The Temple of Isis Complex, Philae
The great Temple of Isis is oriented from south to north, the main entrance to the temple precinct being at its south end, through the Hall of Nectanebo I. This was originally the vestibule of a temple dedicated by Nectanebo to "his mother Isis, mistress of Philae, revered in the Abaton Shrine", and to Hathor of Senmet which was soon afterwards swept away by the inundation of the Nile and was later completely rebuilt by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. This elegant structure had 14 columns with varying floral capitals surmounted by sistrum capitals. Only six columns remain, and nothing is left of the roof. Between the columns are screens some 6.5ft/3m high topped by cavetto cornices and a frieze of royal cobras and decorated with reliefs of Nectanebo making offerings; at three points there were doorways through the screens.
Entrance fee in EGP: Adult £20.00, Students £10.00
Temple of Isis - Obelisks
On the river front of the Temple of Isis are two obelisks (unusually, of sandstone and not the normal granite) set on rectangular bases. The one on the west, which has one Greek and several Arabic inscriptions, is still standing, though it has lost its apex; only the base of the other one remains.
Temple of Isis - Outer Court
The Hall of Nectanebo leads into the large Outer Court of the temple, bounded on the north by the first pylon and on the east and west by colonnades; it dates from the end of the Ptolemaic period or the reign of Augustus. Here can be seen a section of the solid embankment wall which presumably enclosed the main part of the island and was interrupted at several points by steps leading down to the water.
Temple of Isis - West Colonnade
The West Colonnade, which runs along the river side of the court, is 305ft/93m long and has 31 (originally 32) plant columns 17ft/5.10m high, with capitals of very varied form. Most of the columns have reliefs showing the Emperor Tiberius making offerings to the gods. The roof of the colonnade, part of which has collapsed, is decorated with stars and flying vultures. On the rear wall are two rows of reliefs depicting the Pharaoh, usually Augustus or Tiberius, dedicating gifts to the gods. From the colonnade a subterranean staircase leads down to a small Nilometer.
Temple of Isis - East Colonnade
The East Colonnade is unfinished, only six of the planned 16 columns having been completed. The others are only rough hewn and the capitals have been left unfinished. In the rear wall are five doors which led into various chapels.
Temple of Eri-hems-nufer
Adjoining the south end of the East Colonnade is the badly ruined Temple of Eri-hems-nufer (Arsnuphis), built by Philopator and his Nubian contemporary Ergamenes and enlarged by Epiphanes. Practically nothing is left of a small chapel dedicated to the Nubian god Mandulis which stood behind the central part of the colonnade; but at the north end of the colonnade is a well preserved little Temple of Asclepius (Imhotep) built by Philadelphus.
Temple of Isis
The Temple of Isis, the principal temple of Philae, dedicated to Isis and her son Harpocrates, probably occupies the site of an earlier temple. It was begun by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and substantially completed by Euergetes I, although the embellishment of the temple with reliefs and inscriptions was a very gradual process which was never quite completed.
Temple of Isis First Pylon
The First Pylon 150ft/45.5m wide and 60ft/18m high, consists of two towers and a central doorway, which was decorated with reliefs by Nectanebo. On the front of the east tower is a huge figure of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos grasping a band of enemies by the hair and raising his club to smite them, with Isis, the falcon headed Horus of Edfu and Hathor on the left. Above are two reliefs of Neos Dionysos presenting the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt to Horus and Nephthys (right) and offering incense to Isis and Harpocrates (left). There are similar reliefs on the west tower; at the foot are demotic and Greek inscriptions. A doorway in this tower, with reliefs by Philometor, leads directly to the entrance to the birth-house. In front of the pylon there originally stood two granite obelisks erected by Euergetes II and two granite lions.The ascent of the pylon is well worth the effort; there is a winding staircase at the southeast corner of the forecourt beyond the pylon. The rooms in the interior are undecorated and dark.
Temple of Isis Gateway
Adjoining the east tower an elegant gateway has reliefs by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (on the lintel) and the Emperor Tiberius (on the jambs). The gateway, built by Philadelphus, originally stood in a brick wall.
Temple of Isis - Forecourt
The central doorway, within which (on the right) is a French inscription ("an 7 de la République") commemorating Napoleon's campaign and the pursuit of the Mamelukes by General Desaix in 1799, leads into the Forecourt, between the first and second pylons. On the rear wall of the first pylon are four priests with the sacred barque of Isis, preceded by the King burning incense. On either side of the forecourt are small buildings fronted by colonnades.The small building to the east, opposite the birth house, contained rooms for the priests and others which served some scientific purpose. The plant columns in the vestibule are notable for their elegant proportions. The reliefs and inscriptions are by Neos Dionysos, the dedicatory inscription on the architrave by Euergetes II. On the north side of the vestibule a door, approached by steps, gives access to the inner passage round the temple. The reliefs depict Neos Dionysos in presence of the gods.
Temple of Isis Birth House
The building to the west of the Forecourt, the Birth House (mammisi), was dedicated to Hathor-Isis in honor of the birth of her son Horus. It is surrounded on all four sides by colonnades, the columns in which have foliage capitals surmounted by sistrum capitals. The walls, columns and screens between the columns are covered with reliefs and inscriptions, mostly by Euergetes II, Neos Dionysos, Augustus and Tiberius. Of particular interest are the reliefs in the last chamber, which depict scenes from the childhood of Horus, including Horus as a falcon in the swamps of the Delta, Isis suckling Horus in the swamps, etc.
Temple of Isis - Second Pylon
The Second Pylon is 105ft/32m wide and 40ft/12m high. The reliefs on the central doorway are by Euergetes II. On the lower part of the Etowerisa large figure of Neos Dionysos dedicating the slaughtered sacrificial animals to Horus and Hathor. Above are two small reliefs depicting the King presenting a garland to Horus and Nephthys (right) and offering incense to Osiris, Isis and Horus and pouring water on the altar (left). The natural granite at the foot of the tower has been smoothed to form a stela, with a six line inscription and reliefs relating to a grant of land made by Philometor in the 24th year of his reign (157 B.C.).In front of it are the foundations of a small chapel. The west tower has similar reliefs, which have been deliberately defaced. The second pylon can be climbed by a staircase on the north side of the west tower, from the top of which it is possible to cross the central doorway to the east tower. Within the central doorway (on the right, above) are some much faded Early Christian paintings.
Temple of Isis Proper
Beyond the second pylon stands the Temple of Isis proper, which consists of a court, a vestibule, several antechambers and the sanctuary, together with some subsidiary chambers. The walls are covered, inside and out, with reliefs and inscriptions depicting various Ptolemies (Philadelphus, Euergetes II, etc.) and Roman Emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Antoninus Pius) making offerings or performing other ritual acts. They are very similar to the reliefs in other temples of the period, particularly those of Dendera and Edfu.
Temple of Isis Proper Court
On each side of the Court was a small colonnade with a single column. The court could be shaded from the sun by an awning; the holes for the cords can be seen on the upper part of the cavetto cornice facing the second pylon.
Temple of Isis Proper- Vestibule
The Vestibule, with eight columns, was originally separated from the court by screens between the columns on the front. The conversion of the vestibule and court into a Christian church is recalled by Coptic crosses incised in the walls and a Greek inscription that "this good work" was done in the time of Bishop Theodore (during the reign of Justinian). Above the door is an inscription commemorating the archeological expedition sent to Philae in 1841 by Pope Gregory XVI.
Temple of Isis Proper - Reliefs in the Vestibule
The reliefs in the Vestibule, left unfinished and now ruinous, are of particular interest. Over the door in the south wall, above: Horus seated on a bench, with Nephthys and Isis presenting the crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt; Thoth (left) and Seshat, goddess of writing (right) inscribing the King's name on a palm branch; behind Thoth sits the air god Shu, holding a sail, and behind him again another god and a goddess playing a lyre. Below: the tomb of Osiris at Abaton, with the body of Osiris borne by a crocodile; to the left Isis; above, the sun between mountains; and above the whole scene the sun, crescent moon and stars. All this lies within a small temple with a door on the left, in front of which are one small and two large pylons; to the right are rocks. To the left of the door are unfinished reliefs showing the King making grants of land; above are three lines in Meroitic cursive script. On the right hand wall (second top row) is a famous relief depicting the source of the Nile: the god of the Nile, with a snake entwined round his body, pours water from two jars under a rocky crag on which are perched a vulture and a falcon. To the right of this is the soul of Osiris in the form of a bird within the sacred grove, worshiped by Hathor (left) and by Isis, Nephthys, Horus and Amun (right).
Temple of Isis Proper - Sanctuary
A number of antechambers flanked by dark side chambers lead into the Sanctuary, lit by two small windows, with a base (presented by Euergetes I and his wife Berenice) for the sacred barque bearing the image of Isis. To the left of the first antechamber is a small room with reliefs of the King in the presence of Isis. On the west side of this room is a door leading out of the temple; on the north side is astaircase leading to the roof of the sanctuary.
Temple of Isis Proper - Osiris Chambers
From the roof steps lead down to the Osiris Chambers, which contain fine reliefs relating to the death of Osiris. Vestibule, left hand wall: the northern Nile god offers a libation of milk to the soul of Osiris, sitting before him in the form of a bird; the falcon headed Harendotes pours the water of consecration over the falcon headed mummy of Osiris; behind, the god's sisters; four demons, the god Shu and the Emperor Antoninus Pius (who built this chamber) before Osiris and his sisters Isis and Nephthys. Small main chamber, opposite door, middle row (from left to right): Isis and Nephthys at the bier of Osiris Onnophris (who is naked); the tomb of Osiris (head missing), with two kneeling goddesses; the doorway of the tomb, with a lion; four demons carrying the falcon headed mummy of Osiris. Lower row (left to right): the frog headed Heqet and the falcon headed Harsiesis at the bier of Osiris, under which are the canopic jars for his entrails; the body of Osiris among swamp plants, with a priest pouring the water of consecration; the dog headed Anubis at the bier of Osiris, with Isis and Nephthys kneeling beside it.
Temple of Isis Proper Gateway of Hadrian
Northwest of the second pylon is the small Gateway of Hadrian, in the old enclosure wall of the temple. This, together with a much ruined vestibule, was built in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian and decorated with reliefs by Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. The gateway presumably led to the Sanctuary of Abaton on the neighboring island of Bigga, where there was a Tomb of Osiris, and accordingly the reliefs relate to the cult of Osiris. On the lintel Hadrian is depicted making offerings to Osiris, Isis and Harsiesis and to Osiris, Nephthys and Harendotes; on the left hand jamb is the sacred relic of Abydos, on the right hand jamb the djed pillar of Osiris (the sacred emblem of Busiris). Within the gateway, on the right (above), Marcus Aurelius is depicted in the presence of Osiris and Isis (note the guidelines for the artist); (below) Marcus Aurelius making offerings of food, including grapes, and flowers to Isis.
Temple of Isis Proper - Nilometer
The description of the Nilometer by the Greek geographer Strabo (ca. 63 B.C.-A.D. 20) is still accurate:"The Nilometer is a well built of regular hewn stone on the bank of the Nile, in which is recorded the rise of the stream: not only the highest and the lowest rises but also those in between, for the water in the well rises and falls with the stream. On the side of the well are marks, measuring the height sufficient for irrigation and other water levels. These are observed and made known to all.... This is of importance to the peasants for the management of the water, the embankments, the canals and so on, and also to the officials for the purpose of taxation; for the higher the rise of the water the higher are the taxes."Southwest of Hadrian's Gateway is a Nilometer, which has the scale marked in hieratic and demotic as well as in the usual Coptic characters. Northwest of the gateway can be seen the foundations of a Temple of Harendotes built by the Emperor Claudius.