the remains of Gerf Hussein are very fragmentary. It was built by Setau who was a viceroy of Kush during Ramesses II's reign. Originally a combination rock-cut and freestanding temple similar to Abu Simbel, it was dedicated to Ramesses II, Ptah, and Ptah-Tatenen (a Nubian-Egyptian creator god). As at Abu Simbel, gods were carved out of the rock in the sanctuary.

Early Picture of Gerf Hussein

Early Picture of Gerf Hussein

The Temple of Dakka, a Ptolemaic temple originally situated forty miles north of its present location. Built using fragments of an older 18th Dynasty temple (possibly built by an Ethiopian king Arkamani), it was dedicated to Thoth of the Sycamore Fig. The axis of the temple runs parallel with what was once the river.

Dakka Temple

Dakka Temple

Close by is the temple of Mahararqa which once stood fifty miles to the north. It was dedicated to Isis and Serapis, but the decoration was never completed. The most important remains are those of the hypostyle hall.

Temple at Wadi as-Subua

Temple at Wadi as-Subua

Just south of the Dakka Temple is Wadi as-Subua (Wadi es-Sebua) where two temples are located. It is known as the Valley of the Lions because of the sphinxes that once lined the avenue leading to the first temple. It was constructed by Amenhotep III and added to by Ramesses II. Unfortunately, most of the decorations were defaced by early Christians. The front is free standing and the rear was rock-cut. This temple consists of a sanctuary, a court, a hall and pylons. It was originally dedicated to the Nubian version of Horus, but was later rededicated to Amun-Re.

Broken Colossal of Ramesses II at Wadi as-Subua

Wadi as-Subua

The second temple of Ramesses II, Re-Harakhte (a sun god), and Amun-Re was moved about three kilometers (two miles) to the west from its original location. This temple was also also originally free standing and rock-cut.

Temple of Derr

Temple of Derr

Head of a King

The next temple is Amada, the oldest of the temples, going back to the 18th dynast with restoration work from the 19th dynasty. Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep II, and Tuthmosis IV were all involved with its construction, and Seti I restored sections of it. The fine preservation of the temple is due to Christians plastering over the reliefs. The temple, dedicated to Amun-Re and Re-Harakhte, contains an inscription relating the crushing of a Libyan-backed rebellion by King Merneptah (1212-1202 BC). At the back of the temple inscriptions tell about the famous wars in Syria of Amenhotep IIs and how he bought back the bodies of rebel chieftains to hang on the walls of Thebes. One body was hung from the prow of his ship sailing through Nubia as a warning. This temple was moved about two kilometers (one mile) from its original site.

Nearby is the temple of Derr, built by Ramesses II and dedicated to himself, Amun-Re, Re-Harakhte and Ptah.. This rock-cut temple is well decorated with bright, visible colors and was moved from near the Amada temple in 1964. There is also the tomb of Pennut here that originally stood at Aniba. Pennut was an administrator in Nubia during the reign of Ramesses VI and is shown receiving honors from him in this rock-cut tomb. However, large sections of wall inscriptions have been cut away.

Painting of the Temple of Derr

The last site before Abu Simbel is a large, mostly flooded island at Qasr Ibrim. It once housed as many as six temples and a Roman era fort, encompassing an expanse of historic periods including the pharaonic, Roman, Christian and Arab/Nubian eras. It was the last bastion of paganism in Nubia. Tourists could once visit the site, but damage by boats and foot traffic in the mostly mudbrick ruins have led to the Egypt Exploration Society convincing the Antiquities Council to bar tourists from the site. Boats still stop for a look however. At one time prior to the rise of Lake Nasser, it could be visited by a land bridge.

From the Pharaonic period there are remains of 18th and 25th dynasty temples, as well as rock-cut shrines to different pharaohs and various gods dating to the 18th and 19th dynasties. Roman period remains include a sizeable fortress probably from the time of Augustan. Also notable are the remains of a large basilica. Many artifacts such as leather, manuscripts, pottery as well as animal and botanical remains have provided considerable information on the daily life of people living at Qasr Ibrim.

See also:

The Lost Temples of Nubia






Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir


Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C.

Badawy, Alexander


University of California Press

LCCC A5-4746

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2