The Temple of Hathor
|View from the temple|
The Temple of Serabit el-Khadim is one of the most impressive temples of ancient Egypt, as it represents the largest and most important Egyptian temple in the Sinai Peninsula. It is the oldest example of a partially rock-cut Egyptian temple. The sanctuary at Serabit is the largest sanctuary left by a group of miners in all Egypt. This temple, actually located on the mountains of Serabit el-Khadim, was built at a height of approximately 850m above sea level, which is roughly 1436m lower than Mount Sinai and approximately 643m higher than the apex of the Great Pyramid.
It was built in an area where turquoise mining took place over many centuries to worship the goddess Hathor (the Lady of Turquoise). The temple earliest attested dating is for the Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1985–1795 B.C.), and it continued to be in use until the Ramesside period (1307–1070 B.C.).
The construction of the temple took place in three phases, during the Twelfth Dynasty, the Eighteenth Dynasty and the Ramesside Period, along two parallel axes, a Middle Kingdom axis and a New Kingdom axis. The oldest, the Middle Kingdom axis, runs southeast-northwest. It contained many stelae on both sides of the main passage, most of them dating to the reigns of the Pharaohs Senusert III, Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV. The Kings Chapel was built during the reigns of Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV.
|Chapel of the Kings|
It has the appearance of a portico with four columns, with part carved into the rocks. This axis was extended west in the New Kingdom. Fourteen additional New Kingdom rooms were constructed west of the court sometime between the reigns of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramesses VI. This court is in the center of the temple and gives access to three different directions: the north, the south and the south-east. From the north, it leads to a cistern used to store rainwater, which was essential for the temple's rituals. To the south-east, there is a direct pathway to the Speos of Sopdu and that of Hathor through two rooms. From the south, it opens into the room usually described as the "basin" which then leads to a small corridor opening into three rooms, known as "the Sopdu Rooms". The first two rooms give access to the third one, which is located to the south of the Hathor sanctuary and is considered to be the sanctuary of Sopdu in Serabit el-Khadim. These rooms must have existed since the reign of Amenemhat III although they witnessed alterations and additions over the following years. Their final appearance dates most likely to the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III. They contain monuments dedicated to Sopdu, a solar deity, usually associated with the desert and the frontiers. Its name also appears in an inscription of the year 42 of the reign of Amenemhat III in Maghara.
Today’s visitor to the Hathor temple at Serabit el-Khadim follows a series of small rooms that form the temple; from the entrance at the very beginning to the chapel of Hathor at the end where the shrine of offerings lies. These rooms bear a huge number of stelae as well as many different monuments; parts of statues, offering tables and some blocks of the original decoration of the temple.
Guiding the visitors throughout the climb and the tour guide is usually a Bedouin; a descendant of the nomadic Bedouins who roamed the region hundreds of years ago and who belonged to either the Ulaykat or the Muzzeina tribes.
We can access the temple using two different ascents:
|View from the temple|
1) The first way is the Supreme Council of Antiquities stairs, which start from the plain of el-Tih where many rest stations are found. The only shaded one is found in front of the inscription of Rod el-‘Air. It is the safest way and the most recommended.
2) The second way is through Wadi Serabit; this wadi surrounds the site from the north. However, to get to Wadi Serabit, one needs to go off-road for 20 minutes in very soft sand, and the trail is very dangerous up to the temple. It is definitely not recommended, even if the Bedouins of the area suggest that it is faster or shorter.