el-Shelwit Temple is a Roman-era (1st-2nd century C.E.) sandstone temple located on Luxor’s West Bank. It is a small temple composed of a central chamber, or naos, with a surrounding corridor, four side chapels and a roof terrace. The façade and interior walls of the naos are decorated with intricately painted high-relief with inscriptions and scenes of Roman emperors making offerings to Egyptian gods. The project to conserve Deir el Shelwit was initiated in 2012 as a collaboration between the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and the Supreme Council of Antiquities to open it to public visitation.
Location of El-Shelwit Temple
The initial phase was led by Katey Corda and Jennifer Porter and focused on preventive conservation measures necessary before remedial work. Measures included roof repairs to prevent water infiltration and the exclusion of a large colony of resident bats. Bats have the potential to severely damage both the historic fabric and the decorative surfaces of a building. Additionally, their guano can carry or host a variety of fungal and bacterial growths harmful to human health. A significant amount of time was dedicated to developing a compassionate and permanent removal strategy, and its account was published upon completion of the 2012 campaign. Additional project components included background research, preliminary documentation, site set-up, and treatment trials to clean the wall paintings.
Today all that remains of the temple is its small main building and ruins of the propylon, its brick enclosure wall and the well. The temple precinct had an area of 78×58 metres; the temple itself is much smaller, with an area of 13×16 m. Its entrance faces south. The outer walls do not have much decoration, but the reliefs are well preserved on the inside. The shrine is surrounded by a corridor from which side chapels and a wabet (place of cleansing) open; the stairs lead to the roof from this corridor. Some stone blocks from earlier buildings had been reused; judging from the reliefs, most appear from Medinet Habu.
The propylon is located 60 meters east of the temple and is lavishly decorated on all sides.
The importance of the Isis temple of Deir el-Shelwit is because Graeco-Roman era religious buildings are rare in this area, and this is the only one not associated with the Theban Triad but with Isis.
According to inscriptions on the propylon, the construction of the Isis temple started around the beginning of the 1st century CE. No earlier building is known to have stood on this site. According to one theory, the temple’s construction started under the reign of Nectanebo II and reached its finished form during the Greek-Roman era.
Karl Richard Lepsius first examined the temple in the mid-19th century, but he did not make a detailed description of it. A French expedition led by Christiane Zivie studied the inscriptions on the propylon and published their studies in 1992. Between 1971 and 1979, archaeologists from the Waseda University of Japan worked on the site. They cleared the enclosure wall and the enclosed precinct from debris and excavated the temple’s well filled with pottery shreds. Thirty-two strata of fillings were detected in the well, up to 4 meters underground, where the water made further excavation impossible. Remains found in the well prove that the well (and the temple itself) was already abandoned and used as a trash deposit by the Coptic era.
The temple’s reliefs are dated to the Greek-Roman era and are similar to Dendera and Philae. On the walls of the temple and the pylon the cartouches of Hadrianus, Antoninus Pius, Galba, Otho, Vespasianus and Julius Caesar can be seen. On the reused blocks built into the temple’s outer walls, reliefs stylistically dated to the New Kingdom can be seen.