Egypt’s newest public wonder: the temple of the crocodile god

Egypt, SobekLast week a new ancient site opened to the public in Egypt–a temple of the crocodile god Sobek.

Medinet Madi is located in Egypt’s Faiyum region, a fertile area around a lake at the end of a branch of the Nile called Bahr Yusuf (“The River of Joseph”).

The temple features a long avenue lined with sphinxes and lions, plus an incubation room for hatching the eggs of sacred crocodiles. You’d think these crocs would live the good life, splashing around the swamps and gnawing on a sacrificial victim or two. Instead they were mummified and sold to pilgrims. Check out the gallery for a couple of photos of crocodile mummies.

Sobek was one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. He’s generally pictured with the body of a man and the head of a crocodile. He’s said to have created the Earth when he laid eggs in the primordial waters, and the Nile is supposed to be his sweat. He’s the god of the Nile, the Faiyum, and of course crocodiles.

In ancient times the Nile and the lush wetlands of the Faiyum were full of crocodiles. The people prayed to Sobek to appease them. Because he was a fierce god, he was one of the patrons of the ancient Egyptian army.

Sobek’s temple at Medinet Madi was built by the pharaohs Amenemhat III (c.1859-1813 BC) and Amenemhat IV (c.1814-1805 BC) during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom and expanded during the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC) after Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great.

The temple is also dedicated to the cobra-headed goddess Renenutet, who in some traditions was Sobek’s wife. Despite her appearance, she was a much kinder deity than Sobek, a sort of mother goddess who nursed babies and gave them their magical True Name. Farmers liked her because cobras ate the rats that would eat their crops.

%Gallery-123603%The new tourist site was funded by Italy, which coughed up €3.5 million ($5 million) to clear off the sand and restore the temple. Italian archaeologists have been working in the area for decades and in addition to the Sobek temple they’ve found a Roman military camp and ten early Coptic Christian churches dating from the 5th-7th century AD.

Medinet Madi isn’t the only crocodile temple. Not far away stands Crocodilopolis, where Egyptians honored the sacred crocodile Petsuchos by sticking gold and gemstones into its hide. There are several other Sobek temples along the Nile, the most impressive being Kom Ombo far to the south near Aswan.

Kom Ombo is one of Egypt’s most fascinating temples. It’s rather new as Egyptian temples go–being founded in the second century BC by the Ptolemaic dynasty. Carvings of Sobek and other deities adorn the walls and columns. There are also some scenes from daily life. On the inner face of the outer corridor keep an eye out for a carving showing a frightening array of old surgeon’s tools. Also check out the small shrine to Hathor in the temple compound where piles of sacred crocodiles from the nearby necropolis are kept.

[Photo courtesy Hedwig Storch]

Become a monk or Muslim for a month

Muslim for a monthIf you really want to “go local” on your next vacation, have you considered changing your religion? A new program in Turkey offers guests a chance to be Muslim for a month in order to foster cultural awareness. The term month is used loosely – guests can choose from nine- and twenty-one-day programs, including visits to some of Istanbul‘s most famous mosques, lessons on Islam and Sufism (famed for their Whirling Dervishes), an invite to an Islamic wedding, and side trips to some of Turkey’s most important Muslim sites. While in Istanbul, guests stay in a 400-year-old Sufi lodge and take in many of the non-religious sites of the city.

The Blood Foundation started with a “temple stay” program in Thailand, where guests can learn about Thai Buddhism, volunteer with a school on the Burma border, and stay with a hill tribe family.


Monk for a month is also offered for two and three weeks, and involves daily meditation and following the Ten Precepts of a novice monk.

Gadling readers, would you want to experience another religion on your travels?

Photo courtesy Flickr user huygens.

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 7: Sangkhlaburi


Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 37 – Click above to watch video after the jump

No matter what type of adventure you’re looking for, Thailand has it all.

In the first half of Travel Talk’s grand Thai expedition, we’ve tamed elephants, explored Bangkok’s temples, eaten scorpions, taken in a Muay Thai match, and witnessed a train running directly through a bustling market. Now, we’re taking you to explore a lesser known province of Thailand for a closer look at the culture and traditions of rural Thai life.

Situated near the border of Myanmar, Sangkhlaburi is a great destination for those looking for alternative to Chiang Mai or the beaches of Koh Samui. After embarking on an ox cart ride and being welcomed with a traditional ceremony in a Hmong village, we try stay upright on a canoe in Sangklahburi’s lake and discover that it’s not always easy to avoid the dreaded hoards of tour buses.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.


Subscribe via iTunes:
[iTunes] Subscribe to the Show directly in iTunes (M4V).
[RSS M4V] Add the Travel Talk feed (M4V) to your RSS aggregator and have it delivered automatically.

Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

More Roman heritage from Mérida, Spain

Roman, Spain, MéridaIn the Extremaduran city of Mérida, it feels like at any moment you’re going to turn a corner and meet an ancient Roman. Sometimes that almost happens.

This fellow was at the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, a world-class museum featuring Roman statues, mosaics, and other artifacts. Built by the famous architect Rafael Moneo Vallés, it looks like an old Roman basilica, with lofty arches, wide corridors, and lots of natural light. This allows each artifact to have plenty of space so it can be viewed from all angles. My five-year-old son loved this place. With the crowds dispersed in such a large area, he didn’t have to keep close to my side all the time. He could wander at will (within my sight, of course) and examine the chariot races on the mosaics all by himself. He also liked the basement, which included a Roman road and several crypts.

While the museum is one of the best I’ve seen, the whole city is actually a museum. Behind a cafe I saw spare chairs stacked under a Roman arch. The local church incorporates parts of a temple to Mars. The main pedestrian bridge across the Rio Guadiana, dating to about 25 BC, is the longest surviving Roman bridge in the world.

Last time I talked about the Roman theater and amphitheater at Mérida. These are the two most popular sights in town, but perhaps more impressive is the Casa del Mitreo. This Roman mansion is located near the subterranean temple of Mithras, a mystery religion that was the main competitor with Christianity for the hearts and minds of the Romans in the late Empire. It’s not clear if the house was actually associated with the temple, but a beautiful, complex mosaic on the library floor suggests it was. It shows the divine principles of sky, earth, and sea in a vast interconnected group. These aren’t gods, but ideas, such as Copiae, the riches of the sea; Aestas, the summer; and Chaos. The whole mansion has been excavated and protected under a modern roof, so you can stroll around on a modern walkway and look down the bedrooms, patios, and wall paintings. My wife voted this the best attraction in town. Near the house is a rather spooky Roman graveyard.

%Gallery-112140% On the edge of town you can see one of the best preserved Roman hippodromes in the world. Chariot races were even more popular than gladiator fights or plays. Like the theater this was an institution that the early Christians disapproved of. But like the Mérida theater, it got a major face lift courtesy of the early Christian emperors in the years 337-340 AD. It took some time for the Christians to enforce their strict morality on the Roman populace. Walking along the 440 meter (481 yard) long racetrack you can easily imagine cheering crowds and crashing chariots. Thirty thousand people could be seated here. Nearby are the remains of one of Mérida’s two aqueducts.

Mérida protected the crossing of the Guadiana river, and so even after the Roman Empire crumbled it was an important spot. The Visigoths, a Germanic tribe, built an imposing city wall and fortress here. Little of that period remains, but the next rulers of Mérida, the Moors, built a sprawling fortress called the Alcazaba next to the bridge. When we visited we had the place pretty much to ourselves. My son got to walk the ramparts and look out over the river, imagining what it would have been like to live in those times. He especially liked exploring the dark tunnels under the main tower, which lead to a cistern that provided the soldiers with water. The upper story of this same tower was once a mosque.

“Fun for the whole family” is a horrible travel writing cliché, but it does apply to Mérida! While the modern town isn’t much to look at, it’s full of ancient surprises. The food and wine are great too. More on that in another post.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: The Visigoths: Spain’s forgotten conquerors!

Roman village discovered in London suburb

Roman London Archaeology
Archaeologists working in the west London suburb of Brentford have discovered a Roman village.

The 2,000 year-old village was along a road leading out of London (called Londinium back then) to Silchester, another Roman settlement. Archaeologists found several houses, a stretch of the original road, plus numerous burials and artifacts. The site is located on the grounds of Syon House, the stately home of the Duke of Northumberland.

This isn’t the first find on the Duke’s property. For the past six years an archaeology team has been excavating a medieval abbey there.

The excavation that found the Roman site was done to clear the way for a new Waldorf Astoria hotel. Some of the artifacts will be on display at the hotel once it opens later this year.

Despite being a massive city that’s been built, burned, rebuilt, bombed, and rebuilt again, London has managed to retain some remnants of its Roman past. A mithraeum, a temple dedicated to the god Mithras, is right downtown at the corner of Queen St. and Queen Victoria St., as you can see in the above picture. There are stretches of Roman wall nearby and an excellent display of artifacts in the Museum of London.

Strangely, the announcement of this discovery came at the same time as an announcement by Egyptologists of a discovery of a sphinx-lined road under an apartment complex in Luxor, Egypt. Makes you wonder what’s underneath your basement.