El Kab is the present name of the ancient site of Nekheb (or Elethya), which was situated in the third nome of Upper Egypt. The city is on the right bank of the Nile, opposite the almost as old town of Nekhen (or Hierakonpolis, present Kom el Ahmar). It is situated 90 km. to the south of Thebes and 32 km. to the south of Esna.

 

Numerous proofs indicate that the site was occupied since prehistory with signs of an pre-paleolithic industry dating from about 7000 years B.C., and an important cemetery dating from the time of Nagada III (toward 3300 B.C.). Very numerous prehistoric graffiti also exist on the walls of the wadis.

 

Constantly occupied during Pharaonic times, the ruin of the city seems to date the VIIIth century, with the Arabian occupation. The scientists of the Expedition of Egypt could have still been able to see significant remains of local temples (which have since disappeared) and had already drawn up a plan of the site. The sebakh researchers found the mud bricks as a resultant manure and the stones of the monuments reused, giving today an impression an ancient city in total ruin and nearly reduced to nothing.

 

The actual city had the shape of a massive square with a large surrounding wall of mud bricks, at the water level, this wall was probably erected by Nectanebo II of the XXXth Dynasty (toward 360-343 B.C.). The heart of the city consisted of two massive temples. The most important was dedicated to Nekhbet and was erected in sandstone; the second to Sobek and to Thoth. To the east of the surrounding wall, two small temples, one dating from Thutmosis I, the other one from Nectanebo.

 

Further, at the entry of the Wadi Hilal, one finds the repository chapel of Amenophis III, a Ptolemaic hémispéos (= a monument half dug into the cliff, half external structure), and a chapel from the days of Ramesses II.

 

A great many inscriptions and even engraved stelae also exist on the rocks the the region. The necropolis of El Kab provides the first information of importance about the beginnings of the 18th Dynasty. It shelters several tombs which include unique military chronicles on the expulsion of the Hyksos, notably from that of Ahmose son of Abana and the beautiful tomb of Paheri.

 

Indeed during the Second intermediate Period an important feudal family held the city, and seem to have given unfailing support for the Theban princes in their struggle against the Hyksos, commencing with Ahmosis (first king of the 18th Dynasty). These victorious princes did likewise for them. It was indeed fundamental to these sovereigns to preserve this city of Nekhen, to establish the legitimacy of their power.

 

El Kab is indeed the symbolic city of royalty of the South, its tutelary goddess Nekhbet being the counterpart of the goddess Uadjit, representing the North.

 

The goddess Nekhbet (= the one of Nekhen) was represented by a white vulture. These birds of prey, whose habitat is restricted to the desert, were easily differentiated from the eagle or milan by the white underside of their wings. Nekhbet is equated to the white crown of Upper Egypt.

 

At the time when Egypt was not yet unified, the ritual of crowning of the king of the South was certainly done in the original temple of El Kab.

 

From the 3rd Dynasty, the capital of unified Egypt became (and would always be administratively) Memphis. The establishment of the new king inevitably called on the symbols of the North and the South: the crown white, and also certain types of natron purifiers of the region.

 

The goddess of El Kab often carries the title of "lady of the valley" or of "the double valley". Indeed, her domain extended not only over the edges of the Nile but into the depths of the mountain of the east. In the tip of the desert delta, which I described to the first pages, there is even a temple erected by Amenophis III, toward which was transported, at the time of the festivals, the consecrated barque of Nekhabit. It was perhaps, there as a reminder of the day when the great goddess, coming from the area of the east, had made her entry or her re-entry in the land of Egypt, because she is also "lady of Punt".

 

The importance of the site thus suggests to us at least an excursion into the valley. Beyond the line of the railroad, the surface of the desert shows the traces of a necropolis of the Middle Kingdom, plundered during the past, (and which was explored by Quibell, in modern times) did not give much information of value. Toward the left, on the flank of the mountain, one sees the entrances of several tombs of the princes of El Kab and great priests of Nekhabit.