Egypt: Tell Basta (Bubastis, or Per-Pastet), Home of the Cat Goddess Bastet

Tell Basta (Bubastis, or Per-Bastet)
by Jimmy Dunn writing as John Warren

Bastet, the Cat Goddess

Tell Basta (Bubastis or Per-Bastet, meaning "The Domain of Bastet) is the site of an ancient city about 80 km to the northeast of Cairo in the eastern Nile Delta. The ancient mound sets just to the southeastern side of modern Zagazig. It was an important city from about the 4th Dynasty until the end of the Roman Period (2613 BC through 395 AD), and was the capital of the 18th Lower Egyptian nome during the Late Period. However, we also know that even as early as the 2nd Dynasty, a number of kings built up close ties with the city and the Temple of Bastet. Besides the important Temple of Bastet, the city also occupied key ground along the routs from Memphis to the Sinai (Wadi Tumilat) and to Asia.

The city apparently reached its peak in importance during the 22nd Dynasty, when Egypt was ruled by natives of the city such as Osorkon I (924-889 BC). However, the capital was probably never moved from Tanis at that time, though some sources disagree, believing that Tell Basta was in fact the capital of Egypt during the 22nd and 23rd Dynasties. The city was once apparently destroyed by the Persians, but appears to have overcome the disaster.

Plan of Tel Basta

Just as a notation, Tell Basta was apparently plundered considerably by modern illicit digging. Stories still seem to circulate in Egypt about people who became rich through a find in its ruins.

Pillars of the ka Temple of Pepi I

Remaining Pillars of the ka Temple of Pepi I

The Temple of Bastet

This red granite temple of the cat goddess Bastet was originally documented by Herodotus in the 5th century. Herodotus tells us that the city was popular with religious pilgrims who came here by the thousands for the goddess' annual festival. He tells us this festival was one of the grandest in Egypt.Herodotus also tells us that:

Plan of the Temple of Bastet

"When the Egyptians travel to Bubastis they do so in the following manner. Men and women sail together, and in each boat there are many persons of both sexes. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, and some of the men play pipes during the whole journey, while the other men and women sing and clap their hands. When they come to a town on the way, they lay to, and some of the women land and shout and mock the women of the place, while others dance and get up to mischief. They do this at every town lying on the Nile; but when they come to Bubastis they begin the festival with great offerings and sacrifices, during which more wine is consumed than during the whole of the rest of the year. The Egyptians say that some 700,000 men and women make this pilgrimage every year."

The site was excavated by Edouard Naville between 1887 and 1889. Though the site was so ruined that it was impossible to reconstruct any more than the basic layout of the Temple of Bastet, he confirmed much of what Herodotus originally wrote about the site

Statue of Hathor

A Hathor Column Capital from Tell Basta

While little is known of the layout of this temple, we believe an entrance hall is attributable to Osorkon II of the 22nd Dynasty. Osorkon II seems to have added a festival hall and hypostyle hall, while a sanctuary was built by Nectanebo II of the 30th Dynasty.

A monumental granite gateway built by Osorkon II for his Sed-festival is a remarkable structure, decorated with scenes taken from the Sed-festival reliefs of Amenhotep III.

Blocks of various dates are found in the structure with some even from the 4th Dynasty. Herodotus tells us that the temple was already lower than the surrounding town in his day, and partially surrounded by the branches of perhaps a sacred lake. The temple was therefore probably very old.

Other Monuments

Naville also discovered ka-temples of the 5th Dynasty rulers, Teti and Pepi I, and two jubilee chapels built by Amenemhet III (Amenemhet I is also known to have built here) and Amenhotep III. The ka-temple of Pepi I lies to the west of the Temple of Bastet, but all that remains are two rows of pillars. Teti's ka temple was to the northwest of the main temple. To the southwest of the Temple of Bastet stood a temple dedicated to Atum and built by Osorkon I or II.

Osorkon II's Sed-festival gate

Part of the Great Granite Gateway from Tell Basta Showing Osorkon II and Karoma

To the north stood a smaller rectangular sanctuary of the lion god Mihos. In Egyptian mythology, Mihos was a son of Bastet, as was Horhekenu, who was probably also worshipped in the area. The small Mihos sanctuary appears to postdate the Temple of Bastet, and to have been dedicated by Osorkon III. Finally, there is also a Roman era temple that may have been dedicated to Agathos Daimon, the "Protecting Spirit".

Several burials of important officials have also been discovered at Tel Basta. These include the vizier Iuti of the 19th Dynasty and two viceroys of Kush called Hori who were father and son. Their burials were took place apparently at the end of the 19th Dynasty and the beginning of the 20th Dynasty.

To the north of the city are a series of vaulted mudbrick cat necropolises and adjacent ateliers. These burials appear to begin in the Third Intermediate Period. A cache of gold and silver vessels and jewelry was discovered at the site in 1906, which is now housed in the Egyptian Antiquity Museum in Cairo.

The Temple of Bastet

Ruins from the Temple of Bastet

Excavations continue at Tell Basta. Recent finds include a necklace of golden flies thought to be a military decoration awarded by the Pharaoh Ahmose over 3,500 years ago. The necklace, with 19 pendants in the shape of flies, was found alongside a cartouche inscribed with the name of Ahmose, the founder of the 18th dynasty who ruled from 1570 to 1546 BC. The head of the archeological mission, Mahmoud Omar, speculated that the owner of the necklace won it for military service against the Hyksos.

See also:

The Animals of Ancient Egypt by Caroline Seawright

The Cat in Ancient Egypt by Ilene Springer






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 Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas



None Stated

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: June 13th, 2011