Located in Upper Nubia, immediately south of the Third Cataract on the west bank of the Nile river (and about 500 km south of Aswan), Soleb is best known for the ruins of the sandstone temple built by the 18th Dynasty ruler Amenhotep III, the southernmost major expression of that pharaoh’s vast building program, paralleling – it is thought – the northenmost great monument at Athribis (Tell Atrib) in the eastern Delta region.
Designed for the king by Amenhotep son of Hapu, together with the pharaoh’s mortuary temple in Western Thebes, the temple at Soleb was dedicated to the cults of the dynastic god Amun-Re and that of “Nebma’atre, lord of Nubia”. The latter, of course, represented the deified Amenhotep III himself, depicted as a god with the attributes of Amun and those of a lunar deity.
The temple’s plan, as originally conceived, seems to have conformed to the regular layout of sanctuary, hypostyle hall and peristyle court. Soon after the completion of the innermost temple structures, however – and echoing the contemporaneous mid-construction alteration of Luxor Temple – the overall plan was greatly extended to include a sun court and a form of abbreviated collonade, the tripartite structure now ranging about 130 metres in length.
Leading from a terraced temple on the Nile banks, a processional way led up to approach the First Pylon, standing within an enclosure wall measuring 210 x 240 metres and fortified with bastions. Two pairs of obelisks stood in front of and behind the First Pylon, after which an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes led to the Second Pylon, before which stood two obelisks and six colossi. These latter were subsequently removed to allow construction of a large kiosk structure with four palm columns each about 14 metres high. The two courts beyond featured collonades of well-proportioned papyrus columns. The main sanctuary structure possessed three east-west axes, incorporating hypostyle halls and triple sanctuaries.
The decorative scheme of Soleb temple includes partially-preserved scenes from the first Sed festival of Amenhotep III (the wall around the second court), in addition to reliefs depicting the rituals of ‘striking the doors’ and ‘illuminating the dias’ which preceded the jubilee itself. Symbolically, it has been suggested that this schema promotes a duality in the temple: Amun-Re as the ‘solar eye’ and Amenhotep the ‘lunar eye’ of Egyptian mythology. The lunar eye was associated with the lioness-goddess Tefnut-Mehit, suggesting that the two magnificent red granite lions placed at Soleb by the pharaoh (now resident in the British Museum after a sojourn at Gebel Barkal ordered by the Ethiopian ruler Amanislo) were probably meant to make a symbolic connection between the ruler and the moon god.
“Soleb”, in Lexikon der Ägyptologie V, 1076-1080.
Schiff Giorgini, Michela (with Clément Robichon & Jean Lechart)
Soleb, 2 volumes, Firenze: Sonsoni, 1965.
Schiff Giorgini, M. & Janssen, J.
Preliminary Excavation Reports in Kush 6 (1958), pp.84-86; 7 (1959), pp.154-157, 166-169; 9 (1961), pp.185-209; 10 (1962), pp.152-161; 12 (1964), pp.87-95.