Kalabsha Temple

Kalabsha Temple

Kalabsha Temple

Kalabsha Temple is the largest free-standing temple from Nubia and, apart from the rock temples of Abu Simbel, is the most impressive- it was described by early travelers as the ‘Kamak of Nubia,’ It was saved and transported to its new site by the (then) Federal Republic of Germany. Gver a period of two years they dismantled, numbered, and transported thirteen thousand blocks of stone weighing an estimated twenty thousand tons.

Kalabsha Temple
Kalabsha Temple

Kalabsha Temple

While carrying out the first stage of the work, they discovered that some of the inscribed and decorated blocks in the foundations of the temple were in fact reused blocks from earlier monu~
ments. For example, a Ptolemaic shrine was found, and a gateway built in the late Ptolemaic period anii completed by Augustus. The latter, some 7,35 meters high, was given to the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of their contribution to the ‘Save Nubia’ campaign. It is now in the Egyptian
Museum in Berlin. The Ptolemaic shrine has been rebuilt the southern tip of Elephantine Island (p/17).

Kalabsha Temple

In its original location in Nubia, Kalabsha temple was strategically situated at a point where the dark granite rocks closed in on the river, a site known as Bao ai-Kalabsha (Gate of Kalabsha). An inscription on the rocks dating to Greco- Roman times stated that the goddess Isis of Philae owned the country that stretched between the First and Second Cataracts. The ancient town of7’Talmis stood on both sides of the river, wh ere inscriptions attest to’Eighteenth Dynasty activity; The temple of Kalabsha was on the west bank. It was probably started by Thutmose Ill and added to by his son, Amenhotep Il, whose reliefs have survived. It is some seventy-four meters from the entrance pylon to the rear wall, and about thirty-three meters wide, and is dedicated to the Nubian god Merul (Greek Mandolis). Cther deities honored in the temple are Khnum of Elephantine, Min of Coptos, Amun-Re of ‘I‘hebes, Ptah of Memphis, and Isis and her child Horus. Both the Ptolemies and the Romans added to the temple. The former built columns in the forecourt, the latter added reliefs and inscriptions. The temple was later converted into a church, probably when Christianity began to spread into Nubia afler the sixth century. Kalabsha Temple was built of sandstone and is extremely well preserved. It is thoughtthat an earthquake may have
interrupted construction; some of the representations were outlined but never sculpted, others were begun but never finished, and blocks, pillars and capitals collapsed. Like most of the temples of Nubia, it was approached from the river. There was a quay and an impressive thirty-meter-long cause-
way leadingto the entrance pylon. These have been reproduced in the new location near the High Aswan Dam, but not to the original setting. At its original site, the rear of the temple backed against the rock and there was a small rock-hewn shine, probably a Birth House, at its southwestem comer. In its new
location, the main temple is separated from the mountain and the Birth House.
The entrance pylon, slightly askew from the axis of the temple, is well preserved. Apart from the sun disc and uraeus depicted above the central doorway, and two gods depicted inside the door jambs, the two towers of the pylon are un- adorned. The forecourt (1) originally had a colonnade on three sides
but only some of the side columns’ elaborate capitals have survived. To the rear ofthe courtis a portico leading to the inner chambers. It is formed of four columns with floral capitals joined together by screen walls that carry informative inscriptions. On the screen wall to the south of the doorway (a) is a fine
relief of the king being purified by Thoth in the presence of Horus. The section immediately to the north ofthe doorway (b) depicts Mandolis and Isis in rather crude relief This screen is inscribed with a decree by the govemor of Ombos and Elephan- tine (c. A.D. 248) ordering swine to be removed from the holy temple.

Kalabsha Temple

To the right, on the most northerly ofthe columns, is a long and interesting inscription by Silko, a Nubian king whoreigned around A.D. 530. He was celebrating his victory over the Blemmys. It is neatly written in red ink. He boasts: I, Silko . _ _ of the Nubians and all the Ethiopians, came
twice as far as Talmis . . . fought against the Blemmyes, and God granted me the victory.

I vanquished them a second time, three to one; and the first time I fortified myself there with my troops, vanquished them and they supplicated me, made peace with them, and they swore to me by their idols. I trusted them, because they were a people of good faith.

Then Iretumed to my dominions in the Upper Country. (James Baikie, Egyptian Antiquities in the Nile Valley, p.764) _ The Coptic graffiti on the columns, including a sketch of Saint George on horseback, may be among the earliest expressions of the Christian faith in Nubia.

The hypostyle hall (2) (the roof has now been reconstructed) originally had twelve columns, including four on the facade.

This part of the temple was converted into a church. It is only because the ‘heathen reliefs’ were plastered over and repainted with Christian themes that they survived so well.

The representations on the rear west wall are particularly well preserved. Most ofthem show the emperors Caligula and Trajan sacrificing to the gods.

Noteworthy are two reliefs to the left of the door (C). One shows a Ptolemaic king presenting a symbolic
field to Isis, Mandolis, and a third deity. The other has Amenhotep II, founder ofthe original temple, offering a libation of wine to Min and Mandolis. The latter is depicted as a charming child-Horus, with his finger to his lip, wearing hisside lock ofyouth and with an inf`ant’s dummy hung round his
neck. To the right of the doorway (d) is a series of excellent reliefs showing Mandolis as a ba-bird perched on a lotus. The three chambers in the rear of the temple contain well preserved reliefs; many of them retain their color. Unfortunately, they are somewhat difficult to see because of the new roof and lack of illumination. The composite ateflcrowns are delightfully complex; in fact, early travelers described them as “outrageous;” they are composed ofhorn s, moons, birds, beetles, lotus blossoms, asps, vases, and feathers. At the base ofthe wall ofthe first chamber (3) is a procession
of Nile-gods led by the pharaoh. He carries offerings for Mandolis, Osiris, Isis, and other deities. A stairway inside the left-hand wall leads to the roof of the third chamber, from whence another stairway gives access to the roof. From there, the higher parts of the front ofthe building can be approached
by yet another flight of stairs. Here there is a fine view of the rebuilt kiosk of Kertassi and Lake Nasser. Within the girdle wall to the south (6), an ancient Nilometer can also be seen. The second chamber (4), which has scenes of Roman emperors paying homage to the gods, leads to the inner sanctuary (5), which is decorated with reliefs still in a remarkably good state of preservation. The drawings of the figures are somewhat crude, but their clothing and headdresses are rendered with great attention to detail.  The Birth House now reconstructed southwest ofthe Kalabsh a temple is a small rock-hewn chamber with a columnedforecourt. The columns are connected by screen-walls constructed of stone.
Birth Houses became a feature of Greco-Roman temples because ofthe need to stress that the Ptolemaic and Roman rulers were, like Egyptian pharaohs, of divine descent. View from the roofofthe temple oflfalabslici, with the kiosk of Kertassi in the foreground and Lake Nasser beyond

Kalabsha Temple Beit al-Wali

Beit al-Wali (literally ‘house of the holy man’) is a small commemorative chapel built by Ramses II. It was originally situated partway up a hill, to the south of a side-valley leading to the Kalabsha Temple. In its new position the chapel has been similarly ,placed up a side-valley, but to the north of the temple.


The work of cutting, removing, and rebuildin was achieved by architects of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization with funds granted by the US government. The monument has been the subject of a detailed study by a joint expedition of the Oriental Institute of Chicago at Luxor and the Swiss Institute for Archaeological Research in Cairo, published as The Temple of Beit al-Wali of Ramses II in 1967.
Beit al-Wali is entirely cut out of the sandstone hillside. It is dedicated to Amun-Re, the Horuses of Nubia, and the triad of Elephantine, and was built to record the events of Ramses’ victorious Nubian campaign, carried out early in his reign. It was one of the most popular and most frequently described
Nubian monuments in nineteenth-century travelers’ accounts, especially those of Gardiner Wilkinson. Some plaster casts taken ofthe temple reliefs in the eighteenth century for display
in the British Museum unfortunately caused some damage to the monument. It further deteriorated at the hands of tourists and local villagers, and through exposure to the elements. In fact, the almost perfect reliefs reproduced as early facsimiles showing an emerald-green Osiris, bright red flesh tones for
Anubis, and chrome yellow for Isis have now disappeared. Only the inner chambers retain their brilliant color. Beit al-Wali contains a forecourt (1) not much larger than a tennis court, a colonnaded hall hewn in the rock (2), and a small adjoining sanctuary (3). The forecourt was converted into 3 church in early Christian times, divided into a nave and aisles, and covered with a vaulted brick roof. Part of this remains, even in the reconstructed temple. Most of the reliefs in the inner part ofthe monument record
the events ofRamses’ Nubian campaign. They are executed in a delicate and refined style, comparable to those in the templeof his father Seti I at Abydos. It is interesting to note, from an important dedicatory inscription at Abydos, that Ramses was on a campaign in Nubia when he received news that his father
Seti I had died. He quickly traveled down the Nile and took over the government as ruler.
There are reliefs of considerable historical interest on .the side walls of the forecourt. Two scenes on the left-hand wall (a) show the kings triumph over the Kushites, “vile Kush” as it is termed, referring to the tribes above the Second Cataract. In the first scene, Ramsesis seated under a canopy while Egyptian
noblemen (depicted below) present him with various tributes. Behind, there are two fettered Nubians, followed by others offering the pharaoh monkeys, greyhounds, panthers, giraffes,
cattle, and ostriches. Women with children, one carried in a basket on her mother’s back in typical African fashion, accom- pany the group. In the background are doum-palms. In the foreground are scenes ofwomen makingbread and, in the upper register, Ramses in his chariot. A flower-adomed tablet, from which hang rings and skins, is placed before the king. The Kushite nobleman before him is being awarded chains. Farther along the wall are gold ingots, elephant tusks, donkeys, a lion, a giraffe, and even a playful monkey arriving as tribute. There is a scene in which Ramses II charges the enemy from
his chariot with his usual bravado. They flee before him. He is accompanied by his two sons, each ofwhom has his own chariot and driver. In this scene, the Kushites are armed with bows and arrows. The men, women, and children are depicted escaping to their camp situated among the doum-palms. A wounded Nubian is led away by his two comrades to his wife and children. In another vignette, a woman crouches over a fire and cooks a meal. The reliefs on the right-hand wall (b) refer to wars against the Syrians and Libyans. They have the usual themes of attacking the enemy fortress, and the monarch holding a group of Syrian captives by the hair and threatening them with a raised ax. In another scene he puts a kneeling Libyan to death while his pet lion takes a bite out ofthe doomed man’s heel. Such scenes of Ramses II’s successful foreign campaigns, depicted in a Nubian temple, would appear to be designed to show the people of Nubia that Ramses reigned supreme from one end of the empire to the other. Indeed, he is shown with Egyptian noblemen and princes bowing slightly to him in  respect.

But it is interesting to note that nowhere in this temple is he shown deified, as he is in Abu Simbel. It has been
suggested that Kalabsha was built earlier in his reign. Three doorways to the rear of the court lead into the transverse hall (2), which has two stout fluted papyrif`orm columns supporting the roof Over the central doorway is the figure of Ramses bowing to Amun-Re. Scenes of conquests and offerings dominate the chamber. To the rear is a doorway leading into the sanctuary with niches for three seated figures, all now badly damaged. However, the coloring and reliefs ofthe rock-hewn sanctuary (3) are well preserved, especially those in the niche at the rear. Clockwise from the doorway they show: Ramses II being embraced by Satis and suckled by Isis; Ramses making offerings to Horus and Amun-Re; figures of Min and Ptah (on the rear wall); Ramses suckled by Anukis, goddess of the cataract region; and, finally, a defaced figure of Ramses embraced by Miket, an obscure goddess of the cataract region.
These inner chambers, too, were converted into churches after the sixth century.

Kalabsha Temple -Kiosk of Kertassi

This tiny structure dates from Greco-Roman times. in its original location it was built not far from a site used in ancient times for quarrying sandstone. In fact, there was every indication that these Nubian quarries were the ones that provided stone for the temples of Philae. This is attested by numerous inscriptions dating to Ptolemaic and Roman times. The kiosk of Kertassi was regarded by many early travelers and Egyptologists as a gem ofNubia. ln 1875 Amelia Edwards wrote that “a mere cluster of graceful columns supporting a cornice stands on the brink ofa cliff overhanging the river.” It was a landmark of the area. When, however, the monument was inspected in the mid-19605 prior to its salvage, its columns had fallen, the capitals lay upside down on the ground, and the structure was no more than a jumble of ruins.

This has now been remedied. The Egyptian government collected the blocks

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