Welcome to Abu, Capital of Ta-Sety


Why is the capital of the 1st sepat (nome) of Upper Egypt named after elephants? Because:

a) We are a trading place for ivory

b) There are elephants in the area

c) The rocks make people think of elephants

d) All of the above

Abu (or Yabu) is known as the Birthplace of the Nile. The Nile is said to arise out of underground caverns in the area. Explore some of the caverns and see for yourself! The First Cataract is also where Heru (Horus) finally killed Sutekh (Seth). Their battles are said to have churned up the river so much that they formed the First Cataract. Others say that a change in the underlying rock causes the rapids or cataracts. In addition, the Nilometer was built at Abu to measure the height of the annual Nile flood. The Nilometer is a staircase with cubit markings to measure the Nile.

Ta-Sety has also been called Ta-Khent or To-Khentit, "The Frontier". Abu was the border of Kemet (Egypt) during Naqada III times and the Early Dynastic Period. Abejdu (Abydos) was the capital during Naqada III times (Dynasties 0 and 1). At that time, Kemet seems to have defeated Lower Nubia. Lower Nubia was only lightly populated during the Early Dynastic Period. In the 12th dynasty, Egyptian kings extended the frontier and conquered Nubia as far as the Second Cataract.

Abu is about 30 miles south of Nubyt (Kom Ombo). Over the years, Abu has been the home to many temples dedicated to the local triad of deities: Khnum, Satet (or Satis), and Anuket (or Anukis).

Abu (Elephantine) Island was inhabited by late Predynastic times. The island formed from two islands in the 3rd millennium. In pre-dynastic times, Swenet (Aswan) was inhabited by the people of Ta Nehesy (Nubia, A-Group). During the 1st Dynasty, the kings of Kemet built a fortress on Abu (Elephantine) Island and took control of the Nile valley down to the First Cataract. The people of Abu turned their eyes from the south to the north.

The ancient town is at the southern end. A predynastic temple lies beneath the 18th-Dynasty Temple of Satet. The predynastic shrine was made of mud brick and was built in a niche between two granite boulders. Human and animal faience figures abound from six dynasties (800 years) during the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. One statue has the name of Djer inscribed on it. The presence of so many votive objects suggests the presence of an early craft workshop that made the objects for worshippers and petitioners to purchase. Other early cult centers were located in the towns of Abedju (Abydos) and Nekhen (Hierakonpolis). A large wall protected the town in the 2nd Dynasty. There is also an Early Dynastic Fortress.

Abu (Elephantine) prospered during the Old Kingdom. Some of the ancient town survives, although most of it is buried under modern Abu. Sneferu, the 4th Dynasty king (2613 - 2589 BC) built one of his step pyramids in Abu as part of his royal funerary cult. Like Sneferu's other step pyramids in such places as Behdet (Edfu), Ombos, and Abedju (Abydos), it covers 20 sq. m. (The others are at el-Kula, el-Seila, and Zawiyet el-Mayitin). It is located north of the temples.

Old Kingdom kings may have favored Satet with a temple at Abu by the 6th Dynasty. There is also a chapel or shrine to Governor Hekayib (or Heqaib), a 6th dynasty official. During the Middle Kingdom, his shrine was filled with stelae and statuary of the local nobles and some kings. Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, and Amenhotep III all built temples here.

Rock-cut tombs of nobles and leaders of expeditions to Nubia can be found on the west bank. They date to the Old Kingdom. There are also tombs of Middle Kingdom nomarchs and New Kingdom officials.

Abu is also the starting point for the Road to the Oases. Only 50 miles or so west of Abu (Elephantine) is the Kurkur Oasis. Another 65 miles (100 km) to the southwest is the Dunqul Oasis. About 90 miles north of the Dunqul Oasis (or 160 miles west of Elephantine) is the el-Kharga Oasis, one of the major oases of Kemet. From el-Kharga you can go to el-Dakhla Oasis or to many of the other oases. Nabta Playa, which was inhabited in predynastic times, is about 150 miles south of the Dunqul Oasis. The Salima Oasis is about 100 miles south of Nabta Playa. The western oases are known for their food products and their wine.

Where to go in Abu

Visit our fine Market

Eat among the friendly golden columns of McMentuhotep's

Back to the Ta Sety Nome


Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt, John Baines and Jaromir Malek, New York: Checkmark Books/ Facts on File, 2000.

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Last Updated November 30, 2009