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City of Esna in Luxor

Posted On : 02/03/2023 Kate Clark 50
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Where is Esna - Egypt?

The city of Esna is located 30 miles south of Luxor , it is easily accessible and can be visited during a pleasant day trip from Luxor. The visit to its famous temple is also a stop scheduled and included by most of the Nile cruises that travel the Luxor- Aswan route . The city of Esna is little more than a local agricultural center, a village located on the west bank of the Nile.  

To this day Dna's two main points of interest are the bustling tourist-oriented market, which fills a couple of streets leading inland from the corniche. The other is the temple of Esna. The temple, which has only been partially excavated, is located at a distance of about 200 meters from the river and about 9-10 meters below street level.

The incredible story of Esna

Esna was known under the name of Latopolis in the time of the ancient Greeks. The name "Latopolis" is in honor of the Nile perch , whose scientific name is "Lates niloticus, the largest of the 52 species of fish that inhabit the Nile, which abounded in these stretches of the river in ancient times. The fish appears depicted in the sculptures, among the symbols dedicated to the goddess Neith, associated by the ancient Greeks with Pallas Athena, surrounded by an oval shield or ring indicative of royalty or divinity. Judged as sacred, the Lates niloticus was buried in a cemetery west of the city.

Among the ruins stands the temple dedicated to Khnum (divinity with a ram's head who, according to the myth, had created men from clay by shaping them on his potter's wheel), built during the XVIII dynasty and used until Roman times . The temple is located in a huge pit in the center of the city, 10m deep below the level of the main road.

The site is only partially intact, the roof and the hypostyle hall, built in the 3rd century AD under the Roman emperor Claudius, are preserved. The ceiling is supported by 24 columns with floral capitals, decorated with the image of a large zodiac, while among the wall reliefs it is possible to observe the depiction of a hunting scene in which the sovereign captures wild birds. 

Temple of Khnum in Esna

Khnum Temple is the only reason most visitors come here, it is one of the last temples built in Egypt. Like Dendera , it was built during the Greco-Roman era, part of the strategy which saw foreign rulers making efforts to please the Egyptians. Despite being so recent it is not very well preserved, perhaps due to the poor quality of the construction, in the rush of the Romans to erect a monument to demonstrate their loyalty to the Egyptian gods. The temple of Esna is not only dedicated to the god Khnum, but also to his consorts Menhit and Nebtu, their son, Heka and the goddess Neith.

The temple in the past shone with the beauty of the site and the magnificence of the architecture. It was built in red sandstone and the portico consisted of six rows of four columns each, with lotus-leaf capitals, all however different from each other. The temple contains a very late hieroglyphic inscription, dating from the reign of Decius (AD 249–251). 

Kom Mer temple

Another temple of the same period has been identified at Kom Mer, about 12 km south of Esna, but excavations cannot proceed because a village has been built on it.

A smaller temple, dedicated to the triad of Latopolis, once existed about two and a half miles north of the city, in a village now called el-Dayr. Here, too, was a small zodiac from the age of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 BC). The latter building was destroyed in the 19th century, as it stood on the street of a new canal. 

A curiosity: the temple of Esna was cleared of the soil and waste that filled its area when Vivant Denon visited it and was destined for cotton storage in the mid-19th century.

Two barrier bridges straddle the Nile: one built by the British in 1906 and the "Electricity Bridge" built in the 1990s. Navigation can be slowed down as vessels make their way through the lock system.

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By Kate Clark

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