The Temple of Esna
Esna is situated 60 km of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile. Esna was one of the cities of the third Nome of Upper Egypt which was called Nhn and its capital was El-Kab. The oldest name of Esna was Iwynt, and then it was called tꜣ-sny or sny.
In the Graeco-Roman Period, it was called Latopolis, because the fish lates (Lates Niloticus) was sacred there. In the Coptic Period, it was called sny or Esni from which was derived the Arabic word Esna. There is a hypogeum for the sacred fish at Kommir to the south of the city. This fish was associated with the goddess Neith.
The importance of Esna is due to the fact that it was situated at the end of the trade route between Egypt and Sudan passing through Qarkur Oasis then El-Der and ending with Esna. This trade route remained vital until the end of the 19th century A.D. Then, it began to lose its importance.
The present Esna temple dates back to the Graeco-Roman Period. The greater part of this temple is now in ruins and nothing remains from this temple except for the pronaos. This temple is situated 200 m. from the Nile. In other words, it is now situated in the middle of the present city. It is situated 9 m. below the level of the street. There was a road which connected the landing stage of the temple to the River Nile. This road might have been also the festival route of the temple.
Fortunately, parts of the limestone landing stage survive, and there is an inscription on the stones of this road carrying the name of the Roman Emperor ‘Marcus Aurelius’ (161-180 AD).
In addition to the present temple, there were four other temples; three of them were situated to the north of the present temple while the fourth was situated on the east bank of the Nile. Unfortunately, these four temples completely disappeared now, although some parts of them were still visible until the end of the 19th century A.D.
The principal main deities worshipped in this temple are:
1. God Khnum.
2. Goddess Nbwt or Nbtw.
3. Goddess Neith, goddess of the fields and she is represented as a young beautiful woman.
4. Goddess Menhyt who was one of the local goddesses representing one of the forms of goddess Sekhmet.
5. God Shu.
6. Goddess Tefnut.
7. The child god hqꜣ.
In modern times, this temple was used as a store for cotton during the reign of Mohamed Ali. Then, it was cleared, cleaned and opened for the visitors.
Most scholars believe that the origin of this temple goes back to the reign of King Thutmosis III of the 18th Dynasty as some blocks of stone were found carrying his name there. Then, this temple was renewed during the 26th Dynasty and it was finally rebuilt during the Graeco-Roman Period. It would seem that the final reconstruction of this temple perhaps began during the reign of King Ptolemy V (Epiphanus), but it was decorated by Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII.
The original length of this temple was from 40 to 45 m. and its width is 16 m. The Pronaos which is the only surviving part of this temple measures about 33 feet in length and 16.5 m. in width. The main axis of this temple runs from east to west. The construction of this temple took about 4 centuries started by Ptolemy V and completely finished during the reign of the Roman Emperor ‘Decius’, (249 AD-251 AD), most probably in the middle of the 3rd Century A.D. The inscriptions in this temple were the last imperial hieroglyphs known to have been sculpted in ancient Egypt.
It is the only surviving part in this temple. The roof of this pronaos is supported by 24 columns, arranged in four rows. Each row consists of 6 columns whose capitals are either papyrus capitals or palm capitals. The height of each column was about 12 m.
The importance of this temple is due to the temple festival calendar which describes the different festivals of deities, especially for Khnum.
The western wall of the pronaos is its oldest part. It is inscribed with the names of Kings Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII. It is also decorated with scenes representing royal figures while making offerings and presenting the pottery wheel for god Khnum. It should be mentioned that the standard of carving of the scenes on this wall is higher than the other scenes. The rest of the scenes on the other walls date back to the Roman Period. They represent some Roman emperors in the guise of Egyptian kings while performing some of the religious rituals and making offerings. Some names of these Roman Emperors are mentioned in this hall: Claudius, Vespesian, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonious Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severius and Caracalla.
The most important scenes in the pronaos are to be found on the inner side of the northern wall which represents the Roman Emperor Claudius as god Horus, while pulling the net which was full of fish and fowls with the help of god Khnum. Among the fish and fowls are some enemies of Egypt. This event is being watched by other Egyptian deities.
On the outer side of the northern and southern walls of the pronaos, there are scenes representing the king while grabbing some enemies and smiting them. There are also some hieroglyphic texts giving the names of the defeated countries.
The façade of the pronaos is decorated with votive texts from the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (41 – 54 A.D) and the Roman Emperor Vespasian (69 – 79 A.D).
This temple was dedicated to two distinctive deities and their respective entourages in an attempt to supply order and coherence. God Khnum accompanied by Nebetu and Menhit and the child god Heka are the first group. The second group was headed by goddess Neith,her theological son Khamanefer (the crocodile god) and Tutu.