Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Philae: Temple of Isis

Goddess of magic's cult temple
Two main types of temple were constructed in ancient Egypt: mortuary temples, dedicated to the memory of a pharaoh and his journey to the afterlife, and cult temples, dedicated to a deity linked with a particular place. Funerary temples were always built west of the Nile, a direction associated with sunset and death, whereas cult temples were usually built in the east, a direction associated with sunrise, birth and life. Philae temple, where the beautiful cult goddess of Isis was worshipped, was constructed relatively recently during the Ptolemaic (33rd) Dynasty, a mere 2,300 or so years ago.
Tuesday 25 December: My Christmas treat is to visit the legendary 19th century Nile cruise destination of Philae and a taxi from Aswan soon drops me off near the temple ticket office at Philae's boat jetty. Ticket (E£50) in hand I soon realise that a motorboat to the island is charged extra. I know this and, of course, the boatmen know it too. I'm over a barrel and I know it, they know it, and they know that I know . . .
A small fortune later (E£70) and the elegant columns and bulky pylon towers of the temple slowly appear above the rippling waters of Lake Nasser. It's almost lunchtime and, apart from a Chinese family, I have the whole island to myself, I've chosen my time wisely.
Often appearing in Victorian sketch books the small columned kiosk of Roman Emperor Trojan is far less impressive than the double-colonnaded approach to the massive twin pylons of the Temple of Isis. The front wall has deep-cut reliefs, one featuring Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra VII's (of Caesar and Mark Anthony fame) father smiting his enemies. Many of the columns are decorated with reliefs of Isis and her consort, obscure Nubian lion-headed goddess, Arensnuphis. As well as being the goddess of magic, Isis was also the protector of mothers, children and the Ritual of Life. Daughter of the sky goddess Nut, she married her brother, Osiris, and conceived Horus with him. Exalted throughout ancient Egypt the worship of Isis spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, to as far afield as Britain, before being usurped by the later cult of Christ.
Like a giant children's Lego kit the whole temple was dismantled, block-by-block, during the construction of Aswan High Dam and reassembled here prior to the original site being flooded by Lake Nasser in 1980.
Slideshow of Philae Temple.

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