Philae temples in Aswan

The Temples of Philae

The ancient Egyptian name of Philae was Pilak, from which the Greek and Latin Philae was derived. During the Islamic era, it was known to the local people as El-Qasr, the “Castle,” or as Geziret Anas el-Wogud, after the hero of one of the tales in the “Arabian Nights,” who traced his beloved to the island, where she had been locked up by her father.

This amazing temple complex is located on one of the islands in the River Nile. Its original place was on the Philae Island in Aswan. After building the High Dam in Aswan, there was a need to move this complex to the next island, Agilika. With the help of UNESCO, it was rebuilt on the Agilika Island which is located 12 km to the south of the High Dam.

For a long history, starting from the ancient Egyptian periods to the Byzantine periods, the Philae complex was a center for the cult of goddess Isis, goddess of healing. Although Isis is the principal deity worshiped in this complex, we can notice that there are a number of gods who were venerated: Osiris, Nephthys, Hathor, and the cataract gods Khnum and Satet.

The oldest surviving temple buildings date back the time of Nectanebo I (370 BC), while the Great Temple of Isis is the most prominent building in this complex. The imposing buildings that stand today were erected by the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the last two centuries BC and by the Roman Emperors in the first three centuries AD.

As Nubians were last to convert to Christianity, the temple remained serving the goddess Isis until it was closed in the time of Justinian (AD 527-565). After that the Christians used it as a church.

The island was considered as one of the most beautiful places in Egypt and attracted large numbers of visitors every year. Just after the construction of the Aswan Dam in 1922, it was merged under water for the greater part of the year and the temples were accessible only between August and December. Once again, another event was to threaten this amazing complex when Egypt started to build the High Dam.  Therefore, UNESCO helped to move this complex to the next safe island in the period between 1972 and 1980.

The Temple of goddess Isis

Here, we are going to take a close look on the structure of the temple of goddess Isis. This temple is the most ancient part of the Philae complex. It built in the reign of Nectanebo I during 380-362 BC, which was approached from the river through a double colonnade.

First Pylon

The First Pylon towers 18-meter high, and it is decorated with reliefs of Nectanebo I. On the front side of the eastern tower, we can see a huge relief which depicts Ptolemy XII, Neos Dionysos. The depict shows that he is grasping a band of enemies by the hair and raising his club to smite them.  In the same time, we can notice that the relief is showing three gods standing with the king _ Isis, the falcon-headed Horus of Edfu, and Hathor. Above this relief, there are two more reliefs of Neos Dionysos presenting the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt to Horus and Nephthys, on the right hand side, and offering incense to Isis and Harpocrates on the left hand side.

It is important to know that in front of the first pylon there originally stood two granite lions, and two granite obelisks erected by Euergetes II. On discovery, the obelisks were intact. Later, one of them got broken in antiquity. In the nineteenth century, William John Bankes took the Philae obelisks on which this petition was engraved to England.

On the western side of the doorway, we can see reliefs for Philometor. This This elegant gateway has reliefs by Ptolemy II Philadelphus on its lintel, and the Emperor Tiberius on the jambs. The gateway, built by Philadelphus, originally stood in a brick wall. It leads directly to the Birth House, Mammisi.

The First Court

The Birth House (mammisi) is located in the western side of the First Court. The Mammisi is dedicated to Hathor-Isis in honor of the birth of her son Horus. It is surrounded on all four sides by colonnades, the columns in which have foliage capitals surmounted by sistrum capitals. The walls, columns, and screens between the columns are covered with reliefs and inscriptions, mostly by Euergetes II, Neos Dionysos, Augustus, and Tiberius. While the mammisi walls are covered with reliefs which depict the childhood of Horus, including Horus as a falcon in the swamps of the Delta and Isis suckling Horus in the swamps.

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