(in co-operation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities (MoA) Cairo,
Dr. Hisham El-Leithy and Mustafa Ahmed)
The temple (or pronaos) of Esna, whose construction and decoration began in the Ptolemaic Period and continued into the Roman Period, is one of the six major surviving temples of the Graeco-Roman Period (ca. 332 BCE - 350 CE), the others are Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Dendara, and Athribis.
The inscriptions of the temple were published by Serge Sauneron, the former director of the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo (Ifao), in his series "Esna" as volumes II-IV and VI between 1963 and 1975 (volume VII was published posthumously in 2009). These meticulously edited volumes set a new publication standard for that time. After his untimely death in a car accident in 1976, work on the temple at Esna has largely been suspended.
A few years ago the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities launched a conservation project with the aim to remove the century-old layers of soot, dust, and dirt. This initiative formed the nucleus of the current project. By removing these layers the original colour of the decorations was again brought to light (Fig. 3 and 4).
The edition of Sauneron does not provide any photographs, which, at that time, would have been an expensive endeavour and also made little sense without previous restoration of the temple walls.
These two topics are the starting point for the newly launched project, which forms a co-operation with two departments of the Ministry of Antiquities (MoA) in Cairo. One department is the Documentation Center under the direction of Dr. Hisham El-Leithy, which is planning a complete photographic documentation of the temple. The other is the Department of Conservation under the direction of Mustafa Ahmed, which had already started conservation work on the temple walls. Both areas, conservation and documentation, are indispensable for an extensive and state of the art examination of the temple’s inscriptions and iconography. The pronaos of Esna will thus be the first of the Graeco-Roman temples whose philological and iconographical elements will be analysed together comprehensively on a large scale.
A first joint mission in Esna took place in December 2018, during which a full photographical documentation of the exterior walls was launched. We intend first to publish a volume of the photographic documentation of the scenes and inscriptions of the exterior wall (volume Esna VII). This volume will also include the results of the text collation efforts which were carried out at the same time. Conservation efforts were continued on the northern interior wall, exposing and recovering the ancient colouration. Additionally, work began on cleaning and restoring the astronomical decoration on the ceiling (Travée A).
Three subsequent campaigns in 2019 and early 2020, allowed us to conclude the conservation work in Travée A as well as that on column 7 and begin work on the ceiling of area Travée B. Brief reports of the first results appeared in Egyptian Archaeology 55 (2019) 20–23 and Ancient Egypt 125 (2021) 13–21.
Fig. 8a-b: Travée A (Esna IV, 399), detail
Fig. 9a-b: Architrave A, inscription on north side (Esna IV, 405), detail
(Photos: Ahmed Amin)