The Temple of Wadi al-Sabua (el-Sebua) in Nubia

The Temple of Wadi al-Sabua in Nubia

by Craig Hildreth

A view of today''s Sabua Temple Complex

About 140 kilometers (85 miles) south of the High Aswan Dam in ancient Nubia on the west bank of the Nile two temples were built during the New Kingdom's 18th and 19th Dynasties. When, in the 1960s, the High Dam was being constructed, one of these temples that was built by Ramesses II, and is now usually referred to as the Temple of Wadi al-Sabua (Wadi el-Sebua) but originally known as the "House-of-Amun", was salvaged (in 1964) and moved to a new, elevated site several kilometers to the northwest, while the earlier temple of Amenhotep III was, regrettably, left to be buried beneath the waters of Lake Nasser. However, five stela from this temple are in the Aswan Museum. Both of these temples were part free standing and part speos, meaning that a section of the temples were hewn from the surrounding rock.

Floorplan of the Temple

The temple built by Amenhotep III was dedicated principally to the Nuibian form of the God Horus, and later, apparently during the time of Ramesses II, to Amun. It was damaged during the Amarna Period, but later restored by Ramesses II.

The temple that was actually built on the orders of Ramesses II, utilizing at least some Libyan captives sometime around his 44th year as king, was dedicated to Amun-Re and Re-Horakhty. It was the third speos style temple that Ramesses II built in Nubia, the most famous of which is of course at Abu Simbel. The temple sphinx-lined approach in the two forecourts leading to the initial stairway provides the name of this area, which is known as the Valley of the Lions (Arabic Wadi al Sabua). The entire complex that proceeds the rock hewn chambers was enclosed within a huge brick wall over a meter thick on a rectangular plan measuring 35 by 80 meters, with buttresses on the north and south external sides.

The Avenue of Sphinxes

The Avenue of Sphinxes

A raw brick pylon gateway, now lost to us, that was flanked by a statue of Ramesses II and a human-headed (Ramesses II) sphinx on either side led to the first forecourt. Within this forecourt, a central alley was bordered by two large, human-headed sphinxes.

A Ramesses II Headed Sphinx

A Ramesses II Headed Sphinx

At the rear of this courtyard, another thick pylon stood, also believed to have been made of brick, though now lost to us, that we believe was fronted by statues of Ramesses II. Beyond, in the second courtyard, another alley led through two sphinxes on either side with the heads of falcons. They protected, between their legs, statuettes of Ramesses II wearing the nemes headdress. An inscription on their bases refers to Ramesses II's sed-festival, and expresses his desire for a long life. To the south of this is a small courtyard with an altar dedicated to Re-Horakhty.

The Colossal Statue of Ramesses II with a small Queen

After the second courtyard, a stairway leads up to a high terrace of the section built in stone, that, prior to the temple's relocation, abutted a cliff. This part of the temple, but in stone and hewn from the cliff, is similar to the temple at Gerf Hussein, and corresponds to the typical tripartite cult temple, with a court, a hypostyle hall and sanctuaries. A stone pylon measuring 24.5 meters wide and 20 meters tall, abutted by four colossi of Ramesses II some six meters high on one meter bases, formed the facade to the court beyond. Interestingly, this pylon has no recesses for the flagstaffs that are normally found in temples. Though badly worn, reliefs on the pylon depict Ramesses II sacrificing to Amun on the south side, and to Re-Horakhty on the north. While this pylon remains, now there is but one colossal statue of Ramesses II left on the southern side. This is a typical striding statue of the king with the left food forward. By his side stands a small statue of a queen that may represent his eldest daughter by Istnofret, who later became his wife, Bent'anta (Bintanath, Bint-Anath, Bintanat). Another statue that probably stood to the north now lies in the sand. It depicts Ramesses II with a standard surmounted by the head of a falcon.

Another of the Colossal Statues with Ramesses Holding a Standard

Another of the Colossal Statues with Ramesses Holding a Standard

Beyond, the so called "feast court" is almost square, measuring 19.8 by 20.6 meters. It is bordered laterally by two porticoes with five pillars with engaged standing Osiris style statues of Ramesses II. To the south is a slaughter court that lies between the wall of the court and the enclosure wall. On the walls of this court are depicted one of Ramesses II's well known processions of his children that includes 51 princes and 63 princesses, together with their names. Other scenes present Ramesses II before various deities.

The Last Court With the Osirion Statues of Ramesses II

At the rear of the "feast court", a second stairway leads up to the second terrace running along the rock hewn part of the temple. Beyond is another almost square, twelve pillared (so called) "hall of appearance". The bases of the pillars are cut from the living rock. The pillars on either side of the central alley have Osiride statues of the pharaoh abutted to them. Various scenes within this chamber depict the pharaoh together with a number of gods and goddesses, including Shu, Nekhbit, Tefnut and Hathor. Another relief shows the god Ptah promising many sed-festivals to Ramesses II.

After the pillared hall is a so called transverse "chamber of offering" flanked by a room at either end, and beyond this is the main sanctuary in the center flanked by two narrower chapels. The center chamber is thought to be a bark chapel that once contained the sacred bark, and it is illustrated with the prow of a falcon on the northern wall and that of a ram on the southern wall, while Ramesses II makes offerings to both boats. Other scenes represent Ramesses II embraced by Mut and Hathor, and offering food to Amun-Re.

A depiction within the Antechamber

At the rear of the central chamber is a niche which once contained a statuary group consisting of Amun-Re, Ramesses II and Re-Horakhty. The entrance to the niche was decorated with an image of Ramesses II worshiping the gods within. Interestingly, however, this ancient theme was changed by the early Christians, who converted the temple into a church, and now shows Ramesses II offering to St. Peter instead.





Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

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Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C.

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University of California Press

LCCC A5-4746

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Ramesses II

T. G. H. James



IBSN 1-58663-719-3

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011