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An island, now submerged, that was the site of an ancient Egyptian temple complex.

The island of Philae was located in the Nile River at the First Cataract, south of the present Aswan dam; it is now totally submerged. Between 1972 and 1980, before the island was submerged into Lake Nasser, the main temples were disassembled and reassembled on the island of Agilkia, under the aegis of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

From the Late Period of Egyptian history (304 b.c.e.30 b.c.e.), Philae served as the frontier between Egypt and Nubia. Philae was approximately 460 feet by 1510 feet (140 m by 460 m) in size. It was paired with another nearby island, Biggeh, as a focal point of the worship of the Egyptian god Osiris. Biggeh housed an abaton, one of the purported tombs of Osiris, while Philae was home to a temple to the sister/wife of Osiris, Isis. This temple, thought to be the single most beautiful preserved ancient Egyptian temple, housed a mammisi, or birth house, built to celebrate the birth of Harpocrates to Isis and Osiris.

The Isis temple is of Ptolemaic date (304 b.c.e.30 b.c.e.). The temple was laid out on the east side of the island, built along two axes, with a roughly south-northeast orientation. A long courtyard flanked by colonnades gave access to the first, 66-foot-tall (20 m) pylon, or entrance gateway. Inside this pylon was a second courtyard with a colon-nade on the east and the mammisi on the west. A second, 43-foot-tall (13 m) pylon gave access into the Isis temple proper.

There were a number of other notable buildings and structures on the island, particularly a kiosk on the east side dating to the time of Augustus (30 b.c.e.14 c.e.). This kiosk, perpendicular to the Isis temple, formed a second processional axis. The latest datable inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphic script (24 August 394 c.e.) was found on the island.


Arnold, Dieter. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture, edited by Nigel and Helen Strudwick, translated by Sabine H. Gardiner and Helen Strudwick. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Vassilika, Eleni. Ptolemaic Egypt. Leuven, Belgium: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1989.

david waldner
updated by john m. lundquist

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