Abydos is one of the most ancient cities of Upper Egypt, about 11 km (6 miles) west of the Nile. The Egyptian name was Abdju, “the hill of the symbol or reliquary,” in which the sacred head of Osiris was preserved. The Greeks named it Abydos, like the city on the Hellespont; the modern Arabic name is el-‘Araba el Madfuna.
Considered one of the most important archaeological sites of ancient Egypt, the sacred city was the site of many ancient temples, including a royal necropolis where early pharaohs were entombed. Abydos became notable for the Great Temple built by Seti I, which contains a tunnel displaying a chronological list showing cartouche names of every dynastic pharaoh of Egypt from the first, Narmer/Menes, until the pharaohs of the last dynasty.
HISTORY: The history of Abydos begins in the late prehistoric age, it having been founded by the rulers of the Predynastic period, whose town, temple and tombs have been found there. The kings of the First dynasty, and some of the Second dynasty, were also buried in Abydos, and the temple was renewed and enlarged by them. Great forts were built on the desert behind the town by three kings of the Second dynasty. The temple and town continued to be rebuilt at intervals down to the times of the 30th dynasty, and the cemetery at Abydos was used continuously. In the 12th dynasty a gigantic tomb was cut in the rock by Senusret III. Seti I, in the 19th dynasty, founded a great new temple to the south of Abydos in honor of the ancestral kings of the early dynasties; this was finished by Ramses II, who also built a lesser temple of his own. Merneptah added a great Hypogeum of Osiris to the temple of Seti. The latest building was a new temple of Nectanebo I in the 30th dynasty. From Ptolemaic times the place continued to decay and no later works are known.
The temple of Seti I – The raised reliefs in this magnificent temple are some of the finest quality in all Egypt, incredibly beautiful and detailed. Although the lighting in the interior of the temple can be somewhat gloomy in places, the reliefs still stand out as exceptional. Visitors to Abydos should note that the reliefs on the outer portions of the temple were completed during the reign of Ramses II, and are of a much lower quality than those further inside the complex. (Ramses moved the best craftsmen to work on his own temples after his father’s death). Also worth noting is that the Kings List, or Pharaohs List is somewhat selective, omitting for example Akhenaten (the heretic king), Hatshepsut (a female pharaoh), and the reigns of the kings during the Hyskos occupation. If you are interested in ancient Egyptian history and art, this temple is more than worth the trip to Abydos.
A principal purpose of the temple was the adoration of the early kings, whose cemetery, to which it forms a great funerary chapel, lies behind it. The long list of the kings of the principal dynasties carved on a wall is known as the “Table of Abydos” (showing the cartouche name of every dynastic pharaoh of Egypt from the first, Narmer/Menes, until the pharaohs of the last dynasty). There were also seven chapels for the worship of the king and principal gods. At the back were large chambers connected with the Osiris worship and, probably from those chambers led out the great Hypogeum for the celebration of the Osiris mysteries. Excepting the list of kings and a panegyric on Ramses II, the subjects are not historical but mythological. The work is celebrated for its delicacy and refinement.
The temple was originally 550 ft. long, but the forecourts are scarcely recognizable, and the part in good state is about 250 ft. long and 350 ft. wide, including the wing at the side.
Ramses II temple – The adjacent temple of Ramses II was much smaller and simpler in plan, but it had a fine historical series of scenes around the outside, of which the lower parts remain. A list of kings, similar to that of Seti I, formerly stood here, but the fragments were removed by the French consul and sold to the British Museum. The outside of the temple was decorated with scenes of the Battle of Kadesh.
The Royal Tombs of the earliest dynasties were placed about a mile back on the great desert plain, in a place now known as Umm el-Qa’ab.