Philae (/ˈfaɪli/; Greek: Φιλαί, Arabic: فيله
Egyptian Arabic: [fiːlæ], Egyptian: p3-jw-rķ' or
'pA-jw-rq; Coptic: ⲡⲓⲗⲁⲕ, ⲡⲓⲗⲁⲕⲭ) is
currently an island in the reservoir of the
Aswan Low Dam, downstream
Dam and Lake Nasser, 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. These rapids and the
surrounding area have been variously flooded since the initial
construction of the
Dam in 1902. The temple complex was
later dismantled and relocated to nearby
Agilkia Island as part of the
Nubia Campaign project, protecting this and other complexes
before the 1970 completion of the
Aswan High Dam.
2.1 Pharaonic era
2.2 Greco-Roman era
Aswan Low Dam
2.4.2 Rescue project
3 Nearby locations of interest
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Panoramic view at the
Philae Temple, at its current location on
Philae is mentioned by numerous ancient writers, including Strabo,
Diodorus Siculus, Ptolemy, Seneca, Pliny the Elder. It
was, as the plural name indicates, the appellation of two small
islands situated in latitude 24° north, just above the First Cataract
Aswan (Egyptian Swenet "Trade;" Ancient Greek: Συήνη).
Groskurd computes the distance between these islands and
about 100 km (62 mi).
Despite being the smaller island,
Philae proper was, from the numerous
and picturesque ruins formerly there, the more interesting of the two.
Prior to the inundation, it was not more than 380 metres
(1,250 ft) long and about 120 metres (390 ft) broad. It is
composed of syenite: its sides are steep and on their summits a lofty
wall was built encompassing the island.
Philae was said to be one of the burying-places of Osiris, it
was held in high reverence both by the Egyptians to the north and the
Nubians (often referred to as "Ethiopians" in Greek) to the south. It
was deemed profane for any but priests to dwell there and was
accordingly sequestered and denominated "the Unapproachable" (Ancient
Greek: ἄβατος). It was reported too that neither birds
flew over it nor fish approached its shores. These indeed were the
traditions of a remote period; since in the time of the Ptolemaic
Philae was so much resorted to, partly by pilgrims to the
tomb of Osiris, partly by persons on secular errands, that the priests
Ptolemy VIII Physcon (170-117 BC) to prohibit public
functionaries at least from coming there and living at their expense.
In the nineteenth century,
William John Bankes
William John Bankes took the
on which this petition was engraved to England. When its Egyptian
hieroglyphs were compared with those of the Rosetta Stone, it threw
great light upon the Egyptian consonantal alphabet.
The islands of
Philae were not, however, merely sacerdotal abodes;
they were the centres of commerce also between
Meroë and Memphis. For
the rapids of the cataracts were at most seasons impracticable, and
the commodities exchanged between
Nubia were reciprocally
landed and re-embarked at Syene and Philae.
The neighbouring granite quarries also attracted a numerous population
of miners and stonemasons; and, for the convenience of this traffic, a
gallery or road was formed in the rocks along the east bank of the
Nile, portions of which are still extant.
Philae also was remarkable for the singular effects of light and shade
resulting from its position near the Tropic of Cancer. As the sun
approached its northern limit the shadows from the projecting cornices
and moldings of the temples sink lower and lower down the plain
surfaces of the walls, until, the sun having reached its highest
altitude, the vertical walls are overspread with dark shadows, forming
a striking contrast with the fierce light which illuminates all
The most conspicuous feature of both islands was their architectural
wealth. Monuments of various eras, extending from the Pharaohs to the
Caesars, occupy nearly their whole area. The principal structures,
however, lay at the south end of the smaller island.
The most ancient was a temple for Isis, built in the reign of
Nectanebo I during 380-362 BC, which was approached from the river
through a double colonnade. Nekhtnebef was his ancient Egyptian royal
titulary and he became the founding pharaoh of the Thirtieth and last
native dynasty when he deposed and killed Nepherites II.
For the most part, the other ruins date from the Ptolemaic Kingdom,
more especially with the reigns of
Ptolemy II Philadelphus,
Ptolemy VI Philometor (282-145 BC), with many traces of
Roman work in
Philae dedicated to Ammon-Osiris.
In front of the propyla were two colossal lions in granite, behind
which stood a pair of obelisks, each 13 metres (43 ft) high. The
propyla were pyramidal in form and colossal in dimensions. One stood
between the dromos and pronaos, another between the pronaos and the
portico, while a smaller one led into the sekos or adyton. At each
corner of the adytum stood a monolithic shrine, the cage of a sacred
hawk. Of these shrines one is now in the Louvre, the other in the
Museum at Florence.
Beyond the entrance into the principal court are small temples, one of
which, dedicated to Isis, Hathor, and a wide range of deities related
to midwifery, is covered with sculptures representing the birth of
Ptolemy Philometor, under the figure of the god Horus. The story of
Osiris is everywhere represented on the walls of this temple, and two
of its inner chambers are particularly rich in symbolic imagery. Upon
the two great propyla are Greek inscriptions intersected and partially
destroyed by Egyptian figures cut across them.
The monuments in both islands indeed attested, beyond any others in
Nile valley, the survival of pure Egyptian art centuries after the
last of the Pharaohs had ceased to reign. Great pains have been taken
to mutilate the sculptures of this temple. The work of demolition is
attributable, in the first instance, to the zeal of the early
Christians, and afterward, to the policy of the Iconoclasts, who
curried favour for themselves with the Byzantine court by the
destruction of heathen images as well as Christian ones.[citation
needed] It's notable that images/icons of
Horus are often less
mutilated than the other carvings. In some wall scenes, every figure
and hieroglyphic text except that of
Horus and his winged solar-disk
representation have been meticulously scratched out by early
Christians. This is presumably because the early Christians had some
degree of respect for
Horus or the legend of
Horus - it may be because
they saw parallels between the stories of
Horus (see Jesus
in comparative mythology#Ancient Egypt).
The soil of
Philae had been prepared carefully for the reception of
its buildings–being leveled where it was uneven, and supported by
masonry where it was crumbling or insecure. For example, the western
wall of the Great Temple, and the corresponding wall of the dromos,
were supported by very strong foundations, built below the
pre-inundation level of the water, and rested on the granite which in
this region forms the bed of the Nile. Here and there steps were hewn
out from the wall to facilitate the communication between the temple
and the river.
At the southern extremity of the dromos of the Great Temple was a
smaller temple, apparently dedicated to Hathor; at least the few
columns that remained of it are surmounted with the head of that
goddess. Its portico consisted of twelve columns, four in front and
three deep. Their capitals represented various forms and combinations
of the palm branch, the doum palm branch, and the lotus flower. These,
as well as the sculptures on the columns, the ceilings, and the walls
were painted with the most vivid colors, which, owing to the dryness
of the climate, have lost little of their original brilliance.
A sphinx in Philae
The ancient Egyptian name of the smaller island meant "boundary". As
their southern frontier, the pharaohs of
Egypt kept there a strong
garrison, and it was also a barracks for Greek and Roman soldiers in
their turn. The first temple structure, which was built by native
pharaohs of the 30th dynasty, was the one for Hathor.
The island temple was built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom. The
principal deity of the temple complex was Isis, but other temples and
shrines were dedicated to other deities such as Hathor. Egyptologists
Philae was the last active site of the native ancient
Egyptian religion, and that the last
Egyptian hieroglyph was
written there in the late fourth century.
The temple was closed down officially in the sixth century by the
Justinian I (527-565).
Philae was subsequently a
seat of Christianity. Ruins of a church have been discovered and more
than one adyton bore traces of having been made to serve at different
eras the purposes of a chapel of
Osiris and of Jesus.
The island of
Philae attracted much attention in the 19th century. In
the 1820s, Joseph Bonomi the Younger, a British
museum curator visited the island. So did Amelia Edwards, a British
novelist in 1873–1874.
The approach by water is quite the most beautiful. Seen from the level
of a small boat, the island, with its palms, its colonnades, its
pylons, seems to rise out of the river like a mirage. Piled rocks
frame it on either side, and the purple mountains close up the
distance. As the boat glides nearer between glistening boulders, those
sculptured towers rise higher and even higher against the sky. They
show no sign of ruin or age. All looks solid, stately, perfect. One
forgets for the moment that anything is changed. If a sound of antique
chanting were to be borne along the quiet air–if a procession of
white-robed priests bearing aloft the veiled ark of the God, were to
come sweeping round between the palms and pylons–we should not think
it strange.
— Amelia B. Edwards, A thousand miles up the
Nile / by Amelia B.
Edwards, 1831-1892, p. 207.
These visits are only a small sample of the great interest that
Victorian-era Britain had for Egypt. Soon, tourism to
Aswan Low Dam
Philae flooded by the
Dam in 1906.
Kioske of Phylae on the Flood
In 1902, the
Dam was completed on the
Nile River by the
British. This threatened many ancient landmarks, including the temple
complex of Philae, with being submerged. The height of the dam was
raised twice, from 1907–1912 and from 1929–1934, and the island of
Philae was nearly always flooded. In fact, the only times that the
complex was not underwater was when the dam's sluices were open from
July to October.
It was proposed that the temples be relocated, piece by piece, to
nearby islands, such as
Bigeh or Elephantine. However, the temples'
foundations and other architectural supporting structures were
strengthened instead. Although the buildings were physically secure,
the island's attractive vegetation and the colors of the temples'
reliefs were washed away. Also, the bricks of the
Philae temples soon
became encrusted with silt and other debris carried by the Nile.
The temples had been practically intact since the ancient days, but
with each inundation the situation worsened and in the 1960s the
island was submerged up to a third of the buildings all year round.
UNESCO started a project to try to save the buildings on the
island from the destructive effect of the ever-increasing waters of
the Nile. First, building three dams and creating a separate lake with
lower water levels was considered.
First of all, a large coffer dam was built, constructed of two rows of
steel plates between which a 1 million cubic metres
(35 million cubic feet) of sand was tipped. Any water that seeped
through was pumped away.
The remnants of the flooded
Island seen from the island of
Agilkia (large image with watermarks)
Another view of the remnants
Next the monuments were cleaned and measured, by using photogrammetry,
a method that enables the exact reconstruction of the original size of
the building blocks that were used by the ancients. Then every
building was dismantled into about 40,000 units, and then transported
to the nearby
Island of Agilkia, situated on higher ground some 500
metres (1,600 ft) away.
Nearby locations of interest
Prior to the inundation, a little west of
Philae lay a larger island,
anciently called Snem or Senmut, but now Bigeh. It is very steep, and
from its most elevated peak affords a fine view of the Nile, from its
smooth surface south of the islands to its plunge over the shelves of
rock that form the First Cataract. Philae,
Bigeh and another lesser
island divided the river into four principal streams, and north of
them it took a rapid turn to the west and then to the north, where the
Bigeh, like Philae, was a holy island; its ruins and rocks are
inscribed with the names and titles of Amenhotep III, Ramesses
II, Psamtik II, Apries, and Amasis II, together with
memorials of the later Macedonian and Roman rulers of Egypt. Its
principal ruins consisted of the propylon and two columns of a temple,
which was apparently of small dimensions, but of elegant proportions.
Near them were the fragments of two colossal granite statues and also
an excellent piece of masonry of much later date, having the aspect of
an arch belonging to a church or mosque.
Philae with floor plan of the Temple of Isis.
Temple hieroglyphs on stone at Philae.
Trajan's Kiosk of Philae.
Lantern Slide Collection: Views, Objects:
Egypt - Philae. Temple of
Isis. Capitals of east colonnade., n.d., Joseph Hawkes. Brooklyn
Egypt - Temple of Philae. Brooklyn
Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival
Egypt - Philae. Columns
Philae temple, Aswan
General view of Temple of Philae, Egypt, 1908, Brooklyn Museum
Sanctuary of Isis, flood (2 January 1969)
Pavillon of Trajan, 1960
Abu Simbel temples
Diocese of Philae
^ Holger, Kockelmann, (2012-04-24). "Philae". UCLA Encyclopedia of
Egyptology. 1 (1).
^ "Milestones in Archaeology: a Chronological Encyclopedia", Tim
Murray, P464, ABC-CLIO, 2007ISBN 1-57607-186-3
^ The Rescue of Nubian Monuments and Sites,
UNESCO project site about
^ i. p. 40, xvii. pp. 803, 818, 820
^ i. 22
^ iv. 5. § 74
^ Quaest. Nat. iv. 1
^ v. 9. s. 10
^ Strab. vol. iii. p. 399
Plutarch (1889). "De Iside et Osiride 359b". In Bernardakis,
Gregorius N. Moralia. 2. Leipzig: Teubner. Diodorus (1888).
"I.22.6". In Bekker, Immanuel; Dindorf, Ludwig; Vogel, Friedrich.
Bibliotheca Historica. 1–2. Leipzig: In aedibus B. G.
^ ἄβατος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A
Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
^ Senec. Quaest. Nat. iv. 2.
^ Ritter, Erdkunde, vol. i. p. 680, seq.
^ Joann Fletcher (2016). The amazing history of
Egypt (MP3) (podcast).
BBC History Magazine. Event occurs at 53:46. Retrieved 17 Jan
^ Aldred, Cyril (1998) . Dodson, Aidan, ed. The Egyptians (3rd
Revised ed.). London, UK: Thames & Hudson. p. 14.
^ "Report on the safeguarding of the
Philae monuments" (PDF). November
1960. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Philae".
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.
Arnold, Dieter (1999). Temples of the Last Pharaohs. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512633-4.
Dijkstra, Jitse H. F. (2008).
Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian
Religion. Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-2031-6.
Haeny, Gerhard (1985). "A Short Architectural History of Philae".
Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale. 85.
Kockelmann, Hölger (2012). "Philae". In Dieleman, Jacco; Wendrich,
Willeke. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology. Department of Near Eastern
Languages and Cultures, UC Los Angeles.
Vassilika, Eleni (1989). Ptolemaic Philae. Peeters.
Winter, Erich (1974). "Philae". Textes et langages de l'Égypte
pharaonique: cent cinquante années de recherches, 1822–1972.
Hommage à Jean-François Champollion. Institut français
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@ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
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Philae @ Mark Millmore's Ancient Egypt
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Cruising the Nile: Philae
Philae @ Akhet Egyptology
Philae Temple Photos
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