The complex on the island is dedicated to Isis,
goddess of fertility and motherhood. It was the center of her
cult that flourished from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century
AD. Her worship was famous enough to spread all over the Mediterranean
particularly in Rome until Christianity
finally replaced paganism.
The original island of Philae is a slight south to the current
island. The complex was located on that island. This was visited
by tourists from all over the world from ancient times, especially
pagan tourists who sought healing miracles of Isis.
At early last century, the construction of Aswan
dam resulted in its partial submerge of water. The construction
of the High Dam in 1960 resulted
into the total submerge of the island. Egypt made an international
appeal through UNESCO to salvage the monument. Finally a project
was approved to dismantle the temple and re-erect it at the
near-by island of Agilka which was on a higher land level. Meanwhile
the shape of the island was re-formed by adding more stones
in imitation of the original island.
The project was finished in 1980 incorporating more tourist
facilities and the monuments rose again on the Agilka island,
which in turn was renamed Philae.
Nectanebo gate (kiosk):
It is on the west of the modern landing stage (See Image 2).
This gate was once the original entrance of the island.
The remaining 6 columns have double floral and sistrum-Hathor
capitals. They were originally 14 columns. The kiosk is dedicated
Nectanebo I's "mother Isis."
The outer court:
The outer court of the main Isis temple is about 100 meters
(330ft) long and is edged by colonnades
on the east and west sides.
The columns on the west are superbly carved (See Image 3).
They have different capitals and not one capital is like another.
The shafts behind the columns bear the inscription of Roman
Emperor Tiberius in the presence of deities.
The eastern colonnade, however, was never completed.
Three shrines are aligned with the eastern colonnades; the
first -southernmost- is dedicated to Arihesnefer (or Arensnuphis),
deity. The second -midway- is dedicated to lion-god Mandulis,
a Nubian deity honored by local Egyptians, and the third -northernmost-
is dedicated to Imhotep,
and architect who built Djoser's
step pyramid and deified as a physician god later. The
latter is in a good state of preservation.
Main Isis temple:
Its construction was began by Ptolemy
II Philadelphus and it was nearly completed by Ptolemy
III Euergetes I. Their successors contributed to it.
The first pylon is about 18 meters (60 ft) in height and 45
meters (178 ft) in width (See Image 5). Its reliefs show Ptolemy
XII Neos Dionysos striking his enemies before deities.
Two granite lions flank the main portal of the pylon. The
back wall shows priests carrying the barque
The portal has inscriptions commemorating Napoleon
Bonaparte's victory over the Mamluks in 1799.
Another gate in the west tower leads to the Birth House which
is located in the temple's courtyard.
It is located on the west of the courtyard (beyond the first
pylon) (See Image 6). It is accessible through a subsidiary
gate in the first pylon.
The Birth House has a forecourt. This leads to two sequent
vestibules and a sanctuary. They are flanked by screened colonnade.
The courtyard is edged to the east with a colonnade with its
back wall bearing inscription. There is a small Roman chapel
in the courtyard in front of a sacred granite stone incorporated
in the body of the second pylon. This has inscriptions of
The second pylon is on a higher land level than the first
court and is reached by a stairway. The pylon is set at an
angle aimed to change the temple's axis slightly to the east.
The second pylon opens into the hypostyle
hall graced with ten exquisitely carved columns (See Image
8). The hall had once been converted into a church in the
era and attempts to disfigure pagan reliefs were adopted
by Christians. There are traces of Coptic-style
crosses inscribed on the walls and there is a Christian altar
on the east wall of the hall (See Image 9).
follow and finally the sanctuary (See Image 10). The latter
still houses the pedestal that used to support the sacred
barque of Isis dedicated by Ptolemy
III and Berenice, his wife. There are two small windows
in the roof intended to admit light to the room. Other side
rooms are allocated for the usage of priests.
Stairways to the west of the temple lead to the rooms of Osiris
upstairs. The reliefs there show the collecting of Osiris
dismembered limbs and later his resurrection, according to
the ancient Egyptian legend.
The arch is to the west of the main temple. It was constructed
in the first half of the 2nd century AD (See Image 11).
The reliefs here are particularly interesting. They illustrate
the source of the Nile. A vulture and a falcon -in representation
of upper and lower Egypt- stand on piles of stone, while the
circled by a serpent below the stone piles, pours water streams
from two vessels forming the Nile. There are also depictions
of Roman Emperor
Hadrian with gods.
Temple of Harendotes:
The temple is to the west of Isis temple and to the north
of Hadrian's arch. It was built by Emperor Claudius but was
later destroyed by early Christians and stone blocks were
taken from it for reuse.
Temple of Hathor:
The temple lies to the east of Isis temple (See Image 12).
The Hathor shrine has a hall, a colonnade and several small
rooms. Its construction was begun by Ptolemy
IX and ended under Emperor Augustus. Its restored colonnade
shows interesting musical scenes: Bes, a dwarf-deity plays
a tambourine and a harp and an ape strumming lyre.
Also called "Pharaoh's bed." It is the most remembered
monument of Philae and is an unroofed structure flanked by
14 columns connected with screen walls. The columns have floral
capitals that support the cornice. The kiosk has two entrances.
Inside are reliefs showing Trajan as a pharaoh making offerings
to Osiris, Isis and Horus.
The kiosk was left unfinished though. Building began in the
2nd century AD by Emperor Trajan. It is evident that the Roman
art style is predominating the construction.
Northern tip of the island:
In the north there are ruins of a temple of Augustus (See
Image 13), a Roman gate and a Roman quay (See Image 14).