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Abydos Temple and the Love Story of Osiris and Isis

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Located about 100 miles north of Luxor, Abydos Temple was built around 1500 BC by Ramses II and is dedicated to Osiris, god of the underworld. It's considered by many to be the most important and impressive religious structure in Egypt.

The story of Osiris and his sister-wife Isis is my favorite. Osiris came to Egypt to rule as king and he was respected and beloved by the Egyptian people. His brother Seth soon became jealous of Osiris and plotted to kill him. He tricked Osiris into stepping into a chest, locked the chest and threw it into the Nile.

Isis, Osiris' wife, loved him very much and was able to find the chest that contained her husband's body. She removed his body and placed it in the reeds alongside the Nile in preparation for performing the proper rituals so he could enter the afterlife. Upon hearing that news, Seth became furious, found Osiris' body, cut it into 14 pieces and threw them back into the Nile throughout Egypt.

Grief-stricken, Isis transformed herself into a bird, flew over Egypt and eventually found all of Osiris' body parts, and she successfully brought her husband back to life. Although he was grateful to her, he told her he could not stay among the living. He had to return to the dead where he would become king of the afterlife. He also told her that she would soon bear a son.

Their son Horus grew to be strong and upon learning about the death of his father at the hands of his uncle Seth, Horus decided to seek revenge and embarked on a violent battle with Seth. In the course of the battle, Horus lost his eye which eventually regenerated and throughout history, represented the power of healing. Consequently, Horus is depicted with one eye and often with the head of a hawk.

Abydos is dedicated to this story, and the carvings are rich and fascinating.

In the carving below, Osiris places his hand on the back of his son, Horus. Note the curved beard of Osiris. A curved beard indicated that the person or god had died; a straight beard indicated that the subject was alive.

Isis found her husband's head in Abydos and his backbone in Luxor. She is receiving his backbone in this magnificent carving below.

Ramses II appears in temples and tombs throughout Egypt. In this carving, he is giving Horus the plan of the temple.

The ankh, or key of life which is important in Egyptian mythology and history, is being given to Osiris by Horus and Anubis who cared for the dead.

Osiris, Ramses II and Amun-Ra, god of the sun and light.

Ramses II wearing a skirt, the dress of the day, known as a shendyt.

Ramses II giving Horus the gift of a necklace. Look at the intricate carving of his shendyt.

A similar necklace at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Horus is holding the ankh (key of life) and supporting his father Osiris. Notice again the curved beard on Osiris.

Isis supporting her husband.

Isis giving the god of mummification the strength of the Nile. Notice the wavy lines in her hands and in the hieroglyphics between them. The waves represent the Nile and corresponds to the letter "N" in hieroglyphics.

This stunning carving is an offering to the gods. It includes lotus flowers, ducks, grapes, figs and bread. Lotus flowers were the symbol of Upper Egypt while papyrus was the symbol of Lower Egypt.

The Kings' List

This deserves special recognition. This is a wall of three rows of 38 carthouches each. A cartouche is an oval shape which contains the name of a pharaoh or king. Although this list isn't entirely comprehensive, it was a critical piece of history to identify the kings of Egypt - and it was absolutely incredible!

Close-up of a cartouche.

The richness of the colors made us wonder how magnificent the temple must have been when it was built in the 15th century BC. Learning the story of Osiris and Isis and being among the stunning carvings and the Kings' List was an unforgettable experience.

Top Tips
  • Don't let its distance from Luxor discourage you from visiting Abydos. The drive through the countryside was interesting and Abydos was worth every minute of it!

  • We spent about 1 1/2 - 2 hours at Abydos but depending on your interest and available time, you could spend longer.

  • I'd suggest reading about Abydos before you go; it will make for a richer experience.

  • Take a good camera!

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Apr 12, 2020

Thanks, Larry. Next week's is equally well-preserved and stunning; it was really amazing!


Apr 12, 2020

Wow! Fantastic explanations and pics. Well done!

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