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Temple of Sobeck, Kom Ombo

The Temple of Sobek and Haroeris in Kom Ombo (also known simply as Kom Ombo Temple) dates from about 180 BC during the Ptolemaic era, with additions made into Roman times.

History of Kom Ombo Temple

In ancient times, Kom Ombo stood on an important crossroads between the caravan route from Nubia and trails from the gold mines in the eastern desert. During the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (180-145 BC), it became a training depot for African war elephants, which were used to fight the fierce pachyderms of the Seleucid empire.

The temple at Kom Ombo was also built at this time, under Ptolemy VI. Since this bend in the Nile was a favored spot for crocodiles to bask in the sun and threaten locals, it is natural that the temple would be dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god. But it is unusual in having a double dedication: it also honors Haroeris, a form of the falcon-headed god Horus.

The hypostyle halls were added under Ptolemy XIII (51-47 BC); the Roman emperor Trajan (53-117 AD) added the forecourt and outer enclosure walls.

Today, Kom Ombo is home to many Nubians who were displaced from their ancestral homes by the rise of Lake Nasser caused by Aswan Dam. Tourism is not the only industry in Kom Ombo: sugar cane is harvested on the river banks and there are felucca-building yards here.

What to See at Kom Ombo Temple

The Kom Ombo Temple is unusual in that it is a double temple, with one side dedicated to the god Haroesis and the other side to Sobek. The design is almost perfectly symmetrical, with two side-by-side sanctuaries and two parallel passageways leading through the outer parts of the temple.

The right side is dedicated to Sobek-Re (the crocodile god combined with the sun god Re), along with his wife (a form of Hathor) and their son Khonsu-Hor. Sobek is associated with Seth, the enemy of Horus. In the myth of Horus and Osiris, Seth and his followers changed themselves into crocodiles to escape. The ancient Egyptians believed that by honoring the fearsome crocodile as a god, they would be safe from attacks.

The left side is dedicated to Haroeris, the "Good Doctor" (a form of the falcon-headed god Horus the Elder) along with his consort Ta-Sent-Nefer, the "Good Sister" (another form of Hathor).

Entrance to the temple complex is via the Gate of Neos Dionysos, only half of which still stands. Its date is not certain since scholars different on which Ptolemy should be identified with the title of Neos Dionysos. But the general consensus is that he is Ptolemy XII (81-50 BC), the father of Cleopatra.

Like other Egyptian temples, Kom Ombo had a great pylon, but this was washed away by the Nile long ago. Most of the forecourt is gone as well, with only low walls and stumps of pillars remaining. This section was added in the Roman era under Trajan.

The main sight at Kom Ombo is the beautiful Outer Hypostyle Hall, with 15 thick columns topped with floral capitals and a cornice decorated with carved winged sun-discs. The bases of the columns bear the heraldic lily of Upper Egypt and the papyrus symbol of the Nile Delta. Significant portions of the roof remain, which are decorated with flying vultures and astronomical imagery.

On the outer wall on the left, Neos Dionysos is shown being purified by Thoth and Horus; on the right, a similar scene occurs in the presence of Sobek (whose face has been destroyed).

On the inner wall on the right (east) are especially fine carvings of Neos Dionysos being crowned before Haroeris, Sobek (patrons of the temple), Wadjet and Nekhbet (the goddess of the north and south).

The west side of the inner wall has Neos Dionysos appearing before Isis, Horus the Elder, and a lion-headed god. In the back of the hall, the king makes offerings to the same deities.

The Inner Hypostyle Hall is older and has 10 slender columns. There is a relief of Sobek in his snake form on the south wall between the portals; in the southwest corner, Ptolemy II receives the sword of victory (hps) from Haroeris in the presence of the king's wife and sister. Ptolemy II is also shown making offerings to various gods on the shafts of the columns, while his elder brother makes offerings to Haroeris a the back of the hall. Between the back doors is a hieroglyphic list of temple deities and festivals.

Beyond the hypostyle halls are three successive vestibules, rectangular and roofless, decorated by Ptolemy VI. The first vestibule contains reliefs showing the foundation of the temple with Sheshat (goddess of writing) making measurements (on the left-back wall) and offerings and libations to Sobek (right back wall).

The second vestibule is the Hall of Offerings; only priests were admitted here. The chamber on the right was used to store vestments and sacred texts. Reliefs on the southern wall include offerings to Haroeris (east), a woman giving birth (center) and a description of the temple and dedication to Sobek (west).

Through a wide single doorway from the Hall of Offerings are the doors to the parallel sanctuaries. On the wall in between the doors is a relief of Ptolemy, wearing a Macedonian cloak, and his wife being presented with a palm stalk with a sign representing the years of his reign. The gods present are Sobek's son Khonsu (wearing a blue crescent and red disc), Haroeris and Sobek.

Little remains of the sanctuaries themselves, but this allows a glimpse of the secret corridor between them. It is thought that the priest would speak for the gods from here. The corridor's entrance is through an underground crypt in the central shrine in the northern inner corridor.

The outer corridor between the Ptolemaic temple and the Roman enclosure wall bears reliefs including Marcus Aurelius offering a pectoral to Ta-Sent-Nefer, the Good Sister and wife of Haroeris (back left) and depictions of surgical tools (to the right of Aurelius), which are quite sophisticated for 2,000 years ago.

Worth visiting on the temple grounds is the Sacred Wall just west of the Outer Hypostyle Hall. This large round well has two stairways descending to its depths and was used as a Nilometer: priests would calculate taxes for the year by measuring the depth of the Nile.

A small pool nearby was used for raising sacred crocodiles. In the Chapel of Hathor near the entrance are three crocodile mummies, which were uncovered during nearby roadworks in the 1970s.

The Birth House of Ptolemy VII was mostly washed away by the Nile in the 19th century, but a doorway remains intact. See the Edfu Temple for an example of a surviving birth house, which was an element unique to Ptolemaic temples.


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