Conservators working in the Temple of Khnum in Esna, Upper Egypt, have uncovered new details of the building’s colourful ceiling frescoes. Construction on the temple began in the Ptolemaic period and continued into the Roman period, with decoration completed during the reign of Emperor Decius (r. AD 249-251). The temple’s walls and ceilings are covered with brilliantly coloured paintings, but over time these have been obscured by layers of soot, dust, and dirt. Since 2018, researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities have been working on a project to uncover the building’s decorations and reveal their original vibrant colours.
The temple’s visible paintings, reliefs, and inscriptions were documented by French Egyptologist Serge Sauneron in the 1950s, but the recent restoration work has exposed a series of 46 previously unknown depictions of two deities – Upper Egyptian vulture-goddess Nekhbet and Lower Egyptian serpent-goddess Wadjet – in the centre of the ceiling. The goddesses are depicted as birds with outspread wings, and are distinguishable by their heads: a vulture wearing the crown of Upper Egypt for Nekhbet (centre of the image), and a cobra with the crown of Lower Egypt for Wadjet (bottom).
So far, more than half of the ceiling, the two central architraves, and eight of the temple’s 18 columns have been cleaned, conserved, and documented. In the future, the project intends to complete conservation of the whole structure, as well as carrying out translations of the inscriptions, and studying the connections between these inscriptions and the images inside the temple.
Text: Amy Brunskill
Image: Ahmed Amin/© Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA)
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