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The Temple of Beit el Wali

The small temple of Beit el Wali (Bet el Walli or Dar el Wali), was built during the reign of Rameses II by the governor of Nubia to honor the god Amun-Re and, of course, Ramesses II. The statues were badly damaged by the early Christians, but the inner paintings are in good condition.

Beit el Wali temple was moved to higher ground and placed in an artifical looking hillside, near the larger Kalabsha temple, to avoid being flooded by the Aswan dam.

The Temple of Beit el-Wali

Excerpt from: Travels in Nubia
by John Lewis Burckhardt
Published in 1819.
Photograph at right by John Campana.
About a quarter of an hour north from Kalabsha temple is a small temple cut out of the rock; the road to it lies through the remains of the ancient town, a heap of stones and rubbish, covering a space along the shore of about a mile and a quarter. In front of the temple is an open area (also hewn out of the rock), in which is the entrance to the cella; the cella is thirteen paces in length, by six in breadth; its roof is supported by two polygonal pillars; in the walls are two small recesses, with three statues in each. Adjoining the cella is the adytum, a small room, eight feet square. The sculptures and hieroglyphics on the walls are of the same rude execution as those at Derr. The walls of the open area in front of the temple are covered with sculptures representing very interesting historical subjects: on one side is a battle; the victor in a chariot drawn by two fiery steeds, like those at Karnac, is driving his vanquished enemies before him. These enemies are flying towards a country thickly covered with fruit trees of various shapes and sizes, some of which have large round leaves and clusters of fruits hanging from them, with apes sporting amongst the branches. Behind the victor's car are two smaller ones, of the same form, each drawn by two horses at full speed; and bearing a female, standing upright, with a charioteer in front holding the reins. In another compartment on the same wall, is a triumphal procession passing before a seated Osiris.

animals on the wall of Beit el Wali.
Register of animals, temple of Beit el Wali
by Salvador Cherubini, 1832-44.
Either the artist or the writer
has confused the order of the animals.

Men come first bearing upon their shoulders large blocks of wood, probably ebony. One of them leads a wild mountain goat, a second carries an ostrich, a third holds in one hand a large shield, and in the other a gazelle, and a fourth is bringing an ape into the royal presence.

parade of animals.
more animals, temple of Beit el Wali
by Salvador Cherubini, 1832-44

Next comes a man bearing a block of precious wood, like the former, and driving two large buffalos before him. The parade is closed by a tall cameleopard (giraffe?), with its leader.

parade of animals.
Top register of animals, temple of Beit el Wali
by Salvador Cherubini, 1832-44

In another compartment, just above the latter, is a large lion with his keeper; an animal of the size of a large goat, with long straight horns, and a pair of buffaloes. In front of these two compartments, and before the king, lie heaps of quivers and arrows, elephants teeth, skins and furs of wild beasts, and a row of calabashes, perhaps containing precious ointments or perfumes.

Ramesses II and Horus, temple of Beit el Wali.
Photo by Rivertay, CreativeCommons.

All the subjects are in bas-relief, and extremely well executed. They are the best specimens of historical sculpture that I have seen in the valley of the Nile, even more spirited than those at Thebes. The figures of the animals, in particular, are faithfully and correctly delineated. I believe they will be found very important, because they record a historical fact, no where else alluded to in any Egyptian structure. The hero of Egypt has here carried his arms into a country inhabited by lions, cameleopards, apes, and elephants, none of which animals are found in Nubia or Dóngola. The elephant and cameleopard inhabit the banks of the Nile towards Sennaar, the forests on the frontiers of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and the banks of the Astaboras and Astapus: all the above-described trophies of victory, therefore, indicate that the battles must have been fought in the countries to the south of the civilized country of ancient Meroe.

The battle-pieces of Thebes, Luxor and Karnac seem to allude to less distant scenes of warfare. May not the castles, surrounded with water, which are there represented relate to the fortified islands in the Batn el Hadjar, where we still meet with so many brick ruins? The headdress of the fugitives and the short narrow beard under the chin are perfectly characteristic of the southern Nubians. It may readily be imagined that the inhabitants of the sterile districts of Nubia, and the Batn el Hadjar, would look with an envious eye upon the riches of Egypt.

The small temple I have just described is called by the natives Dar el Waly. Travelers proceeding by water are not likely to see it without enquiring for it. In the hill close by, are the quarries where the stones were hewn for the erection of the town and temples of Kalabshe. This, no doubt, was the ancient Talmis, and some mounds of rubbish on the east side indicate the remains of Contra-Talmis. Talmis must have acquired its opulence by commerce, and not by agriculture, as the shore in its neighborhood is no where more than forty yards in breadth.

We halted for the night, a little way beyond Dar el Waly, at Khortum, a village opposite the island of Darmout.
Excerpt from: Travels in Nubia
by John Lewis Burckhardt
Published in 1819.

by Prisse d'Avennes, 1878

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