Temple of Satet

Temple of Satet

The Temple of Satet or Satis is an ancient Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Satet, a personification of the Nile inundation. Founded during the late Predynastic Period around 3200 BC, it was enlarged and renovated several times from the Early Dynastic Period onwards over the next 3000 years until the Ptolemaic Period. The temple of Satet is the best example of an ancient Egyptian temple whose construction is attested over the entire pharaonic period.

Location of the Temple of Satet

The Temple of Satet was located on the Nile Valley island of Elephantine, to the north of the Temple of Khnum, which was only recently restored by the German Archaeological Institute under Dr Gunter Dryer.

Earliest times to first intermediate period

The earliest temple was built c. 3200 BC and was little more than a cultic niche lodged between three large natural granite boulders. This earliest temple was tiny, housing a sanctuary of about 2 m × 2 m (6.6 ft × 6.6 ft) made of mud bricks. There were some mud-brick houses in front of the sanctuary on the Eastside. The temple was enlarged during the 1st and 2nd Dynasties and rebuilt during the Third Dynasty, but its old plan was kept. Some granaries were added on the Southside outside the niche between the boulders. The temple was again rebuilt during the Fifth Dynasty, possibly under Nyuserre Ini, at which point the sanctuary located at the centre of the rock niche was enlarged. In front of it was a forecourt, about 5 m × 5 m (16 ft × 16 ft) in size, which was surrounded by an open walkway. A deposit of votive offerings was discovered under the floor of the sanctuary. These were dedicated to the goddess over a few hundred years during the Old Kingdom by royal and private individuals and comprised mainly of small faience figures showing humans and animals. Beyond that, granaries and a mud-brick administrative building were located on the Southside.

Pepi I, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, ordered once more rebuilding of the temple. The old plan was kept, but the brick walls were enlarged, and a granite sanctuary for the goddess’ statue was added. By this time, the god Khnum was also worshipped in the temple.

Middle Kingdom

Towards the end of the First Intermediate Period, the Theban king Intef III renovated the temple in the early Eleventh Dynasty. The central chapel was left at its original place between the three natural boulders. The hall which stood in front of the chapel was paved and decorated with limestone slabs for the first time.

The temple was mainly made of mudbricks, with only the most important walls lined with decorated limestone blocks. Shortly after, Mentuhotep II did further modifications to the temple, building an entirely new sanctuary. He added new inscriptions and, on the Northside, a columned courtyard and a lake part of an installation to celebrate the Nile flood, which the Ancient Egyptians believed, started in Elephantine.

Less than 100 years later, early in the subsequent dynasty, pharaoh Senusret I replaced Mentuhotep’s structure with a new temple and courtyard. While all earlier buildings followed the same layout and used mudbricks exclusively, the new temple was made in limestone. By this time, the temple level was above the rock niche of the Old Kingdom. However, the main sanctuary was built directly over the old one, keeping the old tradition. The temple of Senusret I was fully decorated, but only a few fragments of the decoration survived; these include the remains of a long inscription of the king. At the same time, the god Khnum was given his separate temple on the island. The temple of Satet was initially adorned with many statues, among which is a statue of the Thirteenth Dynasty king Amenemhat V that bears a dedication to the goddess:

The good god, lord of the two lands, lord of the ceremonies, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Sekhemkare, the son of Ra Amenemhat, beloved of Satet, lady of Elephantine, may he live forever.

Another statue once adorning the temple belongs to king Senusret III. There is also a dyad of king Sobekemsaf I adoring the goddess that was undoubtedly once in the temple. Indeed, even though these statues were all discovered in the nearby sanctuary of the local saint Heqaib, according to their inscriptions, they must originally have been in the temple of Satet.

The New Kingdom and later times

During the New Kingdom period, the temple was built anew under queen Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC) in the early 18th Dynasty and further enlarged by her successor, Thutmose III. The temple was then a solid rectangular building, some 15.9 m × 9.52 m (52.2 ft × 31.2 ft) in size, surrounded by a 20.10 m × 13.52 m (65.9 ft × 44.4 ft) walkway that had seven × ten pillars on the outside. The sanctuary of the new temple was placed directly over the sanctuary of the older periods. The New Kingdom temple kept the ancient tradition of the sanctuary’s place. There are indications for further construction work during the 26th Dynasty (664–525 BC), but very little of that building has survived. Several blocks of a gateway that was once about 7.35 m (24.1 ft) high led to a brick enclosure wall, the latter perhaps once belonging to the temple. Shortly before the Persian conquest of Egypt, pharaoh Amasis II (570–526 BC) added a colonnade or kiosk to the temple. Six limestone columns and screen walls were found.

A new temple was built under Ptolemy VI (180–145 BC). It was again a rectangular building. There was the main sanctuary at the back on the Westside; in front of it, there was a broad hall, and in front of the latter, two other smaller halls, with smaller rooms leading from them on the short sides. In front of the new temple was erected a free-standing kiosk. The sanctuary was no longer built over the place of the Old Kingdom sanctuary. It seems that the location and its importance were forgotten. Ptolemy VIII (182–116 BC) finally added a pronaos to the temple with two by four columns.


One of the two best-preserved nilometers is associated with the Temple of Satis.