The Temple of Hibis is the largest and best-preserved ancient Egyptian temple in the Kharga Oasis and the only structure in Egypt dating to the Saite-Persian period (664–404 BCE) down to modern times in relatively good condition. Located about 2 km north of Kharga, it was devoted to a syncretism of two local forms of the deity Amun: “Amun of Hibis” and “Amun-Ra of Karnak who dwells in Hibis”.
Alternatively, historians think that ancient Egyptians dedicated it to Amun and Osiris; its sanctuary contains depictions of hundreds of Egyptian deities.
Location of the Temple of Hibis
Temple of Hibis is located about 2 Km north of the Kharga oasis, Genah, New Valley Governorate.
The temple of Hibis was once surrounded by the city of Hibis (Egyptian: Hebet, meaning “the plough”), which nowadays lies under the crops. Archaeological evidence suggests that an older temple was already present in the same place, dating back to the New Kingdom. Construction of the temple started during the 26th Dynasty, most likely under Pharaoh Psamtik II, or possibly even earlier, during the 25th Dynasty. Several decades after Psamtik II, during the 27th Dynasty, the Achaemenid pharaoh Darius I took a particularly active part in its building, being credited with decorating the walls. Later, several other rulers made additions or decorations here, such as Hakor of the 29th Dynasty, notably Nectanebo I and Nectanebo II of the 30th Dynasty, possibly Ptolemy IV (Ptolemaic Dynasty), and at least one Roman emperor.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York organised the first excavation campaign, which took place from 1909 to 1911. A more recent one, led by Eugene Cruz-Uribe, began in 1985.
The temple bears a close resemblance – both architecturally and regarding inscribed texts – to Theban temples of the New Kingdom and the Ptolemaic period, yet it differs from both because of some peculiarities, such as the rather bold style of the decorations.
A long hallway lined with sphinxes crosses a series of pylons and goes into the proper temple. A lake, now long-gone, initially surrounded this. The hypostyle hall has its walls shaped like huge papyrus rolls, bearing various decorations and several hymns dedicated to the deity Amun, many known since earlier times. Among the decorations, notable is a depiction of Seth defeating Apep, a theme believed by some art historians to foreshadow Saint George and the Dragon.
The walls and the roof are dedicated to the Theban theology and Osiris, respectively. At the same time, the naos is subdivided into nine registers, fully decorated with a pantheon of Egyptian deities and royal figures, for a total of almost 700 figures. The king is depicted at the beginning of each record while performing a ritual; the Egyptian nomoi are also present, each represented in an Osirian form. In stark contrast with the richness of these representations, the accompanying inscriptions are brief when not absent at all.
The relatively good preservation of the Temple of Hibis may be attributed to its seclusion. However, the building has been endangered for several decades by a rise of groundwater damaging its foundations. The Egyptian Antiquities Service considered a complete dismantling and relocation of the whole temple.