Egypt – Abydos Temple And The Raising Of The Djed

The drive to Abydos is long. But if you are at all interested in pharaonic art, architecture and mythology a day trip to Abydos and Dendera is worth the effort. The Temple of Seti I in Abydos and the Temple of Hathor in Dendera are two of the most beautiful and best preserved in Egypt.

The most interesting aspect of Egypt, for me, is the abundance of fantastic myths and stories and its mind boggling array of gods almost rivalling those in our Hindu pantheon.

And the most intriguing of them is the myth of Osiris and Isis.

Day trip to Abydos and Dendera - Part I, where we explore the Temple of Seti I in Abydos, one of the most beautiful Egypt temples. Find essential facts and tips on how to get there from Luxor. #Egypt #Travel #PlacesToSee #AncientEgypt ##EgyptTemples #EgyptianPaintings

The story of the murder, dismemberment and subsequent resurrection of Osiris (long enough for sister/wife Isis, in the form of a kite, to conceive a child: the Falcon headed deity Horus) is fascinating even if improbable.

Just as fascinating is the story of the djed pillar intrinsic to the same story. When the coffin containing Osiris runs aground in Byblos (Syria), there sprouts a sacred tree that is cut and used as a pillar by the local king.

Isis eventually locates it and releases and anoints the body of Osiris from the coffin trapped within. The resurrected Osiris earns himself the title: Lord of the Dead and the Afterlife. That’s one of the reasons he is depicted with dark green skin.

That tree which grew around the mortal remains of Osiris is considered his symbolic backbone and signifies stability. The ceremony of Raising the Djed – represented by a wooden pillar that resembles a cross – then becomes a symbol of the triumph of good (Osiris) over evil (murderous brother Set). Inscriptions abound of the pharaoh raising the djed pillar with the blessings of priests and benevolent gods.


It was believed that Isis, in the course of her hunt for the body parts of Osiris after Set chops him up into several pieces (numbers vary with every telling), locates his head in Abydos. It was also believed that the hill of Umm el-Gaab in the vicinity, is the tomb of Osiris. Thus elevating Abydos to one of the most sacred centres of pilgrimage for well over a millennium as well as a place, quite like Varanasi, where the devout wished to die.

Painted relief showing the legend of the raising of the Djed where the Pharaoh is seen lifting a cross shaped wooden object with four cross bars at the top..
Raising of the Djed Pillar.

The Book of the Dead is said to contain a spell “to enter Abydos and become part of the retinue of Osiris”. So it became customary, for anyone who could afford it, to erect funerary temples, cenotaphs or stelae in this sacred town.


Of the many temples in the Abydos complex, the memorial temple of Seti I is the most important. Construction was started by Seti I himself (1318-1304 BC) and completed by his son Ramesses II.

The marked difference in the style and quality of reliefs undertaken by the two pharaohs is clear to see. Seti’s exceptionally beautiful raised bas reliefs are what UNESCO terms ‘classical purism’. Ramesses switched to sunken reliefs at some point, even converting some of the unfinished bas reliefs to sunken styles. They were quicker to execute and the prolific builder king had a great many monumental projects to complete elsewhere.

An unusual feature of the temple is the presence of seven chapels instead of the typical single sanctuary. The chapel of the great god Amun occupies the central space and is flanked by those of Osiris, Isis and Horus to one side and Ptah, Re-Harakhte and the deified pharaoh himself on the other. How do you tell the difference between Seti the pharaoh and Seti the deity? Look out for the looped Ankh in his hand, a symbol of divinity.

Seti I making offerings to Horus - Raised wall relief, First osiris hall.
Seti I making offerings to Horus – Raised wall relief, First osiris hall.
Sunken relief of Pharoah making offerings to the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus
Sunken relief of Pharoah making offerings to the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus
A shrine in Abydos temple with two empty altars and faded frescoes on 3 visible walls.
Olaf TauschCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many of the reliefs in the outer vestibules have been defaced by early Coptic Christians who used the temple for shelter. The art on the walls of the second hypostyle hall and some of the chapels are in better condition with exquisite reliefs – both raised and sunken and in vivid colour.

The walls of the Corridor of the Bull are covered with sunken reliefs of hunting scenes. My favourite is that of the pharaoh and his young son snaring a bull.

Along another long corridor beyond the second hypostyle hall is the Gallery of Kings with an entire wall covered with cartouches in relief: the famed ‘Abydos King List‘ of pharaohs from Menes of the first dynasty up until Ramesses I (father of Seti I) of the 19th. An incredible chronological record of nearly 1760 years from 3050BC to 1290BC.

Noted omissions, apart from a few minor kings, are the names of Hatshepsut, stepmother of Thutmose Ⅲ, Akhenaten the ‘heretic’ king whose introduction of monotheism to ancient Egypt backfired disastrously, and his three offspring – including Tutankhamen – who oversaw the end of the 18th dynasty. Tutankhamen’s military commander, Horemheb, usurped the throne from his brother Ay after the former’s mysterious death and eventually picked Ramesses I as his successor, thus ushering in the Ramesside Dynasty.

An entire wall covered with rows and rows of cartouches in relief.
Abydos Kings List
Hunting scene depicting the young Pharaoh holding on to the tail of a large bull. His father's hand and part of his leg are visible behind him and seem to be helping the boy snare the animal.
Seti I and a young Ramesses II snaring a bull. Young princes typically wore their hair in a side braid.

An arched passage leads out to a ruined sunken temple believed to be the Osireion connected with the worship of Osiris. That it was a place of pilgrimage from pre dynastic days is certified by the unearthing of offerings of ivory and gold including an ivory statue of Cheops (of the Great pyramid fame). The place is out of bounds for tourists and remains inundated most of the time.

The memorial temple of Ramesses II nearby seems to have fared even worse than his Ramesseum in Luxor. The few surviving reliefs are beautiful and might be worth a quick look if you have time to spare.

Abydos is not on the standard tourist radar and its spiritual ambience is undisturbed by noisy footfalls. The temple of Hathor in Dendera might well be more dramatic but its (relatively cruder) Ptolemaic reliefs are no match to the exquisite ancient Egyptian art of the Temple of Seti I.

Facade of Abydos Temple
The first court as you enter from the completely ruined first pylon (gate). The facade appears strikingly contemporary. (Image credit: Merlin UKCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons )
External reliefs, Abydos Temple
External reliefs…imagine it in full colour. The bare upper parts are cement restorations. (Image credit :Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
relief covered entrances to the sanctuaries of Isis and Horus in the second hypostyle hall.
Entrances to the sanctuaries of Isis and Horus in the second hypostyle hall in the mortuary temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt (Image credit: Olaf TauschCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


The 172 km drive from Luxor to Abydos takes about three hours.

We clubbed it with Dendera as a long day-trip, starting at the Seti I Temple since it is farther away and then returning via Dendera. Getting from Abydos to Dendera (105 km) takes about an hour and a half. Dendera to Luxor is about the same.

You’ll need nine to ten hours for the full day trip with about two hours in each temple complex. A half day trip to Denedera alone can be done in five hours.

GETTING TO ABYDOS: The best way to get here is by booking a car and driver through a travel company. Cost for up to two persons in a private car with guide is approximately US$ 130 excluding entrance fees as of this writing. Joining a tour is a slightly cheaper option.



BEST TIME TO VISIT: Winter months between mid October to mid March.

HOURS: 08:00 – 17:00

ENTRANCE FEES (2019-20) : Adult: EGP 100/ Student: EGP 50

CAMERA FEE: EGP 300. Free with mobile phones.

WHERE TO EAT: You could carry packed lunch or get your driver to stop at a local restaurant on the way.

WHAT TO WEAR: Covering arms, shoulders and knees isn’t mandatory. My advice is to wear whatever you are comfortable in, but carry a light shirt or stole to throw over your shoulders when needed. I would avoid shorts everywhere. Khakis, loose cotton pants or skirts are ideal.



Posted by

Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

50 thoughts on “Egypt – Abydos Temple And The Raising Of The Djed

  1. I honestly don’t know how the archeologists knew who was who and what their names were from 5,500 years ago. I find that amazing in and, of itself. This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing and for posting all of those great photos. Job well done!. 🙂

    1. Thank YOU for reading Orples! To answer your question, the discovery in 1799 of the “Rosetta Stone” a stele that had Ptolemy V’s decree in three scripts including Greek was the key to unlocking the language and secrets of Egypt! The “Roseta Stone” is on display in the British Museum.

      1. I’ve heard of the Roseta Stone, but never realized it’s significance, so I appreciate your taking the time to mention it here, and also for the lesson in Egyptian history. We studied the pyramids and tombs when I was in college … back when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth (according to my youngest child), so I’ve forgotten a lot.
        The history really is fascinating, so as always, thanks for sharing. 😉

  2. Love your blog posts on Egypt! We received so much information from our guide I couldn’t remember it all. It is one of the many reasons I plan to return yearly and bring a tour group with me! LOL

    1. Lucky you! Abydos & Dendera were freely accessible when we went in 2010. They have apparently re-introduced the convoy system to Dendera after the uprising. Convoys to Abydos have been suspended.

  3. Glorious! I have not been to Egypt but I’m captured by its myths and history. I’ve travelled to see some exhibitions of antiquities but nothing would beat a trip to the tombs themselves. Beautiful pics and commentary. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Louise! These images are of the temples. The tombs in the Valleys of the Kings, Queens, Noble, Scribes are all underground and the frescoes inside are unbelievable – way superior to what you see here! Photography is strictly prohibited though!

      1. Breathtaking in complexity, form and scale, considering the tools available at the time. Such wonderful pics. I went to Melbourne last year to see the Tutankhamun exhibition which was great but loved the antiquities from the Louvre the best. I am yet to see the Treasures in the British Museum but it is on the list. Not sure if I’ll ever get to Egypt itself though. Maybe. One day.

  4. Stunning photo’s again! It always strikes me at how artistic the Egyptians were. I love this. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Thank you for checking out my blog and the comments! Will have to make time to read your fantastic stories!

  5. Egypt is a must see for me. I’ve been putting it off because I want to be able to spend plenty of time there. But I really want to go!

  6. I’ve read in one of National Geographic Magazine’s editions which stated that Abydos is the oldest site of the ancient Egypt civilization (if I’m not mistaken). Never read any story about that particular place other than the one in the magazine. So your story definitely enriches my knowledge about Abydos. Keep writing great stories on Egypt! I love them!

    1. Loads more stories there! The discovery of 14 solar boats – the worlds earliest solid plank boats – is one! Lots of antiquities were destroyed when the modern town was built right over existing temples! Thanks for the thumbs up Bama! Truly appreciate your feedback!

  7. I absolutely lost this post. The photos are stunning, otherworldly, the light just draws me into another world. As a storyteller, I have heard the myth of Isis and Osiris in many different versions, and you captured the essence of the story very well, but your retelling is the only one that made me laugh aloud. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy the balance stories and history with your artful and evocative photos.

  8. Thank you for all the great information. I’ve always been a little intrigued by ancient Egypt, would love to visit someday.

  9. Madhu, I agree with every comment above. These shots are amazing; I like how you use the light to bring out the images. Not only that, but your writing is superb…great voice. ~Mona

  10. Thanks again. The artwork, the stories are so impressive. I’ve been obsessed by the mathematics of the Great Pyramid for a while – as a thing of beauty. And surely the art and mythology is beautiful and comes from the same place. Thanks again.

    1. One of my favourites Amy, thank you for reading 🙂 Have you checked out the Dendera post? The ceiling there is breattaking! Even the one leftover after the French took the best bits to the Louvre!

  11. Thanks for wanderfull narration. I had been to Abydos in May 2017.The bas reliefs are vivid with interesting storie

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s