The Philae Temple


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The Philae Temple in Aswan

The Philae Temple

For more than half a century, water had submerged nearly 50% of the Island of Philae and all of its remaining monuments. This happened because of the annual flooding due to the Aswan Dam. In the 1960s, various rescue operations conducted by the UNESCO had saved these Nubian monuments from destruction. After that, the temples were dismantled entirely and later rebuilt on Agilika Island, which is nearby.

The original orientation of the temples was captured in their reconstruction. Agilika was chosen because it has a higher elevation than Philae. But the workers made Agilika look like classic Philae by landscaping and reshaping it to perfection. If you were to visit the original Philae island, you could still see the metal pylons coming out of the water in the area that faces southern Agilika.

The oldest Philae monument to have survived is the Nectanebo I Kiosk from Dynasty XXX. Some evidence suggests the building was constructed during Dynasty XXV, but nothing is certain. There are mostly Roman structures and Ptolemaic structures here. Early Christians reused them after Emperor Justinian closed the temple in 550 A.D. The primary temple was constructed to honor Isis and was the main location of the Isis and Hathor cults in the Roman time period. No other pagan temple in Egypt was used after it.

Philae has several legends told about it. The main legend is about how Isis discovered Osiris’ heart in Philae after his brother Seth murdered him. A Sound and Light Show is held every evening in Philae to pay tribute to these legends. Between the floodlit monuments and the beautiful backdrop, they make the show a wonderful experience to witness.

The structure of Nectanebo in the south is basically a hall that contains columns that connect screen walls together. The courtyard has two colonnades on the west side and east side which take you to the original temple pylon. Various floral capital exists on each column. Ptolemy XII developed the first pylon, and a classic Egyptian style was used for its decoration. It also contains reliefs depicting the King overpowering his enemies as well as worshipping Isis the Goddess.


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Nectanebo built the original and primary portal. In 1799, the French army came to the portal and made inscriptions on the upper east wall. The western tower features the second portal which takes you to a birth house. It shows a depiction of Isis in the marshes while breastfeeding Horus, who was her son. Another colonnade is found in the inner court’s eastern side. Several chambers are in the back of it too. South of the colonnade contains a granite altar depicting Taharqo. It happens to be the island’s oldest object, which makes it a popular tourist attraction.

The second pylon will take you to the hypostyle hall, while a western tower staircase goes to the roof. There are several Osiris chambers in this area, which contains relief depictions of the god’s mourning and death. Sadly, guests are not allowed to access the roof of the pylon.

Hypostyle Hall

The small and modest hypostyle hall is not as impressive as other temples that were built during this time period. Three vestibules can take you to the main sanctuary, which has chambers on both sides that can take you to the crypts.

The eastern side has a doorway that takes you out of the main temple and to the smaller Hathor Temple that was constructed by Ptolemy VI as well as Ptolemy VIII. It features Ptolemaic papyrus columns, along with depictions of an ape that is playing a musical instrument next to the god Bes. A restoration project is currently underway.

The Trajan Kiosk is close by. Out of all the monuments of Philae, this one is the most recognizable. The last part of the South and Light show revolves around this monument. It is a rectangular structure that contains 14 columns, screen walls, and reliefs with depictions of Emperor Trajan and his offerings to Horus, Isis, and Osiris. Unfortunately, the roof is no longer on the kiosk. In fact, the kiosk is very open and full of air. When you leave the island on the river, there is a great view of the Trajan Kiosk.

The outside walls of the Isis Temple show carved scenes that were put there by Emperor Tiberius and Emperor Augustus. The northern side and eastern side contained mudbrick buildings, but they were destroyed over the years. These buildings would have been where the temple staff and Roman priests had lived. The northern side of the island contains a Roman gateway and quay that was constructed by Diocletian. Then you can find a nilometer on the western side of the island which takes you to the river. Nilometers, of course, were structures that could measure the level of floodwater in order to determine the taxes for the next harvest.

Other Monuments in the Area

Agilika has a lot of islands nearby. However, the islands that have more of an association with the Island of Philae are its neighbours: The Island of Konosso and the Island of Biga. You can get to Biga if you hire a private boat to take you there. You will find Osiris cult buildings on the island. According to Graeco and Roman legends, Osiris was dismembered, and his remains were buried on the island. Also, the source of the Nile is a cavern that is supposedly underneath Biga. You can’t see much there today because it is pretty much overgrown with vegetation. You can still find Ptolemaic gateway areas to the temple that are still there.


Updated on April 26 2020