Philae in Greek or Pilak in ancient Egyptian, meaning “The end”, defined the southernmost limit of Egypt.
Philae was originally located near the expansive First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt and was the site of an Egyptian temple complex.
The Ancient Egyptians built a beautiful and magnificent Temple on this island for the Goddess Isis, but it became submerged after the first Aswan dam was built in 1906.
The temple complex was dismantled and moved to nearby Agilkia Island as part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign project, protecting this and other complexes and it was completely reshaped to imitate Philae Island as closely as possible.
Firstly, a cofferdam was built around the temple and the water was drained. Next, the temple was dismantled and transferred, stone by stone, from the submerged Philae Island to the redesigned Agilkia Island. Each and every stone had to be numbered and then replaced, in the same position, in the new location. It was a massive, and very complicated, project taking over 9 years to be accomplished.
Philae Island was a rocky island in the middle of the River Nile, south of Aswan. It was called in Hieroglyphic “Apo” which means Ivory. It was also known by the Greek “Elephantine”, most probably because it was an important center of trade, especially for ivory.
The Temple of Isis
The Temple of Isis is one of the greatest Temples in Egypt and it occupies about a quarter of the island. It is also the temple’s main island with its huge, complete, pylons and beautiful scenes.
It was dedicated to Goddess Isis, wife of Osiris and mother of Horus and every king on the earth. Her name in ancient Egyptian language was “ist” which means “the throne”. She depicts as a woman and a throne above her head. She was one of the four protective goddesses.
The construction began during the reign of King Ptolemy II, and then other Ptolemaic Kings (Ptolemy’s IV, V, VI, VII, and XI).
The Interior Design:
The oldest standing structure on the island. This was a vestibule, or entrance hall, to the Temple of Isis, and one of the first structures in its construction. It was a hall with 14 columns, but only 6 remain. They are known as Hathoric columns because the capital of each column has the head of Hathor on four sides. The walls of this vestibule are decorated with reliefs of the king sacrificing various items to the gods.
Going north from the Kiosk of Nectanebo you enter a courtyard with colonnades on each side and the first pylon at the back. The western contains 31 columns. The capitals on the columns are floral designs and each one is different. Most of the columns have carvings of the Roman Emperor Tiberius offering gifts to the gods. What remains of the ceiling has stars and flying vultures.
The eastern colonnade was never completed. It has 17 columns, but only 6 have completed capitals.
The 1st Pylon:
In front of the first pylon are two lions carved from pink granite. Two large obelisks also used to be here, but they were taken away and now reside in Dorset, England.
The first pylon is the main entrance to the temple dedicated to Isis. It has two towers and a gate between them. Ptolemy II began the building of the first pylon and it was finished by his son, Ptolemy III.
The gateway of the first pylon was built by Nectanebo, the one who built the vestibule above. Through the gateway is the forecourt of the temple.
Birth House (Mamisi):
On the left side of this court is the Mamisi, which has scenes depicting the birth of the God Horus by his mother Isis.
A common feature in Ptolemaic temples, the Birth House in the Temple of Isis depicts Horus as a hawk wearing a double crown. There is also a relief of Isis carrying a newborn Horus in her arms while being protected by Wadjet, Nekhbet, Amon-Ra and Thoth.
There are columns with floral and palm leaf capitals. The northern wall of the forecourt is the second pylon which is at a different angle than the first pylon.
The 2nd Pylon:
It consists of 2 towers:
The Western Tower depicts Ptolemy XII offering animals and incense to various gods including Hathor, Horus, Nephthys and Horus, and another of the king pouring water and presenting incense on an altar while in the presence of Horus, Isis and Osiris. There is a stela near the eastern tower; it is carved of Ptolemy VI.
The Hypostyle hall:
It stands through a gateway from the second pylon. It contains 10 columns are painted to look like and represent a variety of the flowers and plants. The floor represented the primeval mound and the ceiling painted with images of the Day Boat (Madjet) and the Night Boat (Semektet).
There are 3 vestibules leading to a sanctuary.
Through the Inner Courtyard is Isis’ Sanctuary. The actual sanctuary is a small chamber with two windows. A pedestal, placed here by Ptolemy III, it bears the image of Isis in her sacred barque (boat).
Trajan’s Kiosk is today a roofless structure. In ancient Egyptian times, it was likely roofed and used as a shelter for Isis’ barque at the eastern banks. It is sometimes referred to as the “Pharaoh’s Bed”; Trajan was a Roman Emperor but the kiosk itself likely dates back to earlier times. It is heavily decorated with reliefs of Trajan burning incense to honor Osiris and Isis.
Temple of Hathor:
Built by Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII, the Temple of Hathor consists of a colonnade hall and a forecourt. Augustus decorated the hall to honor Isis and Hathor with depictions of festivals. Trajan’s Kiosk
The oldest remains of the Temple of Philae date back to the reign of King Taharqa (25th Dynasty), who built the first chapel for the Goddess Isis.
There are other monuments such as:
The Chapel of Osiris
The Temple of Horus
The Gateway of Tiberius
The Gateway of Diocletian
The Temple of Augustus