Gebel-el-Silsila. This is the name of a rocky canyon, located between Kom Ombo and Edfu, through which the Nile carries its waters, and where the high rocks are passing along the very edge of the water surface, forming both banks of the Nile and covering the area about 20 square kilometers. Here the ancient Egyptian stone quarry is located, where the ancient builders mined a sandstone.

The name of Gabel-el-Silsila has its own ancient history. In ancient times the Nile overcame a number of thresholds dangerous for navigation in this area. It appeared a big problrm for sailing between the regions of Elephantine and Edfu. In the Pharaonic times, this area was known as Khennui, that meant "the place of rowing." There is a high cliff in the West Bankof the river, called "The Capstan". According to a local legend, it was the place, where a certain "great chain" was tossed from the east to the west bank of the Nile ("Silsila" in Arabic). This legend was reflected in the picture of Danish naval captain and explorer Frederick Louis Norden in his work "Voyage d'Egypte et de Nubie " published in 1780.

English Egyptologist Arthur Weigall in his book "Antiquities of Egypt" argues that the word "Silsileh" is a distorted Roman writing of the original Egyptian name for the city of Khol-Khol, which means a barrier or frontier.

"The town of Khennui was sometimes known to the later Egyptians as Khol-Khol, which means a barrier or frontier ; and the Romans, who placed a garrison here in later times, corrupted the word into Sil-sil, or Silsili. The mediaeval Arabs incorrectly identified the name with Silsileh, the Arabic word for "'chain."
Some story-teller, accounting for this name " chain," concocted a story to the efiect that a great chain had here passed across the river in order to prevent the passage of boats ; and two curiously formed rocks at either side of the river, which by chance had been quarried to the shape of posts, were identified as the posts to which the ends of the chain were attached. Thus the name Silsileh is but a misunderstanding of Khol-Khol, and the famous story of the chain seems to have no foundation of truth in it."

Arthur Weigall

But at the same time, one of the possible reasons, which gave birth to that legend, besides the mentioned above "time error", concerning the translation of the name of the area, could have been the existence of fairly large through-holes in the rocks, which seems too "strong" for fixing of ancient Egyptian boats on the pier.

The steep sandy cliffs of the West Bank are carved with ancient graffiti, sanctuaries and stelaes. During the XVIII Dynasty travelers started a tradition to carve small sanctuaries and shrines in the rocks - a places of worship for various Nile gods, responsible for the Nile flood, land fertilizing and harvest. To the present day - there are 33 carved chapels were found. Most of them were carved by the teams of stonemasons and sculptors of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, before the times, when Horemheb, the last Pharaoh of the XVIII Dynasty, built his grandiose rock-cut temple, dedicated to Amon Re and other deities that patronize the Nile.

On the left - a series of small Shrines; On the right - the Temple of Horemheb. .

The temple's facade is represended with five doorways separated by columns of various widths, behind which is a long transverse hall with an vaulted roof, at the end of which there is a small oblong chamber - a sanctuary. All the temple walls are covered with reliefs and inscriptions, some of which are badly damaged by the time. Horemheb himself never finished his temple. It was completed later by subsequent Kings and Nobles, who adorned the walls of the temple with their own stelaes and bas-reliefs.

The sanctuary to the rear of the vaulted hall contains seven figures, depicting Sobek, Tauret, Mut, Amen-Re, Khons, Horemheb and Thoth.

Unfortunately, many of the sanctuaries, shrines and ancient tombs were damaged by earthquakes and quarrying works of later times.

During the XIX Dynasty rock-cut stelaes of Gebel-el-Silsila were carved by Rameses II, Merenptah, Siptah, Seti II, Rameses III and Rameses V.

Sandstone cliffs stretching along both sides of the Nile were also a source of valuable building material for erecting the monumental structures during the XVIII Dynasty. Among them are the Colonnade of Amenhotep III in Luxor, the Temple of Amenhotep IV in Karnak, Ramesseum, Medinet Habu. By Ptolemaic times most of the temples of Upper Egypt were completely built of Gebel-el-Silsila's sandstone. The reason for the changing of material (limestone to sandstone) could have been the depletion of limestone quarries in Ed Dibabia in the vicinity of Gebelain.

The amount of sandstone mined in Gebel-el-Silsila, during the pharaonic era is about eight million tons.

The history of the studies of Gebel el-Silsila has begun in 1829, when the expedition of Champollion and Rosellini spent several days on the west bank of the Nile, describing the monuments of the Ramessid era.

Description de l'Égypte : ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant
l'expédition de l'armée française.
Год: 1809.

In 1843 and 1844 the expedition of German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius spent several days on both banks of the Nile. Besides the documenting of historical monuments, Lepsius was the first Egyptologist. who has published the inscriptions of the VIII Dynasty.

During the winter of 1886-1887 British Egyptologists Flinders Petrie and Francis Llewellyn Griffith for less than two days managed to copy almost all the texts, related to the temples and stelaes of the VIII Dynasty on the western bank, as well as to do some research work in the quarries on the eastern bank of the Nile.

In 1897 French Egyptologist Georges Albert Legrain carried out the excavation works of the Pre-Dinastic necropolis on the eastern bank of the Nile, and subsequently published an article that highlighted some of the issues concerning Gebel-el-Silsila.

In 1906 Professor of Oxford University, British Orientalist Archibald Henry Sayce held his archeological works in several sites, mainly in the north and south of Gebel-el-Silsila, including the surroundings of the Horemheb temple.

In 1906-1908 French archaeologist Jacques De Morgan, who studied the Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic buildings between Gebel-el-Silsilla and Esna, also reported on some finds from Gebel-el-Silsil.

In 1952 French Egyptologist Paul Bargue has published a brief review of the main texts of the Nile stelaes.

In 1955 Egyptian geological expedition, headed by the Argentine Egyptologist Ricardo Augusto Caminos, has provided a complete inventory of all the historical monuments of Gebel-el-Silsila. The project was successfully finished in 1982.

In 2000 Andrea-Christina Thiem has published her dissertation work "Speos von Gebel es-Silsileh : Analyse der architektonischen und ikonographischen Konzeption im Rahmen des politischen ung legitimatorischen Programmes der Nachamarnazeit", devoted to the temple of Horemheb.

Now the whole area of Gebel-el-Silsila, occupying an area of about 200 hectares, is studied by a long-term Epigraphic Research Project headed by archaeologist Maria Nilsson and her assistant John Ward (Lund University, Sweden). One of the outstanding archaeological finds of this mission is the basement of the temple of Henui.

Photo of the Swedisha archeological mission. The Temple of Henui, discovered by Maria Nilsson and John Ward.

Artists, photographers and researchers of all the times, who had visited Gebel-el-Silsila, never remained indifferent to this area, which unites in itself both the artistic-historical and geological-technical sides.

Author: Minutoli, Johann Heinrich Carl. Year: 1824

Angelelli, Giuseppe. Year: 1832

Horeau, Hector. Year 1841

Photo: Frith, Francis. Year: 1856-1860

Edward Lear. Year 1867.

Woodward, John Douglas. Year: 1881-1884

Photo: Maison Bonfils. Year: 1899

Senmuth. Year: 2017

In April 2017, an expedition of the ISIDA Project landed on the western bank of the Nile. The purpose of visiting of Gebel-el-Silsila was to study and to make quality photo-base of the skills of the both of ancient stone artists and quarry workers, who mained the material, forming the foundation for the architectural masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian Civilization, which up to our days attract the attention and interest of the people of the planet Earth.



Weigall, Arthur Edward Pearse Brome.
A guide to the antiquities of Upper Egypt from Abydos to the Sudan Frontier.
Year: 1910

Andrea-Christina Thiem
Speos von Gebel es-Silsileh : Analyse der architektonischen und ikonographischen Konzeption im Rahmen des politischen ung legitimatorischen Programmes der Nachamarnazeit

Year: 2000.

Weigall, Arthur Edward Pearse Brome.
A guide to the antiquities of Upper Egypt from Abydos to the Sudan Frontier .
Year: 1910

Description de l'Égypte : ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant
l'expédition de l'armée française.

Year: 1809.

Kucharek, Andrea, Universität Heidelberg
Gebel el-Silsila.
Year: 2012

Internet sources:
Gebel el Silsila Epigraphic Survey Project

Friends of Silsila

<< Back to the Map of Egypt

Discuss on Forum >>

© Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.