The sacred city of Abydos (Abdju) is occupied since the Predynastic period; their rulers' town, temple and tombs, in the royal necropolis of Umm el-Qa'ab, have been found here.
A funerary chapel of Pepi I of the 6th Dynasty evolved over the years into the Great Temple of Osiris, and Abydos became the centre of the worship of the Isis and Osiris cult. The temple and town continued to be rebuilt at intervals down to the times of the 30th Dynasty, and the cemetery was in continuous use. The Great Temple and most of the ancient town are buried under the modern buildings, to the north of the Seti temple. Many of the original structures, and the artifacts within them, are considered irretrievable and lost, most likely destroyed by the new construction.
Most travellers arrive at Abydos by train north from Luxor, alighting at the station for the town of al-Balyana. The fare is approximately LE 52, first class. From the station, either the tourist police or a police-escorted taxi will take you to the site of the Ramesside temples. Depending on local conditions and police levels of business, you should be able to get at least a couple of hours visiting the site.
At al-Balyana, there should be some police at the station. If not, ignore any touts, exit the station to the south and you will almost immediately come to the east-west road that heads out to Abydos. Start heading west along this road and you will soon come to the police checkpoint, they used to be where the road forms a bridge over the canal, and had a small blue wooden sentry box and some barriers. They will either take you to the main temple of Seti I, or arrange a taxi for you. It's usually a private taxi, but sometimes a share. As always, have small denomination notes to the pay the fare as drivers always have "no change". It's not necessary to spend money getting a private taxi to wait. When you leave the temple the police on site will find a vehicle for you to get back down to town, just so you aren't their problem anymore.
Back at the station the police will usually (not always) wait with you and see you on the train. Note that if a 3rd class train comes first (as it often does late afternoon), they will often put you on that one. It's not the most clean or comfortable experience (no air con, no guaranteed seats, sometimes not even any lighting), but the travel time isn't much different to the nicer trains. All in all, the journey is more hassle than an organised tour, but the freedom you get to spend several hours on site and explore on your own, in peace and in your own time, makes it well worth while.
You can go by taxi in the police-escorted convoy to Abydos in one day, usually including Dendera as a stop-off point. A trip in a private car arranged through your hotels could cost around US$90 for two or three passengers (Oct 2018). You can likely get a better price by talking to taxi drivers directly. Make sure you agree on how much time you will spend at each temple - 90 min each is an minimum, though if you want to spend longer (especially at Abydos), then taking the train and just doing Abydos will give you much more time on site, and will work out much cheaper, though dealing with the local police is a hassle.
Also available are minibus tours from agents in Luxor, usually with a local guide of variable quality. These also travel with the escorted convoy, and can be a reasonable deal for a small group if you haggle, especially in off-season. Expect to pay around LE 300 - 400 per person, dependent on size of your group, time of year and your haggling skills. The major UK, US and European holiday companies also offer escorted tours, but these can be expensive.
- 1 The Temple of Seti I. The father of Ramses the Great ruled from 1294–1279 BC. His temple features magnificent reliefs, among them a long carved list of the pharaohs of the principal dynasties, the sole source to dates and names of many of the kings of the 7th and 8th Dynasties, thus valued greatly for that reason: the Abydos Kings List. The raised reliefs in the temple are some of the finest quality in all Egypt, incredibly beautiful and detailed. Although the lighting in the interior of the temple can be somewhat gloomy in places, the reliefs still stand out as exceptional. The reliefs on the outer portions of the temple were completed during the reign of Ramses II, and are of a much lower quality than those further inside the complex. (Ramses moved the best craftsmen to work on his own temples after his father's death). The Kings List, or Pharaohs List is somewhat selective, omitting for example Akhenaten (the heretic king), Hatshepsut (a female pharaoh), and the reigns of the kings during the Hyskos occupation. If you are interested in ancient Egyptian history and art, this temple is as much a must-see as Abu Simbel or the Karnak temple.
- 2 Osireion (Osiris' tomb). An integral part of Seti I's temple, built at a considerably lower level than its foundations, to resemble an 18th Dynasty Valley of the Kings tomb. It was discovered by Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray, who were excavating the site in 1902–3. The name "Osireion" was invented by Petrie, who interpreted it as a symbolic tomb of Osiris.
- 3 The Temple of Ramses II. The adjacent temple of Ramses II is much smaller and simpler in plan; much of the better carving, and his list of pharaohs, similar to that of Seti I, which used to stand here, sits today in the British Museum in London, but some lower parts remain. The outside of the temple was decorated with scenes of the Battle of Kadesh.
- 4 Umm El Qa'ab (its modern name means "Mother of Pots"). The necropolis of the Early Dynastic Period kings, pharaohs of the 1st Dynasty of Egypt and the last two kings of the 2nd Dynasty, a site of veneration and worship in Ancient Egypt; by the time of the Middle Kingdom, at least one of the royal tombs was excavated and rebuilt for the priests of Osiris. This area was first excavated by Émile Amélineau in the 1890s and more systematically by Flinders Petrie between 1899-1901. The German Archaeological Institute has been excavating here since the 1970s.
Eat and sleep
The square facing the temple features several cafés.
- 1 House of Life Abydos Hotel, 4 Abydos Road (about 150 m before the front gate of the temple), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 88 beds, and spa treatments available. Swimming pool, free Wi-Fi in public areas. Wheelchair-accessible. LE1500 with breakfast.
- 2 Lapidus Tourist Hotel, Abydos Road (about 50 m in front of the gate of the temple), ☏ .