Kom Ombo is an industrial town 45km north of Aswan. Its classical name was Ombos, its ancient name, Nebet, and it was strategically placed between Edfu and Aswan as a garrison town on an important trading route. The Ptolemaic temple and ancient town site is a few kilometres from the modern town on a promontory on the east bank of the Nile.
The temple is very unusual. It was dedicated to two triads of deities, each with their own associated chambers and sanctuaries. On the eastern side of the temple, the crocodile god Sobek (Suchos/Seth), is honoured with his wife who is here named as Hathor and their son Khonsu. On the west side, Haroeris or ‘Horus the Elder’ (Harwer) is accompanied by his wife Hathor-ta-sent-nefert and their son Panebtawy (Lord of the Two Lands). It is likely that there were also two separate priesthoods who tended the deities.
The main entrance pylon has now been destroyed, but entering through a portal at the southeast the visitor comes into a large court with remains of a Roman columned portico which still has good colour in some places on the walls. In the centre of the court stands the base of an altar with granite basins on either side which may have been used to catch ritual libations.
The main part of the temple was probably begun by Ptolemy VI Philometor, as his is the earliest name recorded. The first hypostyle hall, behind typical Ptolemaic pillars and screen walls, has ornate floral columns with well-preserved ritual scenes on the walls. Ptolemy VIII Neos Dionysos, is shown on the right hand side making offerings to four mythical beasts. It was Ptolemy VII Auletes and Ptolemy VIII who completed the decoration of the hypostyle halls. Other Ptolemies and Romans also contributed to various parts of the temple. In the second hypostyle there is a Greek inscription which records details of troops stationed in the area during the time of Ptolemy VII and his queen Cleopatra II.
Three antechambers behind the second hypostyle are almost destroyed, but led to the twin sanctuaries of Sobek and Haroeris, with their associated cult chambers on either side. Between the two sanctuaries was a hidden chamber thought to be where the priest acting as the ‘Oracle’ would be concealed. There are underground tunnels and crypts leading to this and other chambers. The sanctuaries themselves are in very poor condition, but the pedestals on which the gods’ sacred barques would have rested still remain.
A passageway runs around the outside of the main temple building similar to other temples of this period, with a staircase leading to the roof. On the inside of the enclosure wall at the rear of the temple is a famous relief depicting what many scholars have suggested are surgical instruments. Other suggestions are that they are veterinary instruments or ritual implements.
In the centre of the opposite wall is an unusual false door showing both Sobek and Haroeris with their cult sceptres. Sobek’s sign of power is a lion-headed wand, while Haroeris has a curious knife with legs. In the false door there is an oracle niche with ‘hearing ears’ and ‘sacred eyes’, through which the priests would deliver oracles to the people waiting outside the main part of the temple. Above them the winged goddess Ma’at, holds up the sky. Throughout the temple the two gods share cosmic power on an equal basis, each in their own side of the central axis.
Back in the forecourt to the right of the temple entrance is a small chapel of Hathor where those who are not too squeamish can see the stored remains of a mummified crocodile and some clay crocodile coffins, which were excavated from a nearby animal cemetery. Crocodiles, which were sacred to Sobek, were thought to be bred in a small pool on the western side of the temple. Here you can also see remains of a very deep well with a circular staircase and a nilometer. Remains of a birth-house is situated at the northwest corner beyond the wall of the court and a portal of Ptolemy VII is at the northeast corner.
There is now a very good crocodile museum in the precinct of Kom Ombo Temple.
There is an ancient mound or town site close to the temple at Kom Ombo.
How to get there
Most people visit Kom Ombo as part of a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. It is also possible to get there by taxi from Aswan or Luxor. A local bus from Aswan to Luxor also stops at Kom Ombo, as does the Cairo to Aswan tourist train. Feluccas may also stop at Kom Ombo Temple on a Luxor to Aswan trip. Tickets for the temple cost LE30 which includes entrance to the crocodile museum.