Construction of the Temple of Horus at Behkdet was completed in 57 BCE. The final decorations included dozens of royal cartouches that remain blank to this day, offering evidence of the continued internecine struggles of the Ptolemies that only ended with the death of Cleopatra VII twenty-seven years later. Other additions to the embellishments of Edfu, as the temple is now called, document the changing fortunes of the temple.
Sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries of the modern era, the Egyptian priests abandoned their temple and Christians took possession of the buildings. Their graffiti includes Coptic crosses and the words “Jesus is Lord” which can still be seen today.
After the Arab Conquest in 640, the building became public property and served predominantly as the town garbage dump. This helps explain the unique preservation of its decorations, having been buried for over a millennium by tons of trash. There is Arabic graffiti dating back as far as the 11th century.
Napoleon’s troops – who were said to have come to a halt and saluted spontaneously upon first catching sight of the temple during their march through Upper Egypt – also left dozens of French graffito, mostly on the two great pylons. Ultimately the site was thoroughly excavated in the 1870’s by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.
Today, the Temple of Horus looms over the modern town of Edfu where it remains the most perfectly preserved monument from any period of ancient Egyptian history.
The temple has been thoroughly documented in the magisterial series, Le Temple d’Edfou. The publication of the vast texts and scenes covering nearly every square inch of the temple is one of the most ambitious publication projects ever attempted.
Originally begun by Le Marquis de Rochemonteix in 1876, work was stopped by his early death and the project was not restarted until 1897 by the French Egyptologist Emile Chassinat. It is Chassinat who was primarily responsible for the thirteen volumes that appeared through 1934. Between 1984 and 1987 Sylvie Cauville and Didier Devauchelle published corrected versions of the first two volumes and added an additional book of texts, photos, and drawings bringing the total number of books in the series to fifteen. Volume nine was never published as a single entity but appeared in serial form, minus a group of drawings that were lost by the publisher during the war years.
The complete collection of all fifteen volumes, including volume nine, painstakingly reassembled over many years by Egyptologist Charles Van Siclen III, is in the permanent library of edfu2.