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Abydos is the Greek name of the ancient Egyptian name (Abdju). Abdju was the great necropolis of Thini. Thini, the capital city of the 16th nome of Upper Egypt, held a great position during the Predynastic period. Mena, from Thini, united Upper and Lower Egypt in one kingdom in about 3200 BC and founded the first Egypt Dynasty.

Abydos in the Archaic Period

Mena was forced due to political issues to build his capital at the apex of the Delta, (Memphis), but he and his successors built their tombs in Abydos, near their home, Thini. Some of Mena’s successors also built mastaba tombs in Saqqara, as well as having their tombs in Abydos. But in which place were buried is a question.

It seems the earlier rulers were buried at Abydos because their tombs are surrounded by graves of their families, courtiers, servants, and pet dogs. Kings of the 3rd Dynasty began to build step pyramids in Saqqara, though some of them continued to erect mastaba at Abydos.

It seems the royal tombs at Abydos contained great wealth. Some of the valuable things left behind the plunderers. In the tomb of King Djer, Petrie’s workmen found a mummified human arm still wearing three beautiful bracelets of gold and semi-precious stones. They also found a false fringe of curls; it is made from real human hair.

Every important tomb in ancient Egypt had several priests to perform the rites of the mortuary cult. Naturally, these men and their families liked to live as near as possible to the scene of their labors, so a little town was created on the edge of the desert, and temples were built for the worship of the gods.

The earliest temple discovered was dedicated to the Jackal God, Wepwawat, the protector of the necropolis of Abydos. A few traces of it remain at the modern village of Kom El-Sultan. Ivory offerings were found by Peterie’s expedition at this place.

Abydos during the Old Kingdom

Senferu, the father of the pyramids in ancient Egypt, father of Khufu, built for himself three gigantic pyramids, the first at Meidum, and two at Dahshur, one of them is the first true pyramid in history. The tradition of building pyramids at the Memphite necropolis was continued by Senferu’s successors. Abydos was no longer in favor as a site for royal tombs, but these great rulers did not entirely neglect the ancient place. The Horus-name of Senferu appears in the old temple site, and the only statue so far known of Khufu was found at Kom El-Sultan. The presence of this votive figure in the temple site, suggests that Khufu must have made some additions to that building, and this gives the lie to the later tradition repeated by Herodotus, which said that Khufu was a selfish, impious king, who closed the temples and forbade the Egyptians to worship the gods.

The little township of Abydos was steadily growing larger as the importance of its temple increased. More and more people were coming to live there; a new cult was arising, the cult of Osiris.

Kings of the 5th Dynasty were great supporters of Re, the sun god. But Abydos was rapidly increasing in importance. These kings followed the traditions of their predecessors and make some additions to the temple of Abydos, as well as issuing decrees safeguarding the interests of the priests and the temple estates. A decree issued by king Neferirkare was addressed to the chief priest or the normach. A copy of this document was engraved on stone and placed in the temple, where it was discovered by Peterie’s expedition in the ruins of Kom El-Sultan.

By the time of the 6th Dynasty (2423 BC), Abydos was firmly established as one of the most important cult centers in Egypt. The most important center of Osiris and the reputed site of his burial. It had long been the goal of an obligatory pilgrimage. King Tety, the first king of the 6th Dynasty, decreed that “this land is preserved for Khenti-Amentiu”.

Tety’s successor, Pepi I, married two ladies, sisters of the noble Zau, who was the Nomarch of the Thini Nome. Both of them bore a son to their joint husband. The elder boy, Merenre, succeeded his father, but died young, and was followed by his little brother, who at the age of four years became King Pepi II, and ruled for about 100 years, the longest reign in ancient Egypt. Certainly, Pepi II built or rebuilt the ancient temple on a far grander scale.

Abydos during the First Intermediate Period

It is certain that Egypt was once again split up into several petty kingdoms. Certainly, no great monuments were built during this period, but we have some tombs dating from it in Abydos, showing that the place had still retained its ancient sanctity.

Abydos during the Middle Kingdom

Egypt emerged from the chaos and was united again by Amenemhat I, who founded the 12th Dynasty, one of the most glorious periods of Egyptian history.

By now the importance of Abydos was finally established. A great fortified palace guarded the necropolis, now known as Shunet Ez-Zabib (the storehouse of Raisins). The ancient temple of Osiris at Kom El-Sultan was enlarged and embellished, and a new necropolis, crowded with tombs and cenotaphs, sprang up in the surrounding desert. The temple of Osiris entirely was renewed by Amenemhat III (1849-1801 BC).

The famous “Miracle Play” of Osiris was now being performed at Abydos on the occasion of the annual pilgrimage, and at this time also, the tomb of Osiris was located at the western side of the plain. In reality, this tomb was the mastaba of King Djer of the First Dynasty, but the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom seem to have confused the reading of his name with that Khenty-Amentiu, one of the epithets of Osiris. As time passed, a veritable mountain of offering pots accumulated over the tomb, and today the site is known as “Umm El-Ga’ab” the “mother of Pot-Sherds”.

By this time (Middle Kingdom) kings began again to erect cenotaphs for themselves in the holy city. King Senusert III (1887-1849 BC) built a splendid tomb and mortuary temple in the southern end of the necropolis. This was almost certainly a cenotaph, as he seems to have been actually buried in his large brick pyramid at Dahshur.

Egypt was invaded by the Hyksos for about 150 years, and Abydos was neglected as the other religious centers. Nevertheless, the cult of Osiris continued, and people still built their modest tombs in the great necropolis which had retained its sacred reputation.

Ahmes I (1580-1557 BC), the hero who freed Egypt from the Hyksos, built himself a splendid tomb in Abydos. He also added to the ancient temples of Osiris at Kom El-Sultan.

Abydos during the New Kingdom

Amenhotep I (1557-1547 BC) built monuments in Abydos in honor of his grandparents. Tuthmosis III (1501-1447 BC) added a lot to the ancient Temple of Osiris.

Abydos was to receive its glory during the 19th Dynasty. Pharaoh Sety I built a magnificent temple for the gods of Abydos, this masterpiece of Egyptian arts and architecture is still the glory of Abydos and the goal of visitors from all parts of the world. Sety I also built here a temple for his father, Ramses I, and a palace for himself, called “Heart Ease in Abydos”. Most of Seti’s monuments were unfinished at the time of his death and were completed by his son, Ramses II, who also built a temple there to the honor of Osiris.

Abydos continued to flourish during the 19th and the 20th Dynasties and Ramses III (1198-1167 BC) made great offerings to the Temple of Osiris. Ramses III was succeeded by kings who neglected Abydos.

When Egypt was divided again to Upper and Lower Egypt by the end of the 20th Dynasty, Abydos remained the coveted place of burial, apparently, the cemeteries were no longer so well guarded as of yore, and some of the tombs were plundered.

Abydos during the Saitic Period

The 26th Dynasty (663-525 BC) ushered in a new period of prosperity and settled government for Egypt. The land was again united under the rule of a powerful house, and the seat of government was located at Sais in the Delta. But there was a tendency to look backward to the great days of the past, and in art, religion, and daily life, there was a conscious effort to revive the old styles, traditions, and institutions. The rulers of the 26th Dynasty brought some prosperity to the holy city of Abydos again after some neglect.

The Saitic Period was the time when the cults of certain sacred animals began to gain some prominence, and Abydos, had a flourishing canine cemetery, while the old fortress, now called Shunet Ez-Zabib, was being used as a burial ground for the sacred ibis.

Abydos during the Greco-Roman Period

Abydos remained in its holy nature during the Greco-Roman Period and was visited and described by Strabo and other classical authors. The beautiful Temple of Sety I had gained the reputation of sufferers from all parts of the ancient world foregathered there.

These sufferers have recorded their presence by scratching or writing graffiti on the walls, and many of these humble records still remain. When at last the ancient Egyptian religion was forcibly abolished in favor of Christianity, Abydos became a Coptic stronghold.

Let us arrange you an unforgettable day trip to Dendera and Abydos from Luxor, or from Hurghada, or from your cruise ship at Port Safaga.