Temple architecture

Archaeologists discover spectacular frescoes in an ancient Egyptian temple

Archaeologists have discovered a series of brightly colored frescoes in an ancient temple in Esna, Egypt, located about 60 km south of the ancient Egyptian capital of Luxor.

The ancient temple of Esna, Egypt: the flying vultures on the central part of the ceiling, with the north crosspiece (architrave) behind. Image credit: Ahmed Emam/MoTA.

The ancient temple of Esna, dedicated to the Egyptian deity Khnum, is one of the last remaining examples of ancient Egyptian temple architecture.

Only the vestibule (pronaos) of the original temple complex has survived, as it was used as a cotton warehouse in the 19th century CE.

The building is 37 m long, 20 m wide and 15 m high, and was decorated mainly during the Roman period (1st to 3rd century AD).

The roof is supported by 18 columns with wonderfully varied floral capitals in the shape of palm fronds, lotus buds and papyrus fans; some also have bunches of grapes, a distinctive Roman touch.

The ancient temple of Esna, Egypt, in March 2019. Image credit: Ahmed Amin.

The ancient temple of Esna, Egypt, in March 2019. Image credit: Ahmed Amin.

“The relief images in the central section of the ceiling (central bay) represent a total of 46 representations of the Upper Egyptian vulture goddess Nekhbet and the Lower Egyptian serpent goddess Wadjet,” said researcher Professor Christian Leitz. at University. from Tubingen.

“Both are depicted as vultures with outstretched wings,” he added.

“While Nekhbet wears the head of a vulture and the white crown of Upper Egypt, Wadjet is recognized by the Lower Egyptian crown surmounted by a cobra.”

Professor Leitz and his colleagues have been studying the reliefs, painting and inscriptions of the Temple of Esna since 2018.

“Temples and ancient representations of the gods were often painted in brilliant colors, but these have usually faded or even completely disappeared due to outside influences,” Professor Leitz said.

“In the temple of Khnum at Esna, the colors have been covered with a layer of earth and soot for almost 2,000 years, which has contributed to their preservation.”

“The glory of color used in depictions of the ‘Two Ladies’, Nekhbet and Wadjet, which has now been revealed, was previously unknown to experts.”

The ancient temple of Esna, Egypt: general view of the ceiling section with 46 vultures (during the cleaning process).  Image credit: Ahmed Emam/MoTA.

The ancient temple of Esna, Egypt: general view of the ceiling section with 46 vultures (during the cleaning process). Image credit: Ahmed Emam/MoTA.

“From the 1950s, French Egyptologist Serge Sauneron systematically documented the Temple of Khnum at Esna and the paintings that were visible at that time,” added Dr Daniel von Recklinghausen, also from the University of Tübingen.

“The full range of temple images is unique in the richness of its figures and the state of preservation of the colours.”

“For the first time, we can see all the decorative elements in relation to each other,” Professor Leitz said.

“It was impossible simply with the publication of Sauneron.”