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The Philae Temple Complex – An Ancient Sanctuary of Isis

Key Highlights on Philae Temple

Aswan Philae Temple
Address: Aswan First, Aswan Governorate, Egypt

Opening time: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (October to May), 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (June to September)

Tickets price: EGP50 for child, EGP100 for adults (extra for camera) – for Light and Sound Show pay EGP45

What is it? An ancient Egyptian temple

Architecture: Traditional Egyptian 

Primary Deity: Isis

Built in: 6th century BC

How to reach? Ferry ride from Aswan

The Philae Temple Complex, located close to Aswan (Southern Egypt), is one of the most fascinating landmarks of Egypt. Marked as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the place is often dubbed as a marvelous feat in ancient engineering. Deeply connected to the cult of Isis dating back to the 7th century, the temple was constructed by Nectanebo I.

The construction of the Aswan Dam in the early 1900s threatened to submerge several ancient Egyptian landmarks. A massive rescue project was launched by UNESCO in the 1960s, to protect these structures. The Philae Temple Complex was relocated from the Philae Island to its current location in the Agilkia Island during this rescue operation.

The Ancient Temple of Philae

Built in the honor of goddess Isis, the temple was built in traditional Egyptian architecture and had special significance for its people. Back in the 7th century, the temple was built on the banks of Nile River further south on the Philae Island. The temple was considered as sacred among the followers of the Cult of Isis.

During its early days, around the 6th century BC, the temple was a structure spread in a confined area. However, with time the followers of the cult expanded and so did the temple. During the Roman and Ptolemaic era, the temple complex was expanded. In some part of the 6th century, the holy place was repurposed as a Coptic Church. Until then, the temple was one of the remaining pagan sanctuaries in the region.

Temple of Isis – The Most Ancient Corner of the Shrine of Philae

Philae Temple Complex
Philae Temple Complex
One of the most visited section in the Philae Temple, the Shrine of Isis (the Kiosk of Nectanebo) is believed to be the oldest portion of the complex. On entrance, the tourists are greeted by First Pylon – the massive decorated relief on the temple entrance, containing the details of the socio-cultural as well as political scenario of the region. One of the most noticeable hierographic reliefs in the First Pylon is the narrative of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos – one of the important rulers of the Ptolemaic era, fighting his enemies. Some of the important deities of the Egyptian pantheon including Hathor and Horus had their dedicated shrines within the complex.

On crossing the Pylon, the visitors walk up to the temple courtyard that houses several temples including the main shrine - the Birth House. Dedicated to Isis, the room celebrates the goddess giving birth to her son Horus. Some of the reliefs of the temple includes scenes from the deity’s childhood and grown years. Pharaoh’s, post their coronation, came to the temple for some special rituals and honoring the mother goddess Isis.

Before heading to the inner temple, visitors had to cross the Second Pylon featuring magnificent columns etched with Christian reliefs. These elements were later additions added in the Byzantine Era. Once the inner sanctuary, housed a gold statue of Isis currently in the museum of Paris.

Relocation of the Temple

In the early 20th century, the construction of the Aswan Dam on the banks of the river Nile threatened the longevity of the some of the ancient monuments. The close contact with water and humidity began damaging the colorful reliefs on the temple walls. When the construction of Aswan High Dam endangered the Philae Temple, and the nearby structures on the Philae Island, UNESCO sprang into action.

It launched the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia. Under the project, the entire temple on the island was relocated piece by piece into its new location. Moreover, the UNESCO funded the construction of an additional coffer dam to keep the incoming water at bay while the relocation project was running.

Interestingly, the entire Philae Temple (along with its accompanying shrines and artifacts), were shifted piece by piece on the Agilkia Island. The engineers on the project landscaped the island to match the existing scenery of the Philae.

Light and Sound Show

Philae Temple, Aswan
Philae Temple Lit up in Fabulous Lighting
One of the biggest attractions of the venue is the Light and Sound Show. During this event, the entire temple complex is lit up in fabulous lighting and sound effects, laser projections to create an interesting spectacle in the region.

The audio commentary is available in French, English, Spanish and German. Tickets cost around EGP 45, and can be booked from the official website of the Egyptian Tourism Board.

Some tourists opt for a package deals with tour operators who organize a trip to the event and the landmark, and arrange for the entry tickets.

Other Noticeable Structures

Apart from the Temple of Isis, some other noticeable structures inside the Philae temple include:

•  Temple of Hathor
•  Gateway of Hadrian
•  Trajan’s Kiosk
•  Christian Ruins

How to Reach?

Usually tourists can book a ferry ride from the Agilkia Island or booking a day tour from Aswan. Generally, in the day tours, trip to the Philae temple as well as other important landmarks of the city are included. These trips can cost around EGP1, 200, and includes entrance fee to the landmarks and professional guides.

Tourists who like to travel on their own should take a taxi from Aswan to the banks across the temple. From the Marina, they can board the local boats or ferries for the ride. Expect to pay around EGP 120 for the roundabout boat ride. However, the boatman might charge an overinflated price for the ride and you have to negotiate the entire price to get the right deal.

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