Philae Temple

My favorite temple in Egypt by far is the Philae Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site along with Abu Simbel. For me, it had everything – a picture-perfect peaceful setting on a small island, the sun was hitting it at just the right angle, and (luckily) there were no other tourists but our group. The fact you have to take a pleasant boat ride to it made it even more appealing. I wish I had more time to enjoy the scenery, but my hour and a half spent there was perfect.

Philae Temple is not your typical Egyptian temple. It was built mostly in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, primarily during the Ptolemaic dynasty. It was used mostly as a temple for Isis and Hathor, while Christians later used it as a church. What’s fascinating is that the temple was completely dismantled and relocated during the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s to it’s current location on Agilkia Island, just outside of Aswan. It was originally located on Philae Island (Φιλαί).

To get to the island, we wandered past a few vendors selling Egyptian crafts and onto a boat. The Nubian captain took the boat through the river and around some rocks until we spotted the Philae Temple.

The dock for boat rides to Agilkia Island in Aswan, Egypt

The dock for boat rides to Agilkia Island

The boat ride to Agilkia Island in Egypt

The boat ride to Agilkia Island

The boat ride to Agilkia Island in Egypt

The boat ride to Agilkia Island

A man paddling away from the island at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

A man paddling away from the island

As we approached Agilkia island, the sun hit the temple just perfectly, creating a vivid reflection of the temple in the water.

Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Philae Temple

Once off the boat, Sem Sem took us to the Temple of Nectanebo to give us a short lecture about the temple and its history. He told our group that the Greek rulers of Egypt (the Ptolemaic dynasty), wanted their rule to be as peaceful as possible. Instead of showing their power by destroying the gods of the occupied people as other conquering civilizations had done, the Ptolemys began worshipping the Egyptian gods as their own, earning the respect of the ancient Egyptians. They built temples incorporating ancient Greek elements into the Egyptian styles. Interestingly, no Ptolemaic pharaoh bothered to learn the ancient Egyptian language until Cleopatra, the last pharaoh. Every Ptolemaic pharaoh before her spoke Greek.

Temple of Nectanebo at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Nectanebo

Temple of Nectanebo at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Nectanebo

After the lecture, the other tour groups had dispersed and we had the temple pretty much to ourselves. We continued through the colonnaded courtyard to the Temple of Isis.

Temple of Isis and the colonnaded courtyard at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Isis and the colonnaded courtyard

Temple of Isis and the colonnaded courtyard at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Temple of Isis and the colonnaded courtyard

Eastern colonnade at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Eastern colonnade

Western colonnade at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Western colonnade

On the high wall in front were several large carvings of Egyptian gods, many stamped out by early Christians.

Temple of Isis at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Temple of Isis

Temple of Isis at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Isis

To the immediate right of the temple is the Gate of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, built by the son of Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Gate of Ptolemy Philadelphus at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Gate of Ptolemy Philadelphus

Once inside the temple, the walls are filled with hieroglyphics and reliefs. A closer examination of the walls reveals graffiti left by 19th century tourists, including Balzac.

Temple of Isis at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Isis

Temple of Isis at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Temple of Isis

Tourist graffiti at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Tourist graffiti

Graffiti by Balzac at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Graffiti by Balzac

Evidence of early Christians using the temple as a church survives in the form of an altar and several crosses carved into the walls.

Christian altar at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Christian altar

Christian graffiti at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Christian graffiti

On the outside of the temple are a few smaller temples, including the impressive Temple of Trajan. It’s also possible to find a memorial to British soldiers killed in Sudan in 1884-85.

Temple of Trajan at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island, Egypt

Temple of Trajan

Early Byzantine church at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

Early Byzantine church

British memorial to soldiers killed in Sudan in 1884-85 at Philae Temple on Agilkia Island in Egypt

British memorial to soldiers killed in Sudan in 1884-85

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