Journal: Sunday 10 January 1995
Several stately cruise ships were moored in rows as we manoeuvred into an available berth and their passengers were milling about along the length of the landing, gossiping or just stretching their legs in the cooling evening air. The temple stood majestically on a high promontory above the river as if it had deliberately chosen to pose for tourist cameras in the best setting. The town of Kom Ombo, named from the classical Ombos, was strategically placed between Edfu and Aswan as a garrison town on an important trading route, with the Ptolemaic temple and ancient settlement site now a few kilometres from the modern town.
The temple, we learned, is very unusual, being dedicated to two triads of deities, each with their own associated chambers and sanctuaries. On the eastern side of the temple, the crocodile-headed god Sobek is honoured with his wife who is here named as Hathor and their son Khonsu. On the west side, ‘Horus the Elder’ is accompanied by his wife Hathor and their son, the Lord of the Two Lands Panebtawy. A passageway runs around the outside of the main temple building similar to other temples of this period, with a staircase leading to the roof. On the inside of the enclosure wall at the rear of the temple is a famous relief depicting what the guide books tell us are surgical instruments. In the centre of the opposite wall is an oracle niche through which a priest would deliver divine advice to people congregated outside the main part of the temple. Throughout the temple the two gods share power on an equal basis, each in their own side of the central axis. Back in the forecourt to the right of the temple entrance is a small chapel of Hathor where those who are not too squeamish can see the stored remains of a mummified crocodile and clay crocodile coffins, excavated from the nearby animal cemetery. The crocodiles that were sacred to Sobek, were thought to be bred in a small pool on the western side of the temple where there are also remains of a very deep well. Remains of a birth-house can be seen at the northwest corner beyond the wall of the court and a portal of Ptolemy VII is at the northeast corner.
In 1995 the exit from Kom Ombo temple was cleverly designed to guide visitors through a long rambling bazaar selling all kinds of souvenirs. Stalls and stallholders were draped with colourful scarves and galabeyas (the long robe worn by Egyptian men), brightly embroidered and sequined in contrasting colours or stripes to attract the tourist. All was quiet until our group arrived in the street, at which the sleepy stallholders quickly put down their tea and newspapers and began shouting and cajoling, competing with each other for sales. In the short time it took us to walk the length of the bazaar, swaggering Egyptian youths called out ‘Come on down, the price is right’ or ‘Asda price!’ and little boys as young as five or six cried ‘Welcome to Alaska’ with cheeky grins. Like magic, these clever tradesmen could spot the English from a distance and the party of Germans following in our wake had the same treatment in their own language. A lot of intense haggling went on and many of our group came away with arms full of black plastic sacks containing galabeyas, scarves, statues and papyrus, sure they had got a bargain, only to find later that their friends had bought the same items for less. I made my first purchases, a lovely dark green galabeya and a necklace of tiny coloured clay beads and felt quite pleased with myself for taking the plunge and entering into the spirit of this bargaining game which is part of Egyptian life. It was all very good-natured even if it was quite exhausting.
Back on the boat I stood on deck admiring the temple from a distance, now dramatically floodlit against the blackening sky as we pulled away from shore to continue our journey. The ‘Captain’s cocktail party’, with its fountain of sparkling exotic fruit juices and interesting snacks, was only the beginning of our evening entertainment.