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Esna: The City

Isna TempleEsna (Isna) is located about 33 miles south of Luxor. The town's Greek name was Latopolis and here fish (lates) where thought to embody the goddess Neith, who was sacred to the area. Esna was increasingly important during the 18th dynasty due to Egypt's developing relationship with the Sudan. There was a route established between Esna and Derr. Later, the city slowly declined until it received renewed interest during the 26th Dynasty.  Later, under the Greeks and Romans, it became the capital of the Third Nome of Upper Egypt.

We also know of an Esna about a hundred years ago from Flaubert, who later wrote Madame Bovary, was propositioned by a 'almeh' while aboard his boat. He went with her to the house of Kuchuk Hanem, where she danced (not so virtuously) the Bee. In other words, wild times could be found here. Mohammed Ali had band almeh (meaning learned women) from Cairo, so they had gathered to make their living in Qena, Esna and Aswan.

But today, Esna is a somewhat sleepy if busy merchant and farming town, with a weaving industry, on the west bank of the Nile where the entertainment more resides in the Saturday animal market. On the covered market street, one may purchase fabric, or have the fabrics made into clothing.  There are some fine old houses about with fine brickwork and mashrbiyya screens.  There is also a barrage just outside of town which was built in 1906. About 4 miles southwest of town is the Deir Manaos Wa al-Shuhada (Monastery of the Three Thousand Six Hundred Martyrs), who's 10th century church is said to be one of the most beautiful in Upper Egypt. Perhaps this monastery is a lasting commemorative to Emperor Decius (249-51 AD) who degreed that all Christians would suffer death if they did not sacrifice to the pagan gods.  His cartouche was the last to be carved on the walls of the Temple of Khnum in Isna.

But the main attraction is the Temple of Khnum, which lies beneath the level of the houses in a pit. Most of the ruins of around the Temple and the old city are yet to be explored as they lay under these modern dwellings.  This was not the first temple here, for during the reign of Thutmose III, a temple was built here that preceded it. There are blocks from an early Christian church in the forecourt of the temple, foretelling of a time when Isna was an important Christian center.  Near the Temple of Khnum on the stone quay along the corniche  are carved cartouches of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

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