Restoration of the temple ceiling in Egyptian Esna completed

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Orion, Sothis (= Sirius) and Anukis (from left to right). Above them the sky god
Orion, Sothis (= Sirius) and Anukis (from left to right). Above them the sky goddess Nut swallowing the evening sun.

Experts from Egypt and Germany have completed the restoration of the ceiling of the Temple of Esna. Over a period of five years, 30 restorers under the direction of Ahmed Emam had freed several hundred figures with astronomical representations from dirt and thus made them visible again in their original colors.

With the completion of the ceiling restoration, the project has reached its first and perhaps most important milestone," says Christian Leitz from the Institute for Ancient Oriental Cultures at the University of Tübingen: "In the coming years, we want to focus on removing soot from the interior walls of the pronaos and the remaining columns." The restoration of the Temple of Esna is a joint project of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the University of Tübingen. On the Egyptian side, project management was in the hands of Hisham El-Leithy. The colorful ceiling reliefs depict deities, mythological figures and representations of the sun, moon, constellations and various astronomical constellations. During the restoration, in addition to the colors, almost 200 ink inscriptions came to light, which had previously been completely unknown. With their help, numerous depictions could be identified for the first time.

The thematic breadth of the depictions underscores the great importance that astronomy had in ancient Egypt," said Tübingen Egyptologist Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen. The ceiling is divided into a total of seven sections covering different topics. These include, for example, the daily course of the sun, the phases of the moon, the different night hours or the New Year’s Day. In the last uncovered section, the depiction of the deities Orion, Sothis and Anukis plays an important role," explained von Recklinghausen.

Orion represents the constellation of the same name. Next to him is Sothis, which is the ancient Egyptian name for the constellation Sirius. Sirius is invisible in the starry sky for 70 days during the course of the year until it rises again in the east," Leitz explained: "This point in time was New Year’s Day in ancient Egypt and at the same time announced the beginning of the annual flooding of the Nile. The third goddess Anukis, on the other hand, was responsible in the understanding of the Egyptians for the recession of the Nile flood about 100 days later.

With the restoration now complete, Egypt now has two outstandingly preserved astronomical ceilings in temples. One is in the temple of Dendara about 60 kilometers north of Luxor, here the dominant colors are white and light blue. In the temple of Esna, the themes are partly similar, but the color scheme is completely different, the dominant colors here are mainly yellow and red. The work at Esna was supported by the Ancient Egypt Foundation, the American Research Center in Egypt and the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

From the temple in Esna, 60 kilometers south of the Egyptian Luxor, only the porch (the so-called Pronaos) is preserved, but this completely: At 37 meters long, 20 meters wide and 15 meters high, the sandstone structure was placed in front of the actual temple building at the latest under the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and probably dwarfed it. The location in the center of the city probably contributed to the fact that the porch was preserved and not used as a quarry for the extraction of building material like other buildings during the industrialization of Egypt. Even in Napoleon’s time, the Pronaos attracted a great deal of attention among experts, as it was considered an ideal example of ancient Egyptian temple architecture.