Excavation in Egypt at Tell el-Balamun

The enclosure walls of the temple area

Three mud-brick enclosure walls around the temple area at Tell el-Balamun have been discovered, all with the same purpose of protecting the sacred space but constructed at different periods. The earliest was built in the late Nineteenth or the Twentieth Dynasty and surrounded a relatively small area around the main temple.

A gap some 53m wide in the front wall of this enclosThe Ramesside enclosure wall west of the temple entrance ure indicates the location of the vanished Ramesside pylon of the temple. This enclosure was originally 150m wide but was extended to the south east in the Third Intermediate Period by the addition of a new section.

The Ramesside wall is the oldest feature so far discovered at the site and the sole evidence for the position of the temple of this age, all of which was removed by later building activity.

The later enclosures were built on a much larger scale than that of the Ramesside period, and, with sides around 400m long, surround a region of about 160,000 square metres to include not only the main temple of Amun but certain subsidiary temples within their perimeter. The inner wall probably dates from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, very likely the reign of Psamtik I (about 650 BC), to whom one of the subsidiary temples certainly belonged. In the south corner of this enclosure lay massive buildThe 26th dynasty enclosure wall, north-east side ing which served as some type of citadel.

Many parts of this wall have been excavated, including the gate in the centre of the north-east side. The wall thickness varies from 10 to 12 metres at different points, and it is all built of mixed mud- and sandy bricks over 40cm in length. The brickwork on the exterior of the south corner was found to have been clad with slabs of white limestone, but no evidence was preserved of similar treatment at the other corners of this enclosure.

In the Thirtieth Dynasty the temple complex was reconstructed by King Nectanebo I (about 360 BC), who built a new and yet more massive enclosure wall. This has a slightly greater perimeter than the Twenty-sixth Dynasty wall having been constructed only a few metrStone casing on the south corner of the 26th dynasty wall es outside it all around the perimeter. The replacement enclosure was built with some haste, evident from the method of construction, in which no uniform level foundation was prepared. Instead, the bricks followed the contours of the ground as required, in most areas laid directly on the ground surface with only a minimal foundation, but occasionally trenched in quite deeply as localised regions of higher ground were encountered.

A cross-section between the two walls at the front of the enclosure revealed that the layers of accumulated fill against the exterior of the inner wall passed below the foundation course of the outer wall, confirming the chronological sequence of the two enclosures.

Much of the Thirtieth Dynasty wall is visible as a pale band on the ground surface. Excavation revealed different parts with thicknesses ranging from 18m to 25m. In the north-east side is a very wide gap for the entrance, 125m across, perhaps intended to have been filled by a monumental pylon which was never actually achieved. There was also a smaller gate through the north-western side of the enclosure, in line with the approach to the subsidiary temple of King Nekhtnebef. The corners of the enclosures point approximately towards the cardinal points of the compass, so a pair of crossing lines drawn across the temenos through its corners would be aligned very close to north-south and east-west.

Images (from top):

  • The Ramesside enclosure wall west of the temple entrance
  • The Twenty-sixth Dynasty enclosure wall, north-east side
  • Stone casing on the south corner of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty wall