Temples of Abydos
Some 95mi/150km northwest of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile, between the villages of El-Khirba and El-Araba el-Madfuna (the "buried" village), are the ruins of the Temples of Abydos (Egyptian Abodu), with one of the oldest necropolises in Egypt, associated with the nearby city of Thinis (This), the first Egyptian capital. From the time of the First and Second Dynasties (beginning of third millennium B.C.) Abydos played an important role as the burial place of kings and high Court dignitaries. Here were celebrated the rituals for the burial of the dead king and the accession of his successor, symbolizing the transitory and recurrent character of all earthly things.HistoryThe city and its necropolis were both devoted to the worship of the death god Khontamenti, "first of the inhabitants of the Western Kingdom", who had the form of a dog. Even under the Old Kingdom, however, the cult of Osiris, which originated in the Delta, had gained a foothold at Abydos; and thereafter Osiris took possession of the ancient temple and was recognized as Khontamenti's equal. The nearby hill of Umm el-Gaab was believed to be Osiris's Tomb, and from the sixth Dynasty onwards the dead from all over Egypt were buried at Abydos. Several kings of the Middle Kingdom as well as wealthy private citizens erected cenotaphs or stelae here, for to the pious Egyptian there was no greater bliss than to be buried beside the Tomb of Osiris, or failing this to have his mummy brought temporarily to Abydos to receive the desired consecration, or at the very least to recommend himself to the favor of Osiris, lord of the Underworld, by the erection of a cenotaph or a memorial stone. In the mystery plays performed annually at Abydos in honor of Osiris the eternal terrestrial cycle of death and rebirth was celebrated. Osiris's sister and wife Isis, their son Horus and, under the New Kingdom, Ptah, Re-Harakhty and Amun were also worshiped at Abydos.Strabo gives an interesting account of Abydos: "Above Ptolemais lies Abydos, the site of the Memnonium, a wonderful palace built of stone in the manner of the Labyrinth but with fewer passages and corridors. Under the Memnonium is a spring, reached by passages with low vaults consisting of a single stone and notable for their extent and mode of construction. This spring is connected with the Nile by a canal, which flows through a grove of thorn-acacias sacred to Apollo. Abydos seems once to have been large city, second only to Thebes, but now it is only a small place." Ammianus Marcellinus (Fourth C. A.D. speaks of the oracle of the god Bes which flourished here.
Useful tips: Access. By car from Sohag (28mi/45km, going south along the Nile road) or Luxor (87mi/140km: northwest via Qena and Nag Hammadi to El-Balyana, then 712mi/12 km SW). By rail to El-Balyana, then taxi. As of 1997, travel through and in this area is inadvisable because of security concerns.
Abydos - Necropolis
The most important part of ancient Abydos was its extensive Necropolis, situated in the desert. Four separate areas can be identified. In the most southerly part of the necropolis, near El-Araba, are the tombs of the New Kingdom, the temples of Sethos I and Ramesses II and the so-called Osireion. To the north of this is a hill containing burials of the Late Old Kingdom. Still farther north, between the Sanctuary of Osiris and the remains of walls at Shunet el-Zebib, are the tombs of the Middle Kingdom, many of them in the form of small brick pyramids; here, too, are burials of other periods, particularly the 18th-20th Dynasties (c. 1500- c. 1000 B.C.) and the Late Dynastic Period. Finally in the hill of Umm el-Gaab, to the west, are the royal tombs of the earliest dynasties and the sacred Tomb of Osiris.
The impressive Temple of Sethos I is a unique design in several ways. Unlike other temples it contains seven chapels, which in turn alters the entire front part of the temple.
The Temple of Ramesses II in Abydos has very little remaining except for some masonry and traces of room outlines and pillars. Its was built with limestone, red and black granite, and alabaster.
Abydos - Shunet el-Zebib
Northwest of Ramesses II's temple are the ruins of Shunet el-Zebib, surrounded by an outer and an inner (and higher) wall of sun dried brick. The complex, 145yd/133m long, probably dates from the second Dynasty and may have been a palace. The popular view of this structure as a fortress is undoubtedly erroneous.
Ancient City of Abydos
A few hundred yards northeast of Shunet el-Zebib, near the village of El-Khirba, are the remains of the ancient city of Abydos and the Sanctuary of Osiris, which dates back to the beginnings of Egyptian history. Of the sanctuary there remain only the brick enclosure walls built during the Middle Kingdom and scanty remains of the temple. To the west is the Coptic Monastery of Deir el-Sitt Damiana (or Amba Musa), which dates from year 1306 of the Coptic era (A.D. 1590); it scarcely repays a visit.
Abydos - Umm el-Gaab
1mi/1.6km southwest of the Temple of Ramesses II is a mound of rubble known asthe Umm el-Gaab ("motherof pots"), in which Amelineau and Flinders Petrie found the cenotaphs of kings of the First and Second Dynasties, including those of Djer (First Dynasty), believed during the Middle Kingdom to be the Tomb of Osiris, Usaphais (First Dynasty; c. 3100 B.C.) and Miebis (First Dynasty; c. 3100 B.C.). Practically nothing of these monuments is now to be seen. South of Abydos, at Nag el-Ghabat, is an ancient quarry.