The Hibis temple is oriented along an east-west axis and consists of a pylon, open court, pillared hall and sanctuary. The temple would have originally also had a lake and boat quay along its eastern side. The lake would have allowed access to the temple for festival purposes. Today the first thing a visitor encounters at the temple is the outer or Roman gate that contains several Greek inscriptions. The most important one is the decree that was by the Roman governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander during the second year of the reign of Emperor Galba (69AD). The decree outlines the raising of taxes, the state of Kharga’s economy and the oasis’ system of administration. It was this gate that was moved from the old location to the new location.
After the outer gate is a sphinx avenue, then a Ptolemaic gate, then a Persian gate that dates to the reign of King Darius I. The Persian gate is followed by the open court, which dates to the Thirtieth Dynasty during the reigns of Nectanbeo I and II. The court bears inscriptions and offerings scenes dedicated to different gods and goddesses. After the open court is the pillared hall that contains 12 pillars from the reign of Achoris (Twenty-ninth Dynasty). At the back of the pillared hall is a smaller rectangular room that leads to the sanctuary. Inside the sanctuary is a small open court supported by four pillars. Surrounding this court is a series of small rooms, which would have been used for storage of the implements used in the daily temple ritual. The sanctuary of the temple is the oldest and most important part and is decorated with 569 different gods and goddesses. On the northern wall of the sanctuary are the gods and goddesses of Lower Egypt, while the deities of Upper Egypt are depicted on the southern wall. The western wall has a group of deities from Thebes and Heliopolis, including Osiris, Isis and Horus, as well as the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu to which the temple is dedicated. A small chapel on the roof is also dedicated to the god Osiris and to the southwest side of the temple is a mammisi, or birth house.
Beginning in 1909, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was responsible for excavations at the Hibis temple. Their work resulted in three important volumes, which included translations of the inscriptions on the walls. After the Metropolitan Museum left the site, an Egyptian team continued to uncover and record buried parts of the temple until 1986.
The reason that I went for the first time to visit Kharga oasis was because the SCA decided that the Hibis temple had to be moved from its current location, because the soil composition of the land was very weak and the temple was in danger of collapse. Because of this, the SCA began to organize a salvage program that would move the temple to another location 2km away from the original site.
Aerial view of Kharga Oasis (Photo: Kenneth Garrett)
From the first time I visited the site I could see that if the temple was moved it would be destroyed. The reliefs and the stone blocks were badly restored in the past and were very fragile. I sat down with the architects and engineers who wanted to move the temple and they explained to me two main reasons why they wanted to move the temple:
1. In order to keep the temple in its current location, the area would need extensive work to be consolidated.
2. They were afraid that the surrounding agricultural area would continue to encroach on the temple and it would be ruined.
However, several other engineers believed that the temple could be restored in its current location and that to prevent far more extensive damage it should definitely not be moved. Unfortunately, the first gate of the temple had already been cut and moved! We immediately wrote to the Minister of Culture and stopped the work under his decree. I still think that this is one of the best decisions I ever made as Secretary General. Today the temple is beautifully restored and remains in its original location. To avoid problems from the surrounding agricultural fields, the SCA bought all the land around the temple to provide a safe zoning area. We are in the process of lighting