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The Lost Temple of Gerf Hussein (Husein)

Carved into a mountainside on the orders of Pharaoh Rameses (Ramesses) II, Gerf Hussein has similarities to the more well known temple at Abu Simbel, on a smaller scale.

The interior of the temple of Gerf Husein was not rescued from the waters of the Aswan High Dam and now is under water. One great statue of Rameses is now the centerpiece of the Nubian Museum in Aswan, and a few other pieces are there. The exterior columns form a sad and lonely group in their new location among the rocks at New Kalabsha. With the justified celebration that many important monuments of Nubia were saved by the international, UNESCO sponsored effort, should go the acknowledgment that much was lost, that restored temples are out of their natural settings of which they were a function, and that nobody knows how much was never found.

Wadi Gyrshe - Gerf Hussein (Husein)

At the end of five hours traveling from our setting out in the morning, we reached Wady Gyrshe (Gerf Hussein). At the northern extremity of this village is a temple, cut out of the rock, which presents a fine contrast to its neighbor at Dakke, having been executed in the infancy of architectural art, when the artist produced an imposing effect not by the gracefulness, but the magnitude of his figures.

the temple Gerf Hussein exterior is a group of columns and statues.
Exterior of the underground Temple of Wadi Gyrshe (Gerf Hussein or Husein),
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

This temple stands upon the top of a hill, the broad declivity of which is covered with rubbish and some fragments of colossal statues. In front, is a portico, consisting of five square columns on each side, cut out of the rock, with a row of circular columns in front, constructed of several blocks, and which originally supported an entablature. Of these columns only two remain. Before each of the square side columns stands a colossal statue of sandstone, about eighteen feet high, holding a flail in one hand, the other hanging down; they all represent male figures, with the narrow beard under the chin, and the high sphinx cap upon the head their shoulders are covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions.

On both sides of the portico is an open alley, hewn in the rock, from whence, perhaps, the materials of the front colonnade were taken. The pronaos, which is entered from the portico by a large gate, is eighteen paces square, and contains two rows, three in each, of immense columns, or rather props, (for they are without capitals,) measuring five feet by seven in the plan.

The great statues fill the underground hall at Gerf Husein.
The Great Statues in Gerf Husein Temple,
by David Roberts, 1838

In front of each of these columns is a colossal figure, more than twenty feet in height, representing the usual juvenile character, with the corn-measure or bonnet on the head, the hands crossed upon the breast, and holding the flail and crosier. Although these statues are rudely executed, the outlines of their bodies being less correct even than those of the statues at Seboua, and their legs mere round blocks, yet they have a striking effect in this comparatively small apartment; indeed, accustomed as I had been to the grandeur of Egyptian temples, of which I had examined so many incomparable specimens, I was nevertheless struck with admiration on entering this gloomy pronaos, and beholding these immense figures standing in silence before me. They immediately recalled to my memory the drawings I had seen of the caves near Surat, and other Indian excavated temples, which, in many respects, bear a strong resemblance to those of Nubia.

On the side walls of the pronaos are four recesses, or niches, in each of which are three statues of the natural size, representing the different symbolical male and female figures which are seen on the walls of the temples of Egypt.

the temple Gerf Hussein statues of gods. the temple Wadi Gyrshe. the temple at Gerf Husein. the temple Gerf Hussein.
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

The center figures are generally clothed in a long dress, while the others are naked. All these figures, as well as the colossi, are covered with a thick coat of stucco, and had once been painted; they must then have had a splendid appearance.

the temple of Gerf Hussein at Wadi Gyrshe is a series of rooms cut into a mountain.
The Temple of Gerf Hussein, a cut-away view,
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

A door leads from the pronaos into the cella; in the center of the cella are two massy pillars, and on either side a small apartment, which was probably a place of sepulture; in the floor of each are high stone benches, which may have served for supporting mummies, or perhaps as tables for embalming the bodies deposited in the temple; the floors have been broken up in search of treasure, and are now covered with rubbish.

the temple of Gerf Hussein at Wadi Gyrshe.
Floor plan of the underground Temple of Wadi Gyrshe,
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

Behind the cella, and communicating with it by a door, is the adytum, on each side of which is a small chamber, also opening into the cella, exactly like those in the temple at Derr.

the sanctuary of the temple Gerf Husein.
Sanctuary of the underground Temple of Wadi Gyrshe (Gerf Husein),
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

In the posterior wall of the adytum are four statues, above the human size, seated; and in the center of the floor is a large cubical stone, the use of which I cannot determine; its sides are quite smooth, and without any kind of sculpture. It may, perhaps, have served as the pedestal of a statue; or is it an inverted sarcophagus? Of the sculptures and hieroglyphics with which the walls of this temple were covered, very little is now discernible, the sandstone being of a very friable nature, and soon falling to decay; added to this, the walls are quite black with smoke from the fires kindled by the neighboring shepherds, who often pass the night in the temple with their cattle; enough, however, still remains to show that the sculptures are rudely executed. The colossal figures are in good preservation, particularly those of the pronaos; those in the portico have been mutilated.

While inspecting the interior apartments of this temple with a lighted candle, for they receive no light but what is communicated through the outer gate, I was joined in the adytum by the Shikh of Gyrshe, who had hurried after me, on seeing us take the road to the building. He begged me to give him half the treasure I had found, or at least, a handful; but he was obliged to be contented with a piece of wax candle. He showed me the place where the Englishmen (Messrs. Legh and Smelt), who had been here before me, found, as he asserted, an immense treasure, with which they loaded their vessel; one of the peasants had seen the gold! Similar tales are often spread abroad; every peasant swears to their truth; and singular as it may appear, all the inhabitants of Egypt, notwithstanding the long residence of the French in that country, and the continual passage of travelers, are still persuaded that the ancient temples are visited for no other purpose than to search for treasure.

I am uncertain whether Gyrshe (Gerf Hussein), or the more northern Dandour, represents the ancient Tutzis. The spot upon which the temple just described stands, is called by the natives Djorn Hosseyn.

From Gerf Hussein northward the shore is very narrow; we rode over the rocky mountain, which is close to the river, and, at the end of six hours from Dakke alighted at Merye, where we slept.

wings of the Sun.

The Temple at Gerf Hussein (Wady Gyrshe)
excerpt from: Travels in Nubia

by John Lewis Burckhardt, published in 1819

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