Curiosities of the Temple of Seti I (Abydos, Egypt)


The hypostyle halls were the first I saw in Egypt. For that reason, the Temple of Seti I will have a special place in my memory. What for me conjures up ancient Egypt as much as the Giza Plateau are these halls and their towering and beautifully inscribed columns, bathed in mysterious, diffuse light.

Seti I may principally be known to history as being the father of Rameses II, who overshadowed his father by being the second longest ruling pharaoh in history and the greatest temple builder, but Seti’s temple in Abydos is considered one of the most beautiful and best preserved.

Relief of Isis and the king with djed pillar, Osiris Conplex

Aside from its artistic and design qualities, the temple’s curiosities lingered in my mind longer.

Who’s Who in the Pharaoh Zoo

If it weren’t for king-lists, very little would be known about the chronology of the pharaohs. The most famous one was compiled by Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived in Ptolemaic times. His grouping of pharaonic history into dynasties is still used today. I had the opportunity to see the one in Seti’s temple inscribed along one wall of a passage between two halls. If it weren’t for Waleed’s explanation, it would have been just another beautiful wall of inscriptions. The list identifies 76 kings, including the names of pharaohs missing from other lists. However, for political reasons, it also omits the names of others considered illegitimate, some of them notable, including Akhenaton, Tutankhamen and the Hyksos rulers, which contributes to the problem of king-lists as a whole not being entirely consistent.

Abydos king-list

Rotorcraft and Submersibles of Ancient Egypt?

It was something I had to see for myself. Its fame has been circulating in alternative history circles for years. The temple has a controversial bas-relief panel depicting objects that look like modern vehicles, one of which has been called a helicopter. Another looks like a submarine. What in the world! you wonder. The more mundane explanation is that it’s a combination of two layers, the underlying one carved in sandstone, the other carved in an overlay of plaster. On the limestone is inscribed an epithet of Seti I, the plaster, of Rameses II, overlaid in just such a way as to cause a stir today. Fair enough, but why this modification was made only in this spot in the temple and then resemble modern-day conveyances thousands of years later are curious, to say the least. By themselves, the ‘vehicles’ are not hieroglyphs and therefore don’t mean anything other than firing up the imaginations of vimana and ancient alien fans.

But then, what about those Vedic flying ships?

What the L?

Curiously, Seti’s temple is designed in an “L” shape. No other Egyptian temple, before or since, was built in this way, a clear departure from tradition. The thing is, a structure now known as the Osireion was directly behind it. It’s been suggested that the design was changed to make a left turn, so to speak, when Seti uncovered a buried Osireion, but this is unlikely since the central axes of the main temple and Osireion are aligned. It’s likely that Seti didn’t build the Osireion but wanted to incorporate it in an overall temple plan. But the project couldn’t be completed for some reason and the L-shaped revision had to be made.

Mysterious Osireion

The Osireion was another monument I wanted to see. There is something profound about it, the sense of being very old. Seti is regarded as the builder, but its design is completely different from the rest of his temple. As beautifully embellished as the temple is in a classically Egyptian style, in contrast the Osireion is megalithic and austere. It also was constructed 50 feet lower than the level of the main temple in sand saturated with water.

The Osireion

I questioned as others do if the two sections were built at the same time. The Osireion bears much closer resemblance to the Valley Temple of Khafre on the Giza Plateau, which would put its construction date at the latest to the reign of Khafre in the Fourth Dynasty, some 1,300 years earlier. Like the Valley Temple, the central hall consists of massive granite posts and lintels. Granite is found nowhere else in Seti’s temple. The central hall at one time was roofed over by thick granite slabs that are now mostly gone. The stones used in the rest of the Osireion are limestone and sandstone.

Incredibly, the base upon which the central hall sits is over 40 feet high above the bedrock, most of it submerged in water. Did Seti have the time, skill and wherewithal to build the Osireion and its colossal foundation underwater, along with his other building projects in Egypt? Estimates vary but his reign lasted approximately 11 years.

Yet, there are New Kingdom inscriptions on the walls that surround the older structure, including many cartouches of Seti I, which conceivably were added later. The only etchings on the granite are two flower of life symbols on a single post (the source of which is unknown and possibly added in modern times).

Flower of life symbols, Osireion (image enhanced from abdutemple.blogspot.com)

If Seti didn’t build the Osireion, who did? The mysteries surrounding the Osireion to this day don’t have definitive answers. Nevertheless, I was in awe of yet another example of ancient Egyptian achievement that wasn’t diminished for the lack of personal exploration.