Hibis Temple re-opens
The Hibis Temple is back on the tourist map after its official re-opening earlier this week, writes Nevine El-Aref
The 27th Dynasty Hibis Temple in the Kharga Oasis, considered the best-preserved temple in the Western Desert, was officially re-opened to the public earlier this week after almost six decades of restoration.
The temple has now regained its original allure and has opened its doors to visitors. It was closed for restoration in the late 1980s and declared off limits to visitors.
Mostafa Al-Ghamrawi, responsible for the restoration project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the deterioration of the Temple had started as early as 1958, when the level of the groundwater in the Kharga Oasis rose, endangering the temple.
Efforts were made to control the subterranean water that had risen because of irrigation projects in the surrounding area. A drainage channel was excavated to redirect the excess water, and the former sacred lake was re-dug to contain the water.
However, these solutions were only temporary as the Temple continued to be damaged by groundwater. Cracks spread over the building’s walls, columns tilted and reliefs were damaged.
In the 1980s, the then Supreme Council of Antiquities, now the Ministry of Antiquities, even suggested physically moving the temple and rebuilding it on higher ground to stop further damage.
A committee of archaeologists, engineers and restorers rejected the relocation plan, fearing the collapse of the temple during the reconstruction process. The committee pointed out that half the blocks and columns used in the temple were in a critical condition and suggested restoring it in situ.
Restoration work began in the early 2000s. The columns and walls were consolidated, cracks repaired and reliefs restored. To protect the temple from underground water, insulation materials were used as a protective layer between the ground and the foundations. A new lighting system was installed to allow access to the temple at night.
Since the temple’s reopening, visitors to the Kharga Oasis are now able to enjoy a tour around the temple’s different sections. The temple was built by Persian King Darius I, constructed from local limestone blocks on the edge of a small sacred lake and dedicated to the Theban triad deities of Amun-Re, Mut and Khonsu.
It was decorated by Darius I and II, as well as by the pharaoh Nectanebo II and the Ptolemies. Nectanebo I and II surrounded the temple with a stone enclosure, meaning it is now approached through a series of gateways leading to the inner sections. The temple was used as a barracks until 330 BCE, and contains evidence of use in later periods, including the early Christian period.
During the 4th century CE, a church was constructed at the northern side of the portico. There are also signs that it was used by Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca.
Numerous inscriptions and decrees are written on the gateway, including on topics such as taxation, inheritance, the court system and the rights of women, with the earliest dating to 49 CE. On the inside of the gateway are the bases of two obelisks or colossal statues.
A larger hypostyle hall, rather than the traditional pillared court, was added to the original temple by the 29th Dynasty pharaoh Hakor, who strengthened the foundations and buttressed the west wall against collapse.
The hall contains 12 palm-columns of an early composite type; those at the front open onto a narrow courtyard.
The inner parts of the Temple, probably constructed on top of the foundations of a New Kingdom shrine of Amun, illustrate the transition between New Kingdom and Ptolemaic architecture, showing that Ptolemaic inventions actually originated in the Saite or Late Period.
Behind the hypostyle hall of Hakor is an early form of pronaos with four smooth papyrus columns and screen walls.
The earlier hypostyle hall lies beyond this and contains four columns with an offering chamber, sanctuary and chapel of the deified king at the rear. There are several side-chambers and stairs leading up to the roof, which once contained an extensive complex of cult chambers dedicated to Osiris.
Hibis is the finest example in Egypt of a Persian Period temple, and its reliefs are very well preserved. The temple contains rich religious iconography and a wealth of theological texts in a very unusual style, perhaps the influence of a local style of art that until recent years has barely been studied.
One large and unique wall-relief depicts a winged figure of Seth, god of the desert oases, with the head of a falcon. Many deities are represented in the sanctuary of the building, where the god of fertility, Min, was also venerated.