Philae Island: A Testament to the Timeless Splendor of Ancient Egypt

The Philae Island, an ancient jewel nestled in the heart of Egypt, is an emblem of the country’s rich historical tapestry.

This island, once home to the magnificent Philae Temple Complex, is a symbol of the enduring allure of Egyptian mythology, the power of the Ptolemaic era, and the intricate dance between preservation and progress.

This article will delve into the captivating tale of the Philae Island and its temples, exploring its history, mythology, architectural marvels, and the journey to its preservation.

The Philae Temple Complex: A Testament to the Egyptian Deities

The Philae Temple Complex, the island’s crowning glory, was a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Isis, a figure of high reverence in ancient Egyptian religion. Isis, known for her role in the myth of bringing Osiris back to life and mummifying him, is a figure of high reverence in ancient Egyptian religion. The tale of Isis giving birth to her son Horus, despite her husband Osiris’s death, is etched into the temple walls, reflecting the complex narratives woven into the fabric of ancient Egyptian mythology.

The temple complex, built during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the early times of the Ptolemaic period, was a grandiose tribute to Isis and other Egyptian deities. The main temple, Isis Temple, is a masterpiece of the classical Egyptian style, flanked by smaller temples and shrines dedicated to various gods. The temple’s entrance, known as the first pylon, is a grandiose gate west of the complex, where piled rocks frame the path leading to the sacred grounds.

The temple complex is not just a monument to the ancient Egyptian gods; it is also a testament to the Roman period. During the reign of various Roman emperors, the temple was expanded and renovated. The Roman Emperor Trajan, for instance, added the second pylon, further amplifying the grandeur of the complex.

The Journey Through Time: From Pagan Temples to Coptic Churches

The Philae Temple Complex’s journey through time is a fascinating tale. During the Roman era, the last dynasty of ancient Egypt, the temples witnessed a significant shift.

With the advent of Christianity, the pagan temples were gradually converted into Coptic churches by early Christians. This transition is evident in the sixth century AD inscriptions on the temple walls, a testament to the island’s evolving religious landscape.

The Aswan Dam and the Threat to Philae Island

The construction of the Aswan Dam in the early 20th century posed a significant threat to the Philae Island and its temple complex. The dam’s construction led to the submerging of the island, threatening the picturesque ruins with irreparable damage.

Despite the Egyptian government’s efforts to control the Nile River’s flow, the temples were submerged for a significant part of the year. The situation worsened with the construction of the new Aswan Dam, also known as the Aswan High Dam, which created Lake Nasser and led to the permanent submerging of the island.

The Relocation of the Philae Temple Complex: A Feat of Modern Engineering

In response to the threat posed by the Aswan High Dam, the Egyptian government, with assistance from UNESCO, undertook the monumental task of relocating the entire Philae Temple Complex to a nearby island, Agilkia Island. This island, situated on higher ground, was meticulously landscaped to resemble the original Philae Island.

The relocation process, which began in the 1960s, involved the dismantling of each temple, piece by piece. Each stone was carefully numbered and documented before being transported to Agilkia Island. The temples were then reconstructed with painstaking precision, mirroring their original layout.

This process ensured the preservation of the temples, allowing future generations to marvel at the grandeur of the Philae Temple Complex.

The Temple Complex: An Architectural Marvel

The Isis Temple: A Tribute to the Goddess

The Isis Temple, the main temple in the Philae Temple Complex, is a marvel of ancient Egyptian architecture. The temple’s imposing first pylon, flanked by two towers, is adorned with reliefs depicting Ptolemy XII Auletes. The temple walls bear inscriptions that narrate the story of Isis bringing Osiris back to life and giving birth to their son Horus, a cornerstone of ancient Egyptian mythology.

Beyond the first pylon lies the grand courtyard, leading to the second pylon built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan. The second pylon opens into the hypostyle hall, a vast room with columns intricately carved with hieroglyphs and scenes from the lives of the gods and pharaohs.

The Birth House: A Celebration of Life

Adjacent to the Isis Temple is the birth house, or “mammisi,” dedicated to the goddess Isis and her son Horus. This small temple, built during the Ptolemaic period, celebrates the birth of Horus, the divine son of Isis and Osiris. The reliefs on the temple walls depict the divine birth and childhood of Horus, reinforcing the theme of rebirth and renewal prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion.

The Temple of Hathor: A Dedication to Joy and Love

A short distance from the Isis Temple lies the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the goddess of joy, love, and motherhood. Although smaller in scale compared to the Isis Temple, this temple is equally significant, with its beautiful reliefs and carvings offering a glimpse into the rituals and celebrations associated with the goddess Hathor.

The Philae Temple Complex: A Symbol of Resilience

The Philae Temple Complex’s relocation to Agilkia Island was a remarkable feat that mirrored the resilience of the ancient Egyptian civilization it represents. The temples, now safe from the rising waters of Lake Nasser due to the Aswan High Dam, stand as a testament to the power of human ingenuity and the unyielding desire to preserve our shared cultural heritage.

Today, the Philae Temple Complex continues to attract tourists from around the world, offering them a glimpse into the rich tapestry of ancient Egypt. The journey to the island, whether by a small boat on the Nile River or by a walk across the piled rocks frame, is a journey back in time, a journey into the heart of an ancient civilization that continues to captivate the world.

The Legacy of the Philae Island

The story of the Philae Island and its temple complex is not just a tale of ancient gods and goddesses, of pharaohs and Roman emperors, or of the rise and fall of civilizations. It is a testament to the enduring power of stories, of the human capacity for creation, and of the relentless pursuit of knowledge and preservation.

From its early times under the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus to its transformation during the Roman period, from its near destruction due to the Aswan Dam to its rebirth on Agilkia Island, the Philae Island continues to inspire and captivate. Its temples, once the burying places of Osiris, now stand as a beacon of resilience, a testament to the timeless splendor of ancient Egypt.

In the end, the story of the Philae Island is a reminder that history is not just about the past; it is about the present and the future. It is about understanding where we come from, appreciating the beauty and wisdom of our ancestors, and ensuring that their legacy continues to inspire future generations.


Today, the Philae Temple Complex stands proudly on Agilkia Island, a testament to the enduring allure of ancient Egypt and the power of modern engineering. As the small boat glides nearer, the glistening boulders and purple mountains close in, framing the temple island in an awe-inspiring tableau. The island, once the southern frontier of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, continues to captivate visitors with its rich history, intricate architecture, and the tales etched into its ancient walls.

The Philae Island, with its temples and its journey through time, serves as a powerful reminder of the timeless splendor of ancient Egypt. From the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus to the Roman emperors, from the pagan temples to the Coptic churches, from the threat of the Aswan Dam to the relocation to Agilkia Island, the Philae Temple Complex’s story is as captivating as the myths of Isis and Osiris themselves.

FAQ about Philae Island

How was the Philae Temple Complex relocated due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam?

The construction of the Aswan High Dam would have entirely submerged the Philae Temple Complex. Therefore, UNESCO initiated a project between 1972 and 1980 to carefully dismantle and move each piece of the temple complex to Agilkia Island in Aswan, safeguarding this historical treasure.

Is a visit to Philae Island worthwhile?

Absolutely! The Philae Temple Complex, now located on Agilkia Island, is a must-see attraction. It offers a captivating glimpse into the rich history and mythology of ancient Egypt, making it a worthwhile visit.

When was the Philae Temple Complex relocated?

The Philae Temple Complex was moved in 1971. This monumental task was undertaken to protect it from the rising waters of the Nile caused by the construction of the Aswan Dam.

What is the meaning of ‘Philae’?

Philae, or ‘Pilak’ in ancient Egyptian, translates to ‘the end.’ It was used to denote the southernmost limit of Egypt, marking its boundary with Nubia.

What is the Philae Temple Complex known for?

The Philae Temple Complex is renowned for being one of the last bastions of ancient Egyptian religion following the advent of Christianity in 550AD. It is dedicated to Isis, the goddess of healing, and is composed of syenite, with steep walls and summits that define the island’s landscape.

What is the history of the Temple of Philae?

The Temple of Philae was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, during Egypt’s Greco-Roman Period. It is dedicated to the deities Isis, Osiris, and Horus, and its walls depict scenes from Egyptian mythology, including Isis bringing Osiris back to life, giving birth to Horus, and mummifying Osiris after his death.

What is the cost of visiting the Philae Temple?

The entrance fee for the Philae Temple is 100 EGP for adults and 50 EGP for students with accreditation. An additional 125 EGP is charged for the light and sound show, which offers a unique and immersive experience of the temple complex.

What does ‘Philae’ mean in Greek?

‘Philae’ in Greek, or ‘Pilak’ in ancient Egyptian, means ‘the end.’ This term was used to signify the southernmost boundary of Egypt, marking its limit with Nubia.

What was the purpose of Philae?

Philae was a significant religious center, originally hosting pagan temples dedicated to various Egyptian deities. Following the advent of Christianity, five of its temples were converted into churches, including the Temple of Isis, which was dedicated to Saint Stephen. Two new churches were also built on the island.

How can one reach the Philae Temple from Aswan?

Visitors can take a taxi from Aswan to the Marina Philae Temple. From there, official boats transport visitors to Agilkia Island, where the Philae Temple Complex is now located.

What is the entry fee for the Philae Temple?

The entry fee for the Philae Temple is 100 EGP for adults.

What does ‘Philae’ signify?

‘Philae,’ or ‘Pilak’ in ancient Egyptian, means ‘the end.’ It symbolized the southernmost limit of Egypt, marking the boundary with Nubia.

Why was Philae Island important?

Philae Island was of great importance in ancient Egyptian mythology. It was believed to be the place where Isis found the heart of Osiris after his murder by his brother Seth. The temple complex on the island became a symbol of the resurrection of Osiris and the triumph of life over death.

What impact would the construction of the High Dam have had on Philae?

The construction of the Aswan High Dam would have created Lake Nasser, leading to the permanent submersion of Philae and other archaeological sites. To prevent this, UNESCO launched an appeal in 1968 to save the temples of Philae.

Is a visit to the Philae Temple recommended?

Yes, a visit to the Philae Temple is highly recommended. It is one of the best-preserved Ptolemaic temples in Egypt, offering a unique insight into the history and mythology of ancient Egypt.

Is a trip to Abu Simbel worthwhile?

Absolutely! The temples of Abu Simbel are among the most impressive and unique temples in Egypt. They offer a unique glimpse into the history and mythology of ancient Egypt, making it a worthwhile visit.