A joint Egyptian-German research team has recently uncovered a captivating series of ancient Egyptian zodiac murals hidden beneath centuries of dirt at the Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt.
These magnificent ceiling paintings, restored and re-colored by a skilled restoration team led by Ahmed Emam, reveal an invaluable insight into the cultural exchange between the Egyptians and the Greeks during the Ptolemaic period. This discovery highlights the significance of astrological beliefs in ancient Egyptian society and adds another layer of intrigue to the already rich historical narrative of Egypt.
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Professor Christian Leitz of the University of Tübingen, who co-leads the project with Hisham El-Leithy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, emphasizes the rarity of zodiac representations in Egyptian temples. According to Leitz, “The zodiac itself is part of Babylonian astronomy and does not appear in Egypt until Ptolemaic times.” This unique discovery implies that the zodiac and its constellations were likely introduced to Egypt by the Greeks, eventually gaining popularity in the region.
Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen, a Tübingen researcher, further explains, “The zodiac was used to decorate private tombs and sarcophagi and was of great importance in astrological texts, such as horoscopes found inscribed on pottery sherds.” However, it remains uncommon in temple decorations, with only two other complete zodiac representations known to exist, both found in Dendera.
The meticulous restoration process has also revealed colorful images of snakes, crocodiles, and other fantastical creatures, as well as previously unknown inscriptions. These intricate details were hidden for nearly 2,000 years under layers of dirt and soot, which ultimately preserved their vibrant colors.
Located 60 kilometers south of Luxor in Egypt, the Temple of Esna is home to the pronaos, a well-preserved sandstone vestibule built under Roman Emperor Claudius (41–54 AD). Measuring 37 meters long, 20 meters wide, and 15 meters high, this structure is considered an exemplary model of ancient Egyptian temple architecture. Its central location in the city has contributed to its preservation, preventing it from being dismantled for building materials as other ancient structures were during Egypt’s industrialization.
The restoration project, which has been underway for five years, is sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt, the Ancient Egypt Foundation, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. This incredible discovery not only sheds light on the cultural exchange between ancient Egypt and Greece but also underscores the importance of continued archaeological exploration and preservation efforts to uncover and protect the rich history of human civilization.
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