Journal: Sunday 10 December 1995
After breakfast the boat docked at Edfu and we all piled onto waiting caleches’ (or horse-drawn carriages) for the short journey to the temple. The modern town, on the west bank of the Nile, is today a busy and important centre for sugar production and pottery-making but the ancient Egyptian Djeba, from which its name derives, was established on a mound on the east bank. The site of the mound or tell at Edfu was the place where the falcon god Horus was worshipped and where in Egyptian mythology, the battle between Horus and his traditional enemy Seth took place.
We approached the temple along its massive enclosure wall on the western side, carved with larger-than-life figures of the descendents of Alexander the Great offering to various deities. Looking up when walking between the massive twin towers of the high entrance pylon, almost mirror images of each other, I saw the traditional scenes of the king smiting his enemies before the god Horus – which was to become a very familiar image before my trip was over. There were mast grooves for flags that would have fluttered gaily at the entrance when the temple was in use. Two statues of Horus as a falcon stood guarding the main entrance. Another colossal black granite statue of Horus as a falcon, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt stood before the main façade, this one named ‘big bird’ by one of our group. Inside the temple, the first thing I noticed was the almost deafening twittering of sparrows up in the darkened roof, trapped by the mesh put there to keep them out. Columned halls lead to corridors and side rooms, each constructed for a different purpose and each carved over every inch of available space with the now more familiar hieroglyphic writing. Many of the halls are lit only by a small slits in the stone roof, lending a darkly mysterious atmosphere as I went deeper into the temple. At the core of the temple is the sanctuary, where the statue of the god would have been protected from common gaze behind huge doors of cedar covered with gold leaf. The sanctuary contains what is now the oldest object in the temple, a granite shrine for the cult statue. It is easy to let the imagination wander back to the days of chanting priests in the dark recesses of this temple, while the king depicted on the stones of the ‘Holy of Holies’ forever approaches the god with the offerings of the daily ritual. The thought ocurred to me that this was about as immortal as a king can get. I could almost smell fragrant incense on drifting air currents before I was brought sharply back by the incantations of multi-lingual guides irreverently re-enacting the sacred myths of creation and the legend of Horus and Seth, the ‘Edfu Drama’, sculpted on the walls of a corridor surrounding the inner temple. In the Temple of Edfu, on my second full day in Egypt, I was introduced to the creator gods – Geb and Nut, Shu and Tefnut, Isis and Osiris, Nephthys, Horus and Seth. So many new names to remember. I must have been so absorbed in these stories that I managed to over-expose a whole film in my camera.