History of Egypt’s Temple of Philae

The story of Isis and Osiris is one of the most powerful in Egyptian mythology; Osiris was killed and set adrift on the Nile. Isis brought him back to life so he could receive proper ceremonies and burial. Each year, the Nile flooded because of the tears Isis wept for her husband, and every year, the land was reborn just as Osiris was. The magnificent Temple of Philae was constructed in their honor, and like Osiris himself, the temple has its own story of rebirth.

Built on the rocky island of Philae, the Temple is guarded by two colonnades. On the western colonnade are windows which overlooked Bigeh Island. The unfinished Easter colonnade housed chapels for the Nubian deities Arensnuphis and Mandulis. Imhotep’s chapel is next to the main temple. The 18 meter high First Pylons lead into the Inner Courtyard. Here, the ancient worshipper found the entrance to the main Temple of Isis, the Second Pylons, a ten-pillared colonnade, and the mammissi, or birth house, dedicated to Heru (or Horus). The stone structures are decorated with reliefs featuring Isis, Horus, Hethert, and other figures of importance to the Ancient Egyptians.

The Temple of Philae stood proud through centuries, until 1902. For hundreds of years, the Egyptians had been trying to build a dam to control flooding and provide irrigation for farmlands. They succeeded in 1902 with the construction of the Aswan Dam; but this caused Philae to become submerged. Isis and her spectacular Temple rested underwater for decades.

Egypt, in partnership with other countries and UNESCO, wanted to resurrect the great temple. They found a new island, Agilika, that would be suitable; waiting until the High Dam was completed in the 1970s, workers built a coffer dam around the temple, dumped in 1 million cubic meters of sand, and pumped the water that seeped out away. Stone by beautiful stone, it was dismantled and moved to Agilika. Some weighed as much as 25 tons. At the same time, the island that would house the temple was being reshaped and landscaped to resemble Philae as closely as possible.

It would take almost a decade to complete this project, but the temple was reopened in 1980. Today, visitors can marvel at the reliefs, the hieroglyphics, the incredible effort that went into constructing this temple – and then again in dismantling and rebuilding it. It is an Egyptian, and world, treasure that has been rescued.


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