In this post, we give a brief history of Philae Temple. This is part 3 of a 6 part series – plus some information about Egyptian Mythology. One of the  regrets I had when travelling to Egypt (and other places for that matter) was not having spent the time to learn more about the places that we were to visit. Having said that, I felt it would be good to share some of the things that we have learnt about Philae Temple.

History of Philae Temple

Pharaonic era

The ancient Egyptian name of the smaller island is Philak, or boundary. As their southern frontier, the Pharaohs of Egypt kept there a strong garrison, and, for the same reason, it was a barrack also for Macedonian and Roman soldiers in their turn. The first temple structure, which was built by native pharaohs of the thirtieth dynasty, was the one for Hathor.

Greco-Roman era

The island temple was built during the Ptolemaic dynasty. The principal deity of the temple complex was Isis, but other temples and shrines were dedicated to other deities such as Hathor and Harendotes. The temple was closed down officially in the 6th century AD. Philae was a seat of the Christian religion as well as of the ancient Egyptian faith.

Top of a Column at Philae Temple


The island of Philae attracted much attention in the 19th century. Both an Egyptologist and Novelist created interest with comments about Philae following visits, and as a result, tourism to Philae become common.


Aswan Dam Wall

Aswan Low Dam

In 1902, the Aswan Low Dam was completed on the Nile River by the British. This threatened many ancient landmarks, including the temple complex of Philae, with being flooded. The dam was heightened twice and the island of Philae was nearly always flooded. In fact, the complex was not underwater only when the dam’s sluices were open, from July to October.

Consideration was given to relocating the temple, piece by piece, to nearby islands. However, the temples’ foundations and other architectural supporting structures were strengthened instead. Although the buildings were physically secure, the island’s attractive vegetation and the colors of the temples’ reliefs were washed away. Also, the bricks of the Philae temples soon became encrusted with silt and other debris carried by the Nile.

Looking at the location of the Coffer Dam and the original location of Philae Temple

Rescue project

When the High Dam project threatened to engulf Philae completely, the temples were saved by a great international rescue operation sponsored by UNESCO, which took place between 1972 and 1980. The island of Philae was surrounded by a coffer dam and drained, while a new site was prepared on the neighboring island of Agilka. The temples were broken up into sections and carefully numbered, then re-erected in the same relative positions on Agilka.

Two Coptic churches, a Coptic monastery, the ruins of a Temple of Augustus, and a large Roman city gate were left where they stood on the submerged island of Philae and not transferred to Agilka. It is hoped to recover them at a later date.

For more information about Philae Temple

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *