The temple of Seti I, also known as the Great Temple of Abydos, is one of the main historical sites in Abydos. The temple was built by pharaoh Seti I. At the rear of the temple, there is the Osireion.
The temple is also notable for the Abydos graffiti and ancient Phoenician and Aramaic graffiti found on the temple walls.
Location of the Temple of Seti I
The temple of Seti I is situated in Abydos, one of Ancient Egypt’s most important archaeological sites. On the other hand, 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 centre to worship the god Osiris. It is also where the cults of the deified kings of ancient Egypt were celebrated.
Pioneer archaeologist Flinders Petrie described the temple. The temple was documented in 1933 in a four-volume series entitled The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos. The books were primarily devoted to the exceptional copies of the temple’s wall paintings done by Ms Amice Calverley.
Abydos King List
The long list of the pharaohs of the principal dynasties—recognised by Seti—is carved on a wall and known as the “Abydos King List”. There were notable names deliberately left off of the list. As an almost complete list of pharaoh names, the Table of Abydos, rediscovered by William John Bankes, has been called the “Rosetta Stone” of Egyptian archaeology, analogous to the Rosetta Stone for Egyptian writing beyond the Narmer Palette.
The “helicopter” image results from the carved stone being re-used over time. The initial carving was made during the reign of Seti I and translated to “He who repulses the nine [enemies of Egypt]”. This carving was later filled in with plaster and re-carved during the reign of Ramesses II with the title “He who protects Egypt and overthrows the foreign countries”. Over time, the plaster has eroded, leaving both inscriptions partially visible and creating a palimpsest-like effect of overlapping hieroglyphs.
Dorothy Louise Eady, also known as Omm Sety (16 January 1904 – 21 April 1981), was the keeper of the Temple of Seti I in Abydos.
The temple of Seti I has a unique 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 by his son, Ramesses II, whose cartouches are found in certain parts of the temple, along with his characteristic sunk relief style, which is different from the excellent raised relief of his father.
The First Open Court
The entrance to the temple is located in the northeast and is through a large pylon, now destroyed, leading into the first open court, which is also severely damaged. A stairway ramp on the central 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. Ramesses II decorated the courtyards with scenes from the battle of Qadesh and 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 those in the first hypostyle hall. This hall is beautifully decorated with scenes of Seti I kneeling before the gods.
second hypostyle hall
The second hypostyle hall leads to seven chapels dedicated to seven gods: the deified form of Seti I, Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. The state of completion of these shrines indicates they were among the first areas in the temple to be decorated and were, therefore, completed before the death of Seti I. 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.
In ancient Egyptian religion, the living king represented Horus on earth, and when he died, he became Osiris, ruler of the netherworld. 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 dedicated to the gods Osiris, his consort, Isis, and their son, Horus. 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. The rituals transformed the deceased king, Seti I, into the god Osiris, with whom deceased Egyptian kings were identified. A procession of priests would then visit the seven chapels, reaching the small chapel of Osiris.