The temple of Kom Ombo sits on the shores of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. Kom Ombo means hill of gold, and in ancient times was a path to the gold mines of the Eastern Sahara desert. The temple dates to the Ptolemaic dynasty around 200 BCE and was dedicated to two gods: Horus the Falcon God who flew high and had good eyes and the people worshipped out of love, and Sobek the crocodile god who was low to the earth and the people worshipped out of fear. This double temple was therefore a recognition that we all contain within us good and bad, and the task of humanity is to maintain the correct balance in the universe and in oneself.
Sobek was the god of fertility – the Egyptians saw that female crocodiles lay a multitude of eggs each with each cycle and produce a swarm of offspring. The temple of Kom Ombo became the most important clinic in Egypt for fertility treatment, and many other forms of medicine. Indeed it was at Kom Ombo that Cleopatra gave birth to both of Mark Anthony’s sons. The walls abound with intricate pictures depicting ancient Egyptian medicine, and including images of women nursing babies, giving birth in the two known positions at that time (standing up or using a birthing stool), and even of ejaculation. Beyond this, there are fascinating images of medical instruments and hygiene practices such as the washing of food before it is consumed.
The temple is also filled with other secrets as to the ancient’s practices, beliefs and technical skills. For example, we see signs of silent political protest at the temple showing the Ptolemaic rulers were tolerated rather than loved as true Egyptian Pharaohs, and clearly see the building technique of ‘dovetail joints’ which reveals how such large and sturdy buildings were created without the use of cement.
In order to represent Sobek in the temple, the priests would go to the river Nile and select a crocodile to live in the temple. Once the crocodile died, it would be mummified and replaced, and the mummies can be viewed today at the small but very worthwhile museum just next to the site.
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