The Temple of Seti I in Abydos

Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, Reign of Seti I (1290-1279 BC)(temple completed by his son, Ramesses II, 1279-1213 BC)

Material: Limestone 

Location: Abydos 

The temple of Seti I is situated in Abydos, one of the most important archaeological sites of Ancient Egypt. Abydos is located in Upper Egypt, about 10 km from the Nile River. It was a necropolis for Egypt’s earliest kings and later became a pilgrimage center for the worship of the god Osiris. It is also where the cults of the deified kings of ancient Egypt were celebrated.

The temple of Seti I has an unusual L-shaped ground plan and was built primarily of limestone, with the occasional use of sandstone in different areas throughout the structure. The temple was completed after Seti I’s death, by his son, Ramesses II, whose cartouches are found in certain parts of the temple, along with his characteristic sunk relief style, that is different from the very fine raised relief of his father. 

The entrance to the temple is located on the northeast and is through a large pylon, now destroyed, leading into the first open court, which is also badly damaged. A stairway ramp on the main axis of the temple leads to a raised terrace with a pillared hall that, in turn, leads to the second court through three entrances at the back of the hall. The courtyards were decorated by Ramesses II with scenes from the battle of Qadesh and of the king offering to the gods. Another staircase ramp leads to a raised terrace containing the covered part of the temple. A pillared portico forms the facade and seven gates, all but the central one of which were closed by Ramesses II, lead to the first hypostyle hall. The hall has twelve pairs of sandstone papyrus columns with bud capitals. Another seven gates give access to the second hypostyle hall, which has thirty-six columns similar to the ones in the first hypostyle hall. This hall is beautifully decorated with scenes of Seti I kneeling before the gods. 

The second hypostyle hall leads to seven chapels dedicated to seven gods, namely: the deified form of Seti I, Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. The state of completion of these shrines indicates they they were among the first areas in the temple to be decorated, and were, therefore, completed prior to Seti I’s death. These chapels are decorated with scenes of the king offering to the gods and of him receiving the symbols of life and dominion, as well as royal insignia, in return. These scenes would have been complemented by the rituals that would have been performed by priests within the chapels’ walls, that served to transform the king into the god of death and resurrection, Osiris. 

The Osiris chapel leads into a transverse area devoted to the cult of Osiris that includes two halls and two sets of chapels. The three small chapels to the right of the first hall are devoted to the gods Osiris; his consort, Isis, and their son, Horus. In ancient Egyptian religion, the living king represented Horus on earth, and when he died he became Osiris, ruler of the netherworld. Beyond these three chapels is a secret chamber with two pillars that could only be accessed by the highest priests, for it was where the mysteries of Osiris were enacted. 

The temple’s southern extension contains more chapels, including those of the gods Ptah-Sokar and Nefertem, the “Hall of the Barques (where the barques used to carry the statues of the gods during ceremonies were kept) and the unfinished “Hall of the Butchers” (the temple slaughterhouse). The so-called “Gallery of the Ancestors”, which contains the famous Abydos King List, is also located in this section. It is believed that this is where the temple rituals would have started. A procession of priests would then visit the seven chapels,  reaching the small chapel of Osiris. The rituals served to transform the deceased king, Seti I, into the god Osiris, with whom deceased Egyptian kings were identified. 

Further Reading:

Baines, John and Jaromir Malek. Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: The American     University of Cairo Press, 117. 

Brand, Peter J. The Monuments of Seti I: Epigraphic, Historical, and Art   Historical Analysis. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill,  155-173. 

Verner, Miroslav. Temple of the World: Sanctuaries, Cults, and Mysteries of   Ancient Egypt. Cairo; New York: The American University Press, 2013, 363-   368. 

Model courtesy of David Anderson, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse via SketchFab HERE. Also the University’s Archaeology webpage HERE.