previous next

PHILAE Egyptian Nubia.

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 (Diod. 1.22). 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 (1939) 202-56P; P. Gilbert, “Elements Hellenistique de l'Architecture de Philae,” Chronique d'Égypte 36 (1961) 196-208I; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten (1966) 653-58MP; K. Michalowski, Aegypten (1968) 542-43MPI; E. Winter, “Arensnuphis Sein Name und Seine Herkunft,” Revue d'Égyptologie 25 (1973) 235-50.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: