Egypt: The Temple of Umm Ubaydahat the Siwa Oasis in Egypt

The Temple of Umm Ubayda

at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt

By Jimmy Dunn

A Painting of the Temple of Umm Ubayda made during the 1800s

In the Siwa Oasis of Egypt, there are two temples dedicated to Amun. The most famous of these is the Temple of the Oracle, while the second is now known as Umm Ubayda (Umm Ubaydah, Umm Ubayd), which might be a corruption of the name Umm Ma'bad, as it was known in the 1800's. Just as it was two thousand years ago, it is situated amidst a grove of trees a short distance from the rock of Aghurmi. The temple was at one time joined to the Temple of the Oracle by a causeway and formed an integral part of the rituals related to the Oracle and the god.

The site is marked by a large area of whitish ground. Only one wall stands today among these ruins, though near it is a number of huge stone blocks. All of these blocks seem to be inscribed, and in some places color remains visible.

The pyramid was built in the 30th Dynasty, and was mentioned in the story of Alexander the Great's visit to the Oasis after conquering Egypt. Until the beginning of the 19th century, a great part of the temple was still preserved, but in 1811 an earthquake caused major damage to the site.

A Painting of another view of the Temple of Umm Ubayda made during the 1800s

Nevertheless, visitors to the site between the years of 1819 and 1821, including Cailliaud, Drovetti and Von Minutoli, still found much of the temple standing, though they recorded some blocks from the ceiling that had fallen down and one of the temple walls leaning. Then, in 1897, one of the Ma'murs of Siwa placed gunpowder in the foundations of the temple and blew it up to obtain stones for the staircase of the police station at Qasr Hassunah and for the construction of his own house. Hence, what time and nature could not do was accomplished by an ignorant government official in a few minutes.

The one remaining wall at the temple today

Mostly, we know the plan of this temple from those made up by its 19th century visitors. It faced north, and was surrounded by two girdle walls. The enclosure wall was square in plan. Though many parts of the temple had already fallen by the early 19th century, the pronaos and the sanctuary still existed, and in front of these there was a pillared hall. Within the enclosure wall, and in front of the temple was an elevated area built of alabaster blocks. One of these, either an altar or a pedestal for a statue of the God Amun, was decorated on its four sides with a representation of Amun in the form of a human head with ram's horns.

Thanks to Von Minutoli, we have some idea of the arrangement of the scenes on the wall of at least the sanctuary. For example, the opposite wall in the same chamber as the one still standing much resembled it. From his drawings, we know that the builder was King Nectanebo II, the energetic ruler of the 30th Dynasty and one of the most active builders in the late period of Egyptian history.

Von Minutoli's drawing of the depictions on the opposite wall to the one that stands today

On the wall that is still standing, there is a long text at the top consisting of fifty-one lines and three registers where various deities are depicted. In Von Minutoli's drawing of the wall, we find above the text that there was a decoration which served as an upper frieze. At the top was a repetition of the king's cartouche protected by the vulture goddess Nekhbet. Under it, a number of figures perform some of the ceremonies of the rite of "Opening of the Mouth". It is in sunken relief, and is the beginning of the text of the same rite.

Under the inscriptions there are three rows of figures, all carved in high relief, and at the top we see the actual builder of the temple. His name was Wenamun, who was "The Great Chief of the Desert". He wears an ostrich feather in his hair which shows that he was of Libyan decent, and he was the ruler of the Siwa when the temple was built, and in the depiction he kneels before the god Amun, who sits inside a shrine. Behind the ruler are seven deities, and on the middle register nine deities once appeared, but now there are only eight. On the bottom register there are now only three deities depicted, though in 1820 more figures were preserved.

An older photo of the one remaining wall made during the visit of Ahmed Fakhry

What is most notable in these inscriptions is the text of the Rite of the Opening of the Mouth. It is more frequently found on papyri, on coffins or sometimes on the walls of tombs, since it is connected with the burial ceremonies. However, the text does appear on mortuary temple or chapel walls, and therefore this temple may have served in some way as a funerary monument for Wenamun, whose burial may not be far from this site.

As for the inscriptions that Von Minutoli provides to us from now destroyed sections of the walls, one of the most interesting preserves the upper part of Wenamun with a feather in his hair, standing in front of a deity inside a shrine. The deity also wears a feather in his hair, which might suggest Libyan origin or at least a Libyan appearance. This might lead us to believe that this was probably the ancient god who was worshipped in Siwa before the supremacy of Amun. Unfortunately his name is not preserved, and there are no other similar scenes to be found in the Siwa.

It is unfortunate that this temple is so destroyed today, because it was obviously closely connected with the Temple of the Oracle. Doubtless, more information will one day surface about these two ruins when Egyptologists finally decide that they are worth completely excavating.





Reference Number

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul


Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

Siwa Oasis

Fakhry, Ahmed


American University of Cairo Press

ISBN 977 424 123 1

Western Desert of Egypt, The

Vivian, Cassandra


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 527 X