A small island
(460 x 150 m) at the head of the First Cataract, 1500
m S of Elephantine, following the course of the Nile.
The name appears in Diodorus (1.22), but in other
writings it appears as Phicai and Filas (Antonine Itinerary
), transliterations of the Egyptian name, Pa-Ju-rek.
Plans to rescue its monuments, which are now submerged because of Sad Nasser (the Aswan High Dam),
are being studied. The date ante quem of the history of
the island has been fixed on the basis of an Altar of
Taharqa of the 25th (Kushite) Dynasty (ca. 715 B.C.).
The oldest structure on the island, a portico to the SW,
dates however from the time of Nektanebos of the 30th
Dynasty, just before Alexander's Conquest. It is not
known when the worship of Isis began here. To the W
lies the island of Bigge, where there had always been
the Abaton, an inaccessible grotto-like tomb of her husband and brother Osiris. Around the tomb were placed
365 offering tables to receive a daily libation of milk
). Nearby was another grotto from which,
according to the Egyptian belief, the rising waters at
each new flood recalled the rebirth of the god. Although
the island was highly esteemed during the Ptolemaic
period as the original cult center of Isis, it was during
the Roman period that the island, together with the cult
of the goddess, reached its zenith. Christianity had difficulty in overcoming the cult of Isis on the island. It was
not until 557 that Bishop Theodorus converted part of
her temple into a church dedicated to St. Stephen.
The earliest temple on the island, that of Nectanebus
II, is to the SW. Only the 13 columns that form its
portico remain. The six columns on the W side are lotiform mounted by Hathor heads which support the architrave. The low screen walls between the columns are decorated with offering scenes. The temple was repaired
by Ptolemy Philadelphos. Off the portico are two colonnades dating from Augustus and Tiberius. Nearby lies
the temple dedicated to the Nubian god Arensnuphis,
and a chapel to Mandulis, also Nubian, and a temple
to Imhotep. The great pylon of the Temple of Isis
(45 m wide, 18 m high), which had two obelisks (now
in Kingstone Hall, England), dates from the time of
Ptolemy Euergetes. Between the two pylons to the W
of the court lies the Mammisi, begun by Euergetes II
and completed under Tiberius. It consists of 22 rooms
and a crypt decorated mainly with scenes from the story
of the Birth of Horus. The reliefs of the outer walls of
the Temple of Osiris are from the time of Augustus and
Tiberius. To the W of the Isis Temple, in front of the
side wall of the second pylon, stands the Gate of
Hadrian, the walls of which were decorated under
Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Here in the Osiris
Chapel, scenes from the cult of Osiris were depicted.
To the N lies the partly destroyed temple of Harendotes.
It contains a dedication by Claudius. Farther N are the
ruins of a temple built by Augustus with a city gate
built by Diocletian beside it. The Temple of Philometer,
dedicated to Hathor-Aphrodite, lies to the E of the Isis
Temple. The cartouches of Euergetes II appear here. To
the S is the Kiosk of Trajan, sometimes called “Pharaoh's
Bed,” a four-sided portico. Fourteen campaniform, floral
capitals, support the architrave, which carries a cavetto
cornice. Screen walls rise between the columns, of which
only two are decorated. Trajan burns incense before
Unnefer and Isis in the first scene; he offers wine to Isis
and Horus in the second. There are many Ptolemaic
and Roman inscriptions.
A.E.P. Weigall, A Guide to the Antiquities of Upper Egypt
(1913) 465-89; Porter & Moss, Top.
Bibl., VI. Upper Egypt: Chief Temples
P. Gilbert, “Elements Hellenistique de l'Architecture de
Philae,” Chronique d'Égypte
36 (1961) 196-208I
; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten
; E. Winter,
“Arensnuphis Sein Name und Seine Herkunft,” Revue
25 (1973) 235-50.