Tue . 19 Jun 2019

Heliopolis (ancient Egypt)

heliopolis ancient egypt map, cairo ancient egypt history
Heliopolis was a major city of ancient Egypt It was the capital of the 13th or Heliopolite Nome of Lower Egypt and a major religious center It is now located in Ayn Shams, a northeastern suburb of Cairo

Heliopolis was one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt, occupied since the Predynastic Period1 It greatly expanded under the Old and Middle Kingdoms but is today mostly destroyed, its temples and other buildings having been scavenged for the construction of medieval Cairo Most information about the ancient city comes from surviving records

The major surviving remnant of Heliopolis is the obelisk of the Temple of Ra-Atum erected by Senusret I of Dynasty XII It still stands in its original position, now within Al-Masalla in Al-Matariyyah, Cairo2 The 21 m 69 ft high red granite obelisk weighs 120 tons 240,000 lbs


  • 1 Names
  • 2 History
    • 21 Egyptian Heliopolis
    • 22 Hellenistic Heliopolis
    • 23 Roman Heliopolis
    • 24 Islamic Heliopolis
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Present site
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References
    • 71 Citations
    • 72 Bibliography
  • 8 External links


in hieroglyphs

Heliopolis is the latinized form of the Ptolemaic Greek name Hēlioúpolis Ἡλιούπολις, meaning "City of the Sun" Helios, the personified and deified form of the sun, was identified by the Greeks with the native Egyptian gods Ra and Atum, whose principal cult was located in the city

Its native name was I͗wnw "The Pillars", whose exact pronunciation is uncertain because ancient Egyptian recorded only consonantal values Its traditional Egyptological transcription is Iunu but it appears in biblical Hebrew as Ôn אן‎ and Āwen און‎, leading some scholars to reconstruct its pronunciation as Āwanu Variant transcriptions include Awnu and Annu

The city also appears in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts as the "House of Ra"4


Map of ancient Lower Egypt showing Heliopolis

Egyptian Heliopolisedit

Further information: Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, Heliopolis was a regional center from predynastic times

Model of a Votive Temple Gateway at Heliopolis, Dynasty XIX5

It was principally notable as the cult center of the sun god Atum, who came to be identified with Ra6 and then Horus The primary temple of the city was known as the Great House Egyptian: Pr Ꜥꜣt or Per Aat, Par ʻĀʼat or House of Atum Pr I͗tmw or Per Atum, Par-ʼAtāma; Hebrew: פתם‎‎, Pithom Its priests maintained that Atum or Ra was the first being, rising self-created from the primeval waters A decline in the importance of Ra's cult during Dynasty V led to the development of the Ennead, a grouping of nine major Egyptian gods which placed the others in subordinate status to Ra–Atum The high priests of Ra are not as well documented as those of other deities, although the high priests of Dynasty VI c 2345 – c 2181 BC have been discovered and excavated7 During the Amarna Period of Dynasty XVIII, Pharaoh Akhenaten introduced a kind of monotheistic worship of Aten, the deified solar disc As part of his construction projects, he built a Heliopolitan temple named "Elevating Aten" Wṯs I͗tn or Wetjes Atum, whose stones can still be seen in some of the gates of Cairo's medieval city wall The cult of the Mnevis bull, another embodiment of the Sun, had its altar here as well Their personal formal burial ground was situated north of the city

The store-city Pithom is mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible Exodus 1:11, and according to one theory, this was Heliopoliscitation needed

Hellenistic Heliopolisedit

Alexander the Great, on his march from Pelusium to Memphis, halted at this city;8

The temple of Ra was said to have been, to a special degree, a depository for royal records, and Herodotus states that the priests of Heliopolis were the best informed in matters of history of all the Egyptians Heliopolis flourished as a seat of learning during the Greek period; the schools of philosophy and astronomy are claimed to have been frequented by Orpheus, Homer,9 Pythagoras, Plato, Solon, and other Greek philosophers Ichonuphys was lecturing there in 308 BC, and the Greek mathematician Eudoxus, who was one of his pupils, learned from him the true length of the year and month, upon which he formed his octaeterid, or period of 8 years or 99 months Ptolemy II had Manetho, the chief priest of Heliopolis, collect his history of the ancient kings of Egypt from its archives The later Ptolemies probably took little interest in their "father" Ra, and Alexandria had eclipsed the learning of Heliopolis; thus with the withdrawal of royal favour Heliopolis quickly dwindled, and the students of native lore deserted it for other temples supported by a wealthy population of pious citizens By the 1st century BC, in fact, Strabo found the temples deserted, and the town itself almost uninhabited, although priests were still present

Heliopolis was well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, being noted by most major geographers of the period, including Ptolemy, Herodotus and others, down to the Byzantine geographer Stephanus of Byzantium10

Roman Heliopolisedit

In Roman Egypt, Heliopolis belonged to the province Augustamnica, causing it to appear as Heliopolis in Augustamnica when it needed to be distinguished from Baalbek Its population probably contained a considerable Arabian element11 Many of the city's obelisks were removed to adorn more northern cities of the Delta and Rome Two of these eventually became London's Cleopatra's Needle and its twin in New York's Central Park

Islamic Heliopolisedit

During the Middle Ages, the growth of Fustat and Cairo only a few kilometres away caused its ruins to be massively scavenged for building materials, including for their city walls The site became known as the "Well of the Sun" Ayn Shams and ʻArab al-Ḥiṣn


The importance of the solar cult at Heliopolis is reflected in both ancient pagan and current monotheistic beliefs Egyptian and Greco-Roman mythology held that the bennu or phoenix brought the ashes of its predecessor to the altar of the sun god at Heliopolis each time it was reborn In the Hebrew's scriptures, Heliopolis is referenced directly and obliquely, usually in reference to its prominent pagan cult In his prophesies against Egypt, Isaiah claimed the "City of the Sun" Ir ha Shemesh would be one of the five Egyptian cities to follow the Lord of Heaven's army and speak Hebrew12b Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention the "House of the Sun" Beth Shemesh and Ôn, claiming Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would shatter its obelisks and burn its temple13 and that its "young men of Folly" Aven would "fall by the sword"14

The "Syrian Heliopolis" Baalbek has been claimed to have gained its solar cult from a priest colony emigrating from Egypt15

Heliopolis in Augustamnica remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church

Present siteedit

The ancient city is currently located about 15–20 meters 49–66 ft below the streets of the middle- and lower-class suburbs of Al-Matariyyah,1 Ain Shams, and Tel Al-Hisn16 in northern Cairo The area is about 15 kilometers 1 mi west of the modern suburb which bears its name1

Some ancient city walls of crude brick can be seen in the fields, a few granite blocks bearing the name of Ramesses II remain, and the position of the great Temple of Ra-Atum is marked by the Al-Masalla obelisk Archaeologists excavated some of its tombs in 200417

See alsoedit

  • Other Heliopolises, particularly
    • Heliopolis Syriaca, the modern Baalbek in Lebanon
    • Heliopolis, the 20th-century suburb of Cairo
    • Ilioupoli, the 20th-century suburb of Athens settled by Egyptian Greeks
  • Ancient Egyptian creation myths – in reference to the religious belief system of Iunu at Heliopolis
  • List of Egyptian dynasties – in reference to the reigns centered at Heliopolis
  • Benben


  1. ^ Variant representations of Iunu include
  2. ^ Variant texts read "City of Destruction" Ir ha Heres instead



  1. ^ a b c Dobrowolska; et al 2006, Heliopolis: Rebirth of the City of the Sun, p 15, ISBN 9774160088 
  2. ^ "Obelisk", Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed, 1911 
  3. ^ Collier & Manley, p 29
  4. ^ Bonnet, Hans, Reallexikon der Ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte  in German
  5. ^ "Model of a Votive Temple Gateway at Heliopolis 49183", Official site, Brooklyn Museum, retrieved 8 July 2014 
  6. ^ Hart, George, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, ISBN 0-415-34495-6 
  7. ^ Planetware: Priests of Ra tombs, Heliopolis—Al-Matariyyah accessed 01282011 Archived 2010-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Arrian, iii 1
  9. ^ The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, Book I, ch VI
  10. ^ Ptolemy, iv 5 § 54; Herodotus, ii 3, 7, 59; Strabo, xvii p 805; Diodorus, i 84, v 57; Arrian, Exp Alex iii 1; Aelian, H A vi 58, xii 7; Plutarch, Solon 26, Is et Osir 33; Diogenes Laertius, xviii 8 § 6; Josephus, Ant Jud xiii 3, C Apion i 26; Cicero, De Natura Deorum iii 21; Pliny the Elder, v 9 § 11; Tacitus, Ann vi 28; Pomponius Mela, iii 8 Byzantine geographer Stephanus of Byzantium, s v Ἡλίουπόλις
  11. ^ Plin, Nat Hist, vi, 34 
  12. ^ Isaiah 19:18
  13. ^ Jeremiah 43:13 NASB; Compare NIV
  14. ^ Ezekiel 30:17 NIV
  15. ^ Macrobius, Saturn, i 23
  16. ^ "Al-Ahram Weekly | Features | City of the sun" Weeklyahramorgeg 2005-06-01 Archived from the original on 2013-03-25 Retrieved 2013-03-26 
  17. ^ "Pharonic tomb uncovered in Cairo, suburbs of Matariya", Egiptomania, 26 August 2004 


  • Allen, James P 2001 "Heliopolis" In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by Donald Bruce Redford Vol 2 of 3 vols Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press 88–89
  • Bilolo, Mubabinge 1986 Les cosmo-théologies philosophiques d'Héliopolis et d'Hermopolis Essai de thématisation et de systématisation, Academy of African Thought, Sect I, vol 2, Kinshasa–Munich 1987; new ed, Munich-Paris, 2004
  • Reallexikon der Ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte - Hans Bonnet
  • Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998
  • The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, George Hart ISBN 0-415-34495-6
  • Redford, Donald Bruce 1992 "Heliopolis" In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman Vol 3 of 6 vols New York: Doubleday 122–123
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed 1854–1857 "article name needed" Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography London: John Murray 

External linksedit

  • Obelisk of Psametik II from Heliopolis, removed and reerected by Augustus in Rome

Coordinates: 30°07′456″N 31°18′271″E / 30129333°N 31307528°E / 30129333; 31307528

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