Two millennia of soot and grime covered the ceiling frescoes of the Temple of Khnum in the Egyptian city of Esna, protecting the colors beneath. Now, painstaking restoration work by archaeologists has brought these incredible works of art back to life.
The frescoes feature 46 images of vultures, which in turn represent the Upper Egyptian vulture goddess Nekhbet and the Lower Egyptian serpent goddess Wadjet, who is also depicted as a vulture with open wings, although retaining the cobra head and crown from Lower Egypt. Nekhbet wears the crown of Upper Egypt.
The restoration was carried out by the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies of the University of Tübingen and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. They have been working since 2018 to recover the colors of the frescoes.
“Temples and ancient representations of the gods were often painted in bright colors, but they usually faded or even disappeared completely as a result of external influences,” Professor Christian Leitz of the University of Tübingen said in a statement.
The temple was dedicated to one of the earliest Egyptian deities, Khnum, the ram-headed god who was seen as the god of the source of the Nile. In Esna, Khnum and his consort Neith are treated as creator deities.
Construction of the religious building had begun during Ptolemaic times, but most of the remaining parts are from Roman times, probably from the time of Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE). The temple began to attract the interest of archaeologists in Napoleonic times, but it was in the latter part of the last century that more detailed study began in earnest.
“Since the 1950s, the French Egyptologist Serge Sauneron systematically documented the Temple of Khnum in Esna and the paintings that were visible at the time,” said Tübingen scientist Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen, “The full range of images from the temple it is unique in its richness. of the figures and the state of conservation of the colors”.
“For the first time we can see all the decorative elements in relation to each other,” said Leitz. “This was impossible simply with Sauneron’s publication.”
The entire restoration was funded by the American Research Center in Egypt, the Ancient Egypt Foundation, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The team now plans to translate all of Esna’s inscriptions, as well as study the connection between all the images and writing in the temple. This upcoming work has been funded by the German Research Foundation.