Abydos is a sacred part of Egypt as it is symbolically important to the god Osiris. Osiris was a very powerful god and represented resurrection and eternal life. He is perceived as the supreme god, and was revered in life as well as the afterlife. As death was taken very seriously by the ancient Egyptian people, so too were their temples and holy places devoted to the gods that represent it – Abydos has long been a very sacred and powerful location to those who believed in the afterworld. Ancient mythology states that at sunset, the area of Abydos looked like a golden staircase leading up into the sky, and so, many people wished to be buried there.
Abydos is also the location where, allegedly, Osiris came back to power after being deceived by his brother, Seth, god of the moon. The legend of Osiris has the makings of a Harlequin romance gone really wrong. Osiris met his end after being chopped up into many pieces by Seth.
As the story goes, Osiris, the son of two other powerful gods (Nut, goddess of the sky, and Geb, god of the earth) helped civilize the Egyptians by teaching them agriculture and animal husbandry. Being very successful at this he decided to take his show on the road and left his wife, Isis, in charge of the land. Seth, fearful of the power Isis still had over Egypt, began to cultivate strategic alliances with other conspirators in order to overthrow Osiris upon his return.
Seth threw a big party and his many conspirators, as well as Osiris, were invited. Before the party, Seth had a ‘box’ commissioned, to fit his brother perfectly (Seth had given the carpenter Osiris’s specifications). At the party he rolled out the magnificent box and said to all in attendance, that whoever could fit perfectly in the box could keep it. So without further ado, many people tried it out and of course when Osiris stepped in, it fit like a glove. While he lay in there, completely unaware of any ill will between him and his brother, Seth and his gang slammed him shut in the box and poured molten lead inside, and dumped the box in the Nile.
When his wife, Isis, found out, she was very upset to say the least. She searched far and wide for the box, and found it in another country and finally brought it back to Egypt. When Seth heard that, he searched for the box too. When he found it, he hacked Osiris up into 14 pieces, hoping to be rid of him for good, and scattered him across the land. Isis then set out to gather up all of the remains of her husband (or brother depending on which stories you read – actually, it is like a Harlequin romance). Whenever she came across a part, she had a monument erected in his honour on that spot. This is why it is thought that there are so many shrines devoted to Osiris across Egypt. Abydos is where she found his head, hence the sacredness of this site.
The myth of Osiris was powerful enough to convince Pharaohs and other nobles that in order to have peace in the afterlife, they must pay great tribute to him. However, it appears as though many rulers are actually buried elsewhere. The rulers would have wanted to be buried close to where they ruled yet still pay homage to Osiris. Being ‘buried’ in both places was apparently a common practice among the pharaohs, so Abydos is largely comprised of monuments, not actual tombs. For example Seti I and Rameses II, both rulers of the New Kingdom had commissioned temples for themselves in Abydos, but were actually buried in other places, such as the Valley of the Kings in West Thebes.