An archaeological mission comprised of a joint Egyptian-German team has recently unveiled a wealth of celestial imagery during the restoration and cleaning of the Temple of Esna.
Also known as the Temple of Khnum, this temple complex is dedicated to Khnum, the Ancient Egyptian god, along with other deities. Constructed during Ptolemaic times in the city of Esna, formerly known as Latopolis, this temple is known for its rich history.
This restoration project, which began in 2018, has revealed remarkable celestial reliefs on the temple roof. These newly uncovered reliefs showcase the goddess Nut and celestial constellations. Nut, an essential deity in Ancient Egyptian religion, was associated with the sky, stars, cosmos, astronomy, and the universe.
The relief of Nut depicts her in a distinctive pose, with her body arched upward in a way that encompasses the celestial dome observed from Earth. This imagery is symbolic of her role in swallowing the sun during the night, only for it to be reborn at dawn, a common theme in Ancient Egyptian cosmology. The eastern end of the temple also contains depictions of Thoth, the god of the moon, and the solar god Khnum-Ra, characterized by four ram heads, observed at the sixth hour of the day.
In an earlier phase of the restoration in March 2023, the temple’s celestial representations included zodiac signs, various planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, and numerous stars and constellations. Furthermore, the temple featured images of mythical creatures, like a snake with a ram’s head, a bird with a crocodile’s head, and other depictions of snakes and crocodiles.
As part of a joint effort between the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the University of Tübingen, this restoration project aims to preserve the Temple of Esna and reveal its historical and astronomical significance.
Now that the restoration of the temple’s ceiling is complete, the mission is turning its attention to cleaning the temple’s walls, columns, and pronaos, the front area. This next phase of restoration is expected to uncover additional colors and details, potentially shedding further light on the purpose and symbolism of the temple’s decorations.