Archaeologists Find Largest Ancient Egyptian Temple to Date in Sinai

Ran Shapira
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Ran Shapira

Archaeologists have discovered the largest ancient Egyptian temple ever to be found in the Sinai Peninsula.

This is the latest find at a dig near the Egyptian town of Rafah, 40 kilometers east of the Suez Canal in northern Sinai. Three other temples and 15 guard towers have already been found there.

The most recent discovery, a 70-by-80 meter mud brick building, was originally surrounded by a three-meter wall.

The temples are decorated with colorful illustrations of Egyptian gods such as Horus, and are believed to date from the 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom, founded by Pharaoh Ahmose I in the 16th century B.C.E.

They are located in a 3,000 year-old city close to the ancient kingdom's Horus Route, which passed through northern Sinai, connecting Egypt to Gaza and Canaan (now Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and parts of Jordan and Syria).

The god Horus, depicted with a human body and the head of a hawk, was a key Egyptian religious figure.

Egyptian rulers used the road in their military campaigns against Canaan and Mesopotamia. According to various sources, fortresses and weapons depots were built along the route to serve soldiers heading north.

One such source is a wall painting in the Karnak Temple in Luxor, which depicts 11 fortresses in northern Sinai.

The fortified city where the temples were found is the fifth to be found along the Horus Route. The architect in charge of the dig, Mohammed Abdel Maksoud, said that the discovery, particularly the large temple, was likely to change how researchers understood the military importance ancient Egyptian rulers ascribed to the Sinai Peninsula.

The temple contains four corridors, three stone purification basins, and colorful inscriptions dedicated to the memories of the pharaohs Ramses I and II, known for their military campaigns.

Intended to impress

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's antiquities authority, told reporters that the magnificence of the temple might have been intended to impress foreign armies and diplomatic delegations sent by neighboring rulers.

Hawass added that earlier studies on the site raised the conjecture that the city housed Egyptian army headquarters from the period of the New Dynasty (1569-1081 B.C.E.) until the beginning of the Ptolemaic period. This period encompasses when the Israelite tribes entered the area, through the invasion by Alexander the Great.

Researchers had earlier reported their find of the first New Kingdom temple in north Sinai, built on top of an 18th dynasty (1569-1315) fort.

Last year relief portraits of Ramses II and Seti I (1314-1304 B.C.E.) were discovered there, as well as military warehouses for grain and weapons.