Near the picturesque bazaars in the old town of Esna, 9 meters below street level, the most important attraction of Esna is the Temple of Khnum from Ptolemaic and Roman times, which replaces a temple of the 18th dynasty of King Thutmose III. was completely rebuilt. The new building of the Khnum temple from the middle Ptolemaic period also replaces a temple from the New Kingdom, blocks of which were found. Unfortunately, with the exception of the facade, the Ptolemaic naos has been completely destroyed, so that its chronology remains uncertain.
Both temples were dedicated to the ram-headed god Khnum, who at dawn formed people from Nile mud on his pottery wheel. In addition to the creator god, his wife, the lioness Menhit, the city goddess Nebetun and Heka, the god of life energy, were worshiped here. The goddess Neith, who according to the myth of Esna is the origin and creator of the world, was given a lot of space in this complex. The androgynous deity is shown here with a bow and arrow.
In the course of time, the old temple building was buried under silt by the floods of the Nile, and today’s modern city of Esna was built. Excavation work began as early as 1862, initially only uncovering the Roman columned hall, which was built under the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54 AD).
There used to be three temples in Esna. The northernmost (5km north) was already demolished in ancient times, the second, also in the north, was demolished under Mohammed Ali and the last one lost its main building in the Middle Ages. Today only the unusually beautiful vestibule from the Roman period with its 24 columns stands in a depression, 9 meters below street level of the new settlement, the only part of the temple that has been excavated and can be visited today.
Most of the temple, which is similar in size to the temples of Edfu and Dendara, is still covered by the old town of Esna. A quay connecting the temple with the Nile was built by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD).
The central door leads into the dark, atmospheric vestibule, in which the roof is supported by 18 columns with wonderfully varied floral capitals in the form of palm leaves, lotus buds and papyrus fans; Some also have grapes, a distinctive Roman touch. The roof is adorned with astronomical scenes, while the columns are covered with hieroglyphic accounts of temple rituals. In the front corners, next to the smaller gates, there are two hymns to Khnum. The first is a morning song that Khnum awakens in his shrine; The second is a wonderful “hymn of creation”, which recognizes him as the creator of everyone: “Everyone is formed on the potter’s wheel, their language is different in every region, but the Lord of the wheel is also their father.”
On the walls, Roman emperors disguised as pharaohs sacrifice to the local gods of Esna. On the north wall you can see scenes in which Emperor Commodus catches fish with the god Khnum in a papyrus thicket and next to it presents the temple to the god.
The north-east rear wall, erected during the Ptolemaic period, shows reliefs of two Ptolemaic pharaohs, Ptolemy VI. Philometre and Ptolemy VIII. Euergetes (170–116 BC). Some Roman emperors, including Septimus Severus, Caracalla, and Geta, added their names near the rear gate of the hall.