The Temples of Philae lie on one of the islands in the Nile River. Its original place was on Philae Island in Aswan. The ancient Egyptian name of Philae was Pilak, from which the Greek and Latin Philae were derived. During the Islamic era, the local people called it El-Qasr or the Castle in English. Also, they named it Geziret Anas el-Wogud, after the hero of one of the tales in the “Arabian Nights“. According to this tale, her father locked her up on Philae. Therefore, this hero traced his beloved to this island.
Location of the Temples of Philae
After building the High Dam in Aswan, there was a need to move this complex to the next island, Agilika. For this reason, Egypt welcomed the help of UNESCO. Thus,the engineers and builders decided to rebuild this temple complex on Agilika Island located 12 km to the south of the High Dam.
History of Philae Temples
The oldest surviving temple buildings date back to the time of Nectanebo I (370 BC), while the Great Temple of Isis is the most prominent building in this complex. Successively, the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the last two centuries BC and the Roman Emperors in the first three centuries AD erected the imposing buildings that stand now.
As Nubians were the last to convert to Christianity, the temple remained serving the goddess Isis until Justinian announced Christianity as the official religion of the country (AD 527-565). After that, the Christians used it as a church.
The island was 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, water merged it for the greater part of the year. For this reason, the temples were accessible only between August and December. Once again, another event dramatically threatened the existence of this amazing complex: building the High Dam in Aswan. Therefore, UNESCO helped to move this complex to the next safe island in the period between 1972 and 1980.
Features of the Temples of Philae
The Temple of Goddess Isis
Here, we are going to take a close look at the structure of the temple of goddess Isis. This temple is the most ancient part of the Philae complex. Historically, Nectanebo I built it during 380-362 BC. At that time, the Ancient Egyptians approached this temple from the river through a double colonnade.
The First Pylon towers 18-meter high, and it gets reliefs of Nectanebo I. On the front side of the eastern tower, we can see a huge relief that depicts Ptolemy XII, Neos Dionysos. The depiction shows he is grasping a band of enemies by the hair and raising his club to smite them. At the same time, one can notice 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. These two reliefs show how he presents the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt to Horus and Nephthys. On the right-hand side, he is offering incense to Isis and Harpocrates on the left-hand side.
It is important to note 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 shall see the reliefs for Philometor. This elegant gateway has reliefs by Ptolemy II Philadelphus on its lintel and 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 stands on the western side of the First Court. This “Mammisi” is dedicated to Hathor-Isis in honour 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. However, the Mammisi walls are covered with reliefs that depict the childhood of Horus. These reliefs show Horus as a falcon in the swamps of the Delta and Isis suckling Horus in the swamps.