Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt

Philae Temple | An Egyptian Treasure Almost Lost

I felt very fortunate to be standing at Philae Temple, because it was almost lost forever in the name of progress.

The island of Philae once served as the Ptolemeic headquarters of the cult of the goddess Isis, attracting worshipers and pilgrims from all over the ancient world beginning around 370 BC. When the first Aswan Dam was built in the early 1900s, the original site was often flooded and many of its original bright colors were washed away.

And that was the almost end of resplendent Philae Temple.

Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt

Almost! UNESCO swooped in from 1972-1980, spearheading a dramatic project to save Philae Temple. Engineers first created a dam around island and pumped the water out. They trucked out 22,000 pounds of mud. Then they carefully moved the temple, brick by brick, to the nearby island of Agilka.

Exploring the Philae Temple in EgyptModern day Philae Temple

The temple as it stands now is reachable only by boat, and it’s never flooded. On site, you’ll find the relocated Temple of Isis, the Gateway of Diocletian and the Chapel of Osiris.

Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt

Philae Temple was one of the last holdouts of ancient Egyptian religion, surviving as an altar to Isis 200 years after the rest of the Roman Empire converted to Christianity.

Exploring the Philae Temple in EgyptEmperor Justinian finally closed the temples to goddess worship in 535 AD and several of the chambers were converted for Christian purposes until Islam arrived in Egypt years later. Like so many ancient sites I’ve visited this year, Philae has been served as a worship center for several religions and the symbolism can be found throughout the ruins.

Exploring the Philae Temple in EgyptCrosses added during Roman Catholic times

Prior to the flooding, Philae became popular with rich European travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries. After the Aswan Dam was constructed, the island was underwater most of the year so naturally tourism declined and with it, the quality of the lower portions of the ruins washed away with the water.

Exploring the Philae Temple in EgyptTrajan’s Kiosk

Several Coptic ruins, the ruins of a Temple of Augustus and a large Roman city gate remain on the original submerged island. Someday, they may join the rest of Philae on Agilka.

Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt

I only had so much brain space to dedicate to individual gods, goddesses and hieroglyphs. If I remember correctly, this picture depicts the world’s first wedding reception conga line.

Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt

It’s been suggested the British divined their penchant for magnificent hats from the ancient Egyptians.

Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt
Exploring the Philae Temple in Egypt
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  • January 25, 2012

    What a great post! Scary to think this could have been lost!

  • January 26, 2012

    I’m still lusting over that hat. You wear it so well!

  • January 26, 2012

    It’s always eye opening to visit ancient archeological sites. I had not heard of this one. Great post.

  • January 26, 2012

    Wow, I can’t believe they moved this temple and rebuilt it in an entirely different location. Glad it wasn’t lost! And I agree with Kristin – love that hat. 🙂

    • January 27, 2012

      Thanks! I get more compliments on this hat than any other!

  • January 26, 2012
    Emily in Chile

    What an amazing site! I’m so glad they saved it from being lost forever.

    • January 27, 2012

      It was one of the prettiest sites of all, can’t believe it was almost ruined for good!

  • January 27, 2012

    Wow … moving the whole temple… that must have been super labour intensive! Glad they did it though.

    • February 02, 2012

      I can’t imagine the engineering prowess that went into moving it… but I’m glad someone out there has that expertise!

  • January 27, 2012

    Great that they were able to organize such a big effort to save this place.

    • February 02, 2012

      An amazing effort – glad UNESCO could pull it off! Would be such a shame to lose it!

  • February 06, 2012

    Great post! It is a shame that so little consideration is given to treasures like this when progress is the goal…Egypt is on my bucket list and this is one more reason for me to get there sooner rather than later. Thanks!

    • February 06, 2012

      Definitely go sooner rather than later! Though the government certainly pays more attention to its historic sites now than in the past, I still feel like the sites aren’t the priority. Get there while you still can!

  • April 14, 2012

    I found it fascinating to learn that Philae Temple was one of last holdouts of ancient Egyptian religion. Interesting post!

  • July 27, 2012

    In fact, much more of ancient Egypt’s cultural legacy should have been saved were it not for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arabic ambitions.

    The United States and England pledged a combined $70 million (in 1955 dollars) toward the construction of the dam, but the western powers could not match the Soviet Union’s offer of $1.2 billion, combined as it was with an offer of military aid that was not conditioned on defensive-only deployment.

    Despite damage done to British financial interests by Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, it was the <a href="http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/museum_in_london/london_exhibition_archive/archive_tutankhamun/exhibition_legacy.aspx&quot; title="£657,731 was raised from the London exhibition towards the UNESCO campaign to rescue the ancient temples of Philae"British Museum’s Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit of March-December 1972 that raised the hard currency required to begin UNESCO’s engineering operation.

  • December 20, 2012

    These are wonderful pictures ! Please share more if you have any – Egypt is my love and my passion and Philae in particular is an enchanting place ! I have been there myself twice, so if you want any pics I will be more than happy to share them ! 🙂
    I am also glad that the temple of Isis and the surrounding shrines have been saved, but nevertheless there are many treasures inevitably lost. Even the place was special – Philae was a hidden island (that is why it was one of the last Pagan refuges in a christian Roman empire ) and it was very close to the island of Biga where the husband of Isis – Osiris – resided. Some say that the original place was not only hidden but way more beautiful than the current location.

    P.S. you are very charming and have a wonderful smile ! 🙂 I wish you all the best and many more travels to the Land of Gods!

    P.P.S. if any information is necessary I will be happy to help anyone – my bachelor thesis was about Philae and other temples from that period.

  • November 12, 2014

    Very nice! Did you visit Abu Simbel as well? It was also of the UNESCO relcations.

    • November 13, 2014

      Didn’t make it to Abu Simbel, saving it for my next trip!

  • November 16, 2014
    Joseph Holly

    Wonderful report and pictures! Could you please tell me what is the actual distance between the old Philae Island and the new temple site on the Agilika Island?

    Thank you very much and good luck with your future explorations.


    • November 17, 2014

      I’m not sure, Joseph – I’m sure my tour guide told me and I’ve forgotten since I wrote the post. I appreciate you reading !

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