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Esna (Isna) is a small town in Egypt, which is well worth a visit by the visitor who is fascinated by Egypts monuments and temples. It is a beautiful town situated about 33 miles south of Luxor. Esna is a good example of where ancient Egypt meets modern; with its famous temple on the one hand, and its vibrant weaving industry and buzzing tourist market on the other. Esna and its neighboring settlement called Iunyt during Pharaohonic times was formerly one of the most important settlements in Egypt. It has been known under many different names. It was also at one time called Ta Senet or the Holy City. The Greeks knew it as Latopolis.
Esnas temple which is the main attraction, is dedicated to some of Egypts gods, but particularly to the god Khnum and his family. Neith, Khnums wife was a goddess of hunting and weaving. Heka was their son, and he personified magic. Khnum himself was the god of the Nile River. The temple was also dedicated to Menhet, a lion goddess who was also known to be one of Khnums wives. Khnum, who was vastly worshipped is said to have had the head of a ram and the people believed that he fashioned mankind form the mud of the Nile on his potters wheel. In the courtyard in front of the temple, stands a statue of the goddess Menheyet also known as Menhyt. This deity is believed to have had the head of a lion.
The temple dates back to the Ptolemaic or Greek period, but there is evidence that Roman emperors had an input in some of the decorations. During the 18th dynasty, it was a thriving town due to Egypts relationship with the Sudan. The city slowly declined for a period after that, only to rise again during the 26th dynasty. Under the Greeks and Romans, it laid claim to being the capital of the Third Nome of Upper Egypt.
The history of Egypt is etched throughout every facet of the temple. From the roof of the hall to the columns which still retain some of their original painted color, There are varying floral designs accompanied by texts which describe not only the religious festivals of the town but also several of the Roman emperors who ruled before the gods. Text within the temple provides records of four smaller temples which probably had cultic connections with this main temple, but no longer exist. There are also two cryptographic hymns, one written with hieroglyphs of rams and another with crocodiles, both dedicated to Khnum.
Today, however Esna, situated on the west bank of the Nile is a busy, modern agricultural town with a weaving industry, and a very popular tourist stop-off point for Nile cruisers ferrying tourists from Luxor to Aswan, which lies 155km. further upstream.
What lures visitors to the small Egyptian town of Esna, is its ancient temple dedicated to the god Khnum, and his wife Neith and son Heka. Khnum was the god of the Nile. Other than the temple, there is not much more of interest; except for the local market; however you can still spend an enjoyable hour or two in this beautiful city.
The temple of Khnum is fascinating as its gives you a peak into Egypts ancient history. It lies in the middle of the now modern town, at about 9 metres beneath the street level . Only the pillared hall of the temple has been excavated. The ruins of the temple and the old city lie under the modern dwellings. You enter the temple by descending a steep staircase. In the forecourt of the temple, visitors will be attracted to blocks from an early Christian church. This relic recalls the time when Esna was an important Christian centre.
The Saturday animal market is the second main point of interest in Etna. Stroll leisurely along the covered market street, and select form a wide array of colorful fabric, products of the towns weaving industry. You can even have the fabric made into clothing right there after your purchase.
Photographers and artists can have a field day photographing or drawing some of Esnas quaint old houses with their exquisite brickwork and mashrbiyya screens. Apart from this, there is a barrage outside of the town dating back to 1906.
Esna also features a monastery. After your walk through the market street, you can visit the Deir Manaos Wa al-Shuhada which is the Monastery of the Three Thousand Six Hundred Martyrs. This historical monastery with its 10th century church lies about four miles southwest of the town. It is looked upon as one of Upper Egypts most beautiful churches. The monastery is probably a lasting commemoration the Emperor Decius (249-251 AD). Decius was the Emperor who decreed that all Christians would die if they did not sacrifice to the pagan gods. His cartouche is carved on the walls of the temple of Khnum.
Offshore, Esna is a good place to have a delightful cruise down the Nile River. As the boat cruises through the locks which are no longer used to raise or lower ship traffic, you will be surely entertained by the merchants in small boats surrounding your boat as they ply their wares, Bargaining is the high point here, with some very good deals.. You should have fun doing this, and even more fun as the friendly merchants throw your purchases in the air for you to catch. It is an enjoyable experience. If you are planning on visiting Egypt, be sure to list Esna on your itinerary.