When thinking of Egyptian history, most accept that it is an ancient and old world. The buildings, art and objects that remain are some of the oldest human creations imaginable, and yet when looking at structures like the pyramids at Giza or the temple at Abu Simbel, it is easy to forget that they have witnessed thousands of years. Their size and scale is what many first consider, and then the age. The Temple of Amada, however, ranks as the oldest temple ever discovered in Nubia, and though small in scale, it is an impressive place to visit.
Many travelers to Egypt are unaware of the Temple of Amada and learn of it when planning a visit to the Aswan area or when booking a cruise on Lake Nasser. It is the oldest temple ever found in Nubia, and it was relocated to its modern-day setting during the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Built by Thutmose III, his son Amenhotep II completed it and added to the decorative elements and overall size of the temple.
This, however, was not the end of the development of the Temple of Amada, and Thutmose IV (the son of Amenhotep II) also changed the temple and added a roof over the original, traditional forecourt. This allowed for an even greater level of painted decorations to be added to what would normally be an open air space.
Sadly, the Amarna era under the rule of Akhenaten caused some destruction to the temple, as he removed all mentions of Amun (the god to which this temple was dedicated), replacing it with the Aten or sun disk. Upon his death, many temples were restored or returned to their original condition, but at the cost of the original art and carvings. In addition to the Temple of Amada being altered in this way, later rulers continued to build upon the original structure and make changes.
Seti I, Ramses the Great, and the famous Viceroy of Kush named Setau also left their marks on the Temple of Amada.
THE TEMPLE OF AMADA TODAY
One thing that visitors to the Temple of Amada must try to do is avoid judging the book by its cover. The structure itself is quite small and unimposing. In fact, it was small enough that it was able to be relocated from its original location in a single piece! The French team dedicated to saving the Temple of Amada designed a system of rails and hydraulics that allowed them to lift and then transport the entire structure to a new home a few miles away.
Though the outer walls have degraded over the centuries, and though originally designed with a pylon, forecourt, vestibule and portico as well as the sanctuary, it is a spare structure that only hints at what it once was.
However, step inside, and you begin to see why experts were so determined to save it. It has a hypostyle hall with 12 pillars that take you into the interior chapels of Amun-Re and Re-Harakhty. Though some interior walls are as faded and even as crumbling as the exterior walls, there are also some astonishing reliefs and paintings. These are in the inner chambers of the Temple of Amada and depict pharaohs Thutmose III and his son Amenhotep II making offerings to the gods and participating in different Pharaonic rituals.
They are considered to be some of the finest reliefs discovered, and their colors are surprisingly vibrant for a temple of this age. Many believe this is due to the fact that the space was used as a church and the Nubian Christians had actually plastered over the reliefs in the past, actually preserving what they sought to hide!
There are also several important inscriptions at the temple, and both relate to battles undertaken by the pharaohs. They are thought to be particularly brutal and violent, but significant for the insight they offer into the ways that foes were fought and the role of the pharaoh in battle. The first is on a stele outside of the entrance and emphasizing the failed Libyan invasion around 1209 BCE. The second is another stele at the rear wall of the sanctuary and it explains the military campaigns of Amenhotep II into far away Palestine around 1424 BCE. It is believed they were placed there to “impress upon the Nubians that political opposition to the powerful Egyptians was useless.”
MAKE SURE TO PAY A VISIT TO THE TEMPLE OF AMADA
Located around 12 miles south of the famous Wadi el-Seboua site, and over 100 miles south of the Aswan High Dam, a visit to the Amada temple is often part of a Lake Nasser cruise or a day trip from Aswan. You can arrive via your cruise ship or hire a private transport to the area. One thing you will certainly want when paying a visit to this amazingly old site is the help of a knowledgeable guide. Though it is a small site, it is incredibly significant, and someone who can help you understand those famous inscriptions and the unique structural elements of the building is an invaluable part of the trip.
While there, you are just a few steps from another relocated temple, the Temple of Derr, a rock cut wonder built by the famous Ramses II. Built to actually help the Nubians assimilate into Egyptian life under the rule of the pharaoh, it was part of the Nubian capital city and is an excellent addition to your explorations in Egypt.
There is an admission fee for the site, and if you are part of an organized tour, it may be incorporated into the price. The admission fee to the Amada temple may also include access to the Temple of Derr, but you will want to confirm this at the time of your visit.
Located far south of the Aswan High Dam, it can be very hot in the region around the temple. Be sure to have water and sun block, wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing, and be prepared to see some of the most beautifully preserved reliefs and paintings of any Nubian monument in existence.