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A Sacred Island



Philae is an island in Egypt, and was one of the most sacred sites in the ancient world. Pilgrims went to the island from different parts of the world to worship goddess Isis.

The man-made Lake Nasser covered the original island of Philae completely. However, a massive rescue effort was put in place to save the temples and other monuments in the island. UNESCO spearheaded the rescue operation that was carried between 1972 and 1980. They were taken out of the water and re-built in the nearby island of Agilka, which currently bears the name of the original sacred island. The temples were cut into small sections, which were numerous, and reconstructed in the new site, maintaining their relative positions.

Napktnebef Kheperkare (or Nectanebo I) constructed the first building in around 370 BC. It was a relatively small temple that was dedicated to goddess Isis. Succeeding rulers expanded the temple, turning it into the Great Temple of Isis. The leaders who made significant improvements were Ptolemy II Philadelphius and Diocletian.

Egyptian religion continued to be practiced in the island two centuries after the Romans converted the country to Christianity. The site was so respected that Nubian priests were allowed to carry on their religious duties to the goddess even after Emperor Marcian took over the ruling in 451 AD. It was Emperor Justinian who commanded the closure of the temples in 535 AD. Some of the chambers were then used for Christian religious functions. A small Coptic community continued to live in the island until the Muslims came to power.

During the rescue operation, some buildings remained, among which are a Coptic monastery, some Coptic Churches, remains of Temple of Augustus and a Roman city gate.

The Temple of Isis is the center of attraction in the new island of Philae. It is established on a north-to-south orientation. People used to enter from the southern side, passing via the Hall of Nectanebo. The hall leads to an expansive Outer Court. A wall called the first pylon encloses the temple on the northern side and there are colonnades on both the eastern and western sides. You will also see parts of the solid embankment that used to enclose parts of the island.

The first pylon, which is made up of a central doorway and two towers, is 45.5 meters wide and 18 meters high. The second pylon, which is covered in reliefs, is 32 meters wide and 12 meters high. Foundations of a relatively small chapel are found in front of the second pylon. There are stairs on the northern side of the west tower that you can use to climb the second pylon.

The Temple of Isis is behind the second pylon. The temple comprises a vestibule, court, antechambers and an inner sanctum, which was where the sacred image of the goddess was kept. There are inscriptions and reliefs that depict different Ptolemies and Roman emperors in various kinds of religious acts.

There are eight columns in the vestibule of the temple. This is just a brief description of the intricate details you will find in Philae, which does not even cover the temple completely. Take time to discover the complete wonder by visiting the island.



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