Hibis Temple: A monument to artistic mastery in Egyptian desert

While it is mostly desert and sparsely populated, Kharga contains many sites, which make a day trip not long enough to explore the area.
Sunday 02/12/2018
A general view of the Hibis Temple in Kharga.(Ahmed Megahid)
A general view of the Hibis Temple in Kharga.(Ahmed Megahid)

KHARGA, Egypt - The Temple of Hibis in the Western Desert is the epitome of Egypt’s function through the ages: a melting pot of cultural influences.

Situated in Kharga, one of the five oases of the Western Desert, the largest and best preserved temple in the area is a testimony of ancient Egyptian and Persian artistic mastery. It shows how civilisations can meet and leave wonders for progeny, even after a period of conflict and confrontation.

The temple was constructed during the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt, specifically in the sixth century BC, during the reign of Nectanebo II, the last pharaoh and native ruler of ancient Egypt.

The reign of Nectanebo II ended when the Persians and the Greeks conquered Egypt. Probably the last building erected under direction of the last pharaoh, the Temple of Hibis demonstrates the deep influences of the political changes during and after its construction.

“This is why many historians consider Hibis Temple to be more than just a relic from bygone times,” said Bahgat Ibrahim, director of the Western Egypt Section at the Ministry of Antiquities. “It is a symbol of the political change that swept through Egypt at the time.”

The Temple of Hibis was dedicated to Amun, the most important ancient Egyptian deity; Mut, the mother goddess of ancient Egypt; and Khonsu, the god of the moon. However, it became mostly associated with Amun, who was worshipped by many of Egypt’s pharaohs.

The temple’s walls are full of decorations from classical Theban traditions. The temples of Karnak and Luxor appear to have left their mark or inspired the builders.

Apart from the ancient Egyptian influences, the temple’s walls showcase texts that date to the time of Persian King Darius I (550-487BC). Drawings depicting Darius I while praying in an ancient Egyptian fashion adorn many walls in more evidence of the amalgamation of Egyptian and Persian cultures and mutual artistic influences.

The Persians ruled Egypt during the sixth and fifth centuries BC. Like all the civilisations that reached the land of the pharaohs, Persia left its mark and this is shown in the Temple of Hibis.

Osiris, the god of the underworld and the judge of the dead, is inscribed on the walls of the temple and in ritual scenes.

The temple is full of details and exquisite artistic mastery. It underwent a massive $10 million restoration that started in 2005 and was completed this year.

Kharga Oasis is near the border with Libya, 200km west of the Nile Valley and 550km south of Cairo. It is the largest of the five Western Desert Oases.

While it is mostly desert and sparsely populated, Kharga contains many sites, which make a day trip not long enough to explore the area.

“Those visiting Hibis Temple have a long list of other must-visit sites in Kharga,” said tourism expert Adel Abdel Razik. “Although the journey from Cairo or any other city near the Nile to Kharga can be an arduous one, it is always rewarding.”

The list of must-see sites includes the Necropolis of El Bagawat, among the oldest Christian cemeteries; the Temple of Qasr Dush, a relic of the Roman era; and Ain Umm el-Dabadib, a large settlement that contains a wide range of necropolises.

Many travel companies organise more than one-day tours to the oasis. Packages offered include — apart from visits to sites — camping in the desert because of the lack of hotels in the oasis. Visitors can immerse themselves in traditional Bedouin cuisine.

“These are some of the features that make the visit to Hibis Temple part of a very rich experience,” said Sameh Osman, a tour guide who works in Kharga Oasis. “Those who come here quickly realise that the long journey to the oasis and its attractions is always worth the travel.”

Travel blogger Bernard M. Adams described Hibis as “the finest temple from the Persian period in Egypt, probably because it was buried in sand until the excavators dug it out early during the 20th century.”

Necropolis of El Bagawat in Kharga.(Ahmed Megahid)
Hibis Temple from the inside.(Ahmed Megahid)