Institut für die Kulturen des Alten Orients

The Temple of Esna

(in co-operation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA),
Dr. Hisham El-Leithy and Mustafa Ahmed)

The temple 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 being Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Dendara, and Athribis.

The inscriptions of the pronaos (or columned anterior hall) were published by Serge Sauneron, the then 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 centuries-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 is carried out in cooperation with two departments of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA). 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 that continued into 2023 and is almost completed. First, we intend to publish a volume of the photographic documentation of the scenes and inscriptions of the exterior wall (Esna VII, probably as an IFAO publication). 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).

Several subsequent campaigns between 2019 and 2023, which now also included the columns, allowed us to conclude the conservation work until Travée E on the southern side of the edifice.

Reports of the project's results appeared in Egyptian Archaeology 55 (2019) 20–23, Ancient Egypt 125 (2021) 13–21 and Archäologie in Deutschland, 4/2023 (only in German). See also the press releases of the project from the years 2020, 20222023 (spring) and 2023 (fall), where you can find extensive reports about the ongoing campaigns and an article in the magazine of the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen "attempto!" 55 (2021) 26–30. Another detailed report was recently published in Egyptian Archaeology 63 (2023) 14–18.

In October 2022, Christian Leitz gave a lecture in Luxor about the results of the restoration work. You can watch this presentation here.

The publications of the inscriptions of the pronaos can be downloaded free of charge via the website of the IFAO.


Details before and after restoration

Fig. 6a–b: Abacus of column 1 (Esna IV, 461 N).

Fig. 7a-b: Travée A (Esna IV, 399), detail.


Fig. 8a-b: Architrave A, inscription on the northern side (Esna IV, 405), detail.


Fig. 9a–b: Travée E (Esna IV, 445), detail: Zodiac Sagittarius.

Abb.10a–b: Travée E (Esna IV, 443), detail: hybrid creature.

Sponsored by:

Participating Institutions:

University of Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Christian Leitz, Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen

Documentation Center of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Dr. Hisham El-Leithy, Magdy Shaker, Mohamed Saad, Ahmed Amin, Adham Ahmed, Abdel Hadi, Ahmed Hasan, Khaled Mohamed

Conservation Department of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Mustafa Ahmed, Dr. Gharib Sonbol, Bdawi Sayed Abdelrahim, Ahmed Imam, Mohamed Youssef

Last update: January 9th 2024 (Florian Löffler).