What comes to mind when you daydream about ancient Egypt? The Great Pyramids of Giza? The Sphinx? Tutankhamun and the Valley of the Kings? Me too! But did you know south of Luxor there are hidden gems worthy of a look in Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, and Abu Simbel?
Deciding on what to see and do during your trip to Egypt can be overwhelming. My head was spinning! With so many museums, tombs, temples, and activities at your fingertips it can be difficult to choose. I agree with the masses, Cairo and Luxor should be at the top of your list. However, if you have time, I highly recommend adding southern Egypt to your itinerary.
My husband, Brad, and I took a two-week bucket list trip to Egypt in January 2021. Traveling during COVID-19 was a challenge, but it provided a rare opportunity to avoid rubbing elbows with massive tourist groups. Check out this post for information on how to prepare for a trip to Egypt.
Below I will list the temples from north to south, which also happened to be the way we saw them during our trip. There is no right or wrong order, it just depends on your schedule.
Temple of Horus - Edfu
The Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC) shifted the rule from the ancient Egyptians to the ancient Greeks after Alexander the Great conquered the area. Commissioned in 237 BC, by Ptolemy III, the Temple of Horus is one of the best preserved monuments that showcases popular characteristics of Egyptian architecture.
The imposing pylon depicts scenes of triumph and power. The god Horus, represented as a human figure with a falcon head, looks on with approval as the pharaoh is about to smite his enemies. Enter the courtyard and marvel at the ornate capitals of the columns forming the peristyle.
The original roof of the Temple of Horus is still intact! Nearby the inner hypostyle hall is a room filled with detailed instructions for making elixirs, perfumes, and remedies. Step into this ancient pharmacy and appreciate the intricate hieroglyphics.
Two staircases on either side of the temple symbolize how a falcon flies in the sky. One ascends upwards representing how a falcon circles high above the ground whereas the other is a straight descent mimicking how the falcon uses a direct path to land. The reliefs also face the direction in which a person is supposed to move along the staircases.
Temple of Sobek and Haroeris - Kom Ombo
A jewel on the east bank of the Nile River is a temple known for its rare dedication to two gods: the crocodile god Sobek and falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder). The temple is symmetrical along the main axis with two sets of courts, halls, and sanctuaries. Crocodiles were raised and worshipped in a small pool near the rear of the temple.
Ancient Egyptians paid close attention to the nesting habits of crocodiles. The reptiles never laid eggs below the forthcoming flood level of the Nile River. Therefore, farmers could adequately prepare for the three seasons: Akhet (the flooding period), Peret (the planting period), and Shemu (the harvesting period).
Did you know the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris was crucial in understanding Egyptian calendars? An area of the temple illustrates the numeric division of the three aforementioned seasons into months, weeks, and days. The lunar calendar was important for religious ceremonies while the solar calendar organized daily life into 365 days.
Entrance to the small crocodile museum is included with your ticket. Mummified crocodiles of all sizes are on display along with statues and carved stelae.
Temple of Isis - Island of Philae near Aswan
It's no surprise that the Temple of Isis, dedicated to the goddess of love, would be the most picturesque! Feel the excitement as you cross the calm Nile River in a motorboat to reach the Island of Agilkia. The Ptolemaic Period temple was originally constructed on the Island of Philae, but had to be moved block by block due to the flooding of Lake Nasser.
Pass through the entrance of the first pylon to reach the open colonnaded court. Just beyond the second pylon is an eight-column vestibule leading to the sanctuary. Scenes on the temple walls depict Isis bringing her husband/brother, Osiris, back to life and giving birth to her son, Horus, in the marshes.
Early Christians left their mark on the temple by carving crosses into the walls and columns. Unfortunately, some of the gods were defaced in order to discourage Egyptian polytheism.
East of the main temple complex are two later additions which dazzle in the sunlight. The Temple of Hathor has whimsical reliefs of musicians and monkeys. The Kiosk of Trajan is a roofless structure with 14 columns adorned with flowerlike capitals. The Roman emperor Trajan is depicted making an offering to Isis and Osiris.
Temples of Rameses II and Nefertari - Abu Simbel
Prepare yourself for a SHOWSTOPPER! The ingenuity, engineering, and design of these sandstone rock-cut temples are going to blow your mind. In the 1960s, both temples had to be fully dismantled and moved to a new location due to the Aswan High Dam project.
The Temple of Rameses II, commissioned in 1247 BC, proclaims the pharaoh’s greatness with four colossal seated statues of himself on the temple façade. Each one is approximately 65 ft high! Carved baboons line the upper frieze of the temple while Horus overlooks all who enter below in the center. Smaller statues of Rameses II's mother, wife, and favorite children peek out from around his legs.
Step inside the equally impressive interior complete with mirroring Osirian pillar statues of Rameses II. Grand painted reliefs show scenes of warfare against the Hittites during the Battle of Kadesh. I had to pick my jaw off the floor while I stood beneath Rameses II in his chariot shooting arrows at his enemies.
A few steps away is the Temple of Nefertari. Traditionally, an artistic rendering of a pharaoh was always bigger than his wife, which is evident at the Temple of Rameses II. However, this temple is a rare exception to the rule. Rameses II and Nefertari are of equal proportions on the temple façade reinforcing her importance. Honoring a queen in this way made a statement.
Nevertheless, Rameses II was sure to glorify his legacy on the inside walls of Nefertari's temple with scenes reinforcing his power. Square pillars with carved images of the goddess Hathor guide visitors to the main shrine. Colorful reliefs show Nefertari making offerings to the gods and playing a sistrum (a sacred instrument in ancient Egypt).
The most relaxing way to reach the southern temples is by a Nile River cruise. Okay, okay, I may be a little biased since this was the way we decided to do it, but it was an amazing experience! I cover our five-star luxury cruise from Luxor to Aswan for 5 days/4 nights in this post.
Trains are available with cheap ticket costs. However, delays are a common occurrence and can be a hindrance if you want to keep to a reliable schedule.
Hiring a private car/driver is a great middle-of-the-road option. Prices are negotiable and you can set the timetable. Need a guide? Book with a tour company! A variety of private and group day trips are possible.
Flights are available to Aswan and Abu Simbel via Egyptair. Although an expensive option, it could make the most sense for your itinerary. Flights to Abu Simbel are only possible with a round-trip ticket in/out of Aswan (i.e., you can't fly directly to Abu Simbel from any other city in Egypt).
Abu Simbel is not an easy temple to get to, but I promise it is worth the time and energy! We started the six-hour roundtrip journey with Memphis Tours in a private shuttle the morning after we disembarked from our cruise which finished in Aswan. Afterward, we were taken directly to the Aswan airport for our journey back home to the United States.
The southern temples along the Nile River are full of rich history and majestic architecture. Discover the wonders of an ancient culture and gaze upon monuments once lost to the sands of time. This area of Egypt is sure to leave a lasting impression!