Philae Temple

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Nubian monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem

Philae, seen from the water, Aswan, Egypt, Oct 2004.jpg
Isis Temple at Philae
National territory: EgyptEgypt Egypt
Type: Culture
Criteria : i, iii, vi
Surface: 374 ha
Reference No .: 88
UNESCO region : Arabic states
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 1979  ( session 3 )
Ground plan of the island of Philae (mid 19th century)

The Temple of Philae (also Hut-chenti , House of the Beginning ) refers to a temple complex in Upper Egypt , about eight kilometers south of Aswan . The temple complexes are on the island of Agilkia after they were dismantled from 1977 to 1980 on the actual site, the now flooded Philae island , and rebuilt about 600 meters northwest on the higher terrain of Agilkia .

The main building of the temple complex is the temple of the goddess Isis . It stands on the west bank in the middle of the island. Around it are other smaller buildings, such as the kiosk of Nectanebo I , the Trajan kiosk, the small temple of Hathor , the temple of Harendotes , the kiosk of Psammetich II , the Hadrian bastion, the temple of Imhotep , the Chapel of the Mandulis and the Temple of Arensnuphis-Dedun . The hieroglyphic reliefs of the temple complex are edited and published by the project Edition of the temple inscriptions by Philae of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna (Institute OREA).


Philae Temple (Egypt)
Agilkia (Temple of Philae)
Agilkia (Temple of Philae)
Location in Egypt

A dating of the original temple foundation is not possible. The oldest surviving evidence comes from the reign of Nectanebo I (379 to 360 BC), who built a temple in honor of Hathor . This included a kiosk (pavilion) decorated by Nektanebos, which was probably attached to another larger building. The latter is no longer preserved in the meantime. The kiosk was removed from its original location in ancient times .

Philae Temple (1838)

The temple of Isis on the island of Philae was praised as the pearl of the Nile . The Christians had to wait a long time before they could take over Philae . Not even the edict of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius I , with which Christianity was declared the state religion (391), was able to drive the stubborn Isis worshipers off the island. It was not until 535/37 that Emperor Justinian I had the temple forcibly closed and converted into a Christian place of worship , although the Blemmyes still held on to the worship of the sanctuary. The rear area of ​​the pillared room was consecrated as a church to Saint Stephen around 553 and a large number of the reliefs in the temple were destroyed on this occasion.

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, the reservoir of the old Aswan Dam flooded the Philae temples for several months a year. In connection with the rescue operation for Nubia's monuments, plans were finally made to move the temple complexes from Philae to higher ground in 1972 . The northwestern neighboring island of Agilkia was chosen as the move location . They were redesigned taking into account the topography of Philae , the most important buildings were sawed into 37,363 blocks weighing between 2 and 25 tons and the facilities were rebuilt true to the original. The work lasted from 1977 to 1980. The buildings of Philae have been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1979 .

Mythological connections

The groove book

In the Nutbuch the goddess Nephthys is connected with the northern sky, which at first seems strange, since this region of the sky is otherwise associated with Nut . Obviously there is an interpretation instead of a description. The basis is the motif of two sky goddesses, which can also be seen in the representations in the temple of Philae. The head end, which should be expected to be in the west, also appears here in a northerly direction. The background is the reference to the starry sky, where the southern sky lies behind the "Mother of God of Re" and the northern sky in front of her. Nephthys appears at the bow and Isis at the stern of the sun boat . The spatial division follows the well-known cardinal direction pattern, which understands west and north as the location of the absent sun.

Mythologically, the northern sky also corresponds to the region in which the Re was created, with Nephthys and Isis taking on a double function as nurse and mother and can therefore merge with Nut in their function. There is also a clear connection to the Osirism myth , where Nephthys and Isis raise Horus together as mother and nurse. In the Nutbuch, Re appears as Horus. Re takes on the appearance of the falcon shortly before its rise . At this point, his whereabouts are still far behind Punt . With this, Re slips into the role of Horus in the horizon . The later naming of Osiris as "his father" shows that Re is actually understood as Horus . In particular, Re is therefore not mentioned in the first 15 lines of the Nutbuch and only appears in the forms “this God” or “majesty of this God”. In the divine genealogy , the deities Nut and Geb appear again as grandparents of Hor-pa-chered , child god in the two divine triads on Philae. In relation to the Nutbuch, the childlike Horus is also understood as the childlike successor of the aging Re.

The Osiris myth

View from the temple gate for the Abaton (Osiris tomb) of Bigeh on the Isis temple of Philae 1838

According to legend, Philae is the place where Isis found the heart of her husband Osiris after - according to the Osiris myth - his brother Seth killed him, dismembered him and hid the body parts all over the country. Ultimately, Isis and her sister Nephthys found all the scattered parts of Osiris and reassembled his body. But Osiris no longer wanted to stay in this world and decided on the hereafter. In a divine exchange, so to speak, Isis became pregnant and gave birth to the god Horus . The reliefs inside the Mammisi (birth house) depict the birth of the deity Horus, the child and his childhood in the delta swamps .

The temple was built under the Ptolemies , but the Roman rulers also built the sanctuary so far away. Isis, revered as the mistress of the flood in the cataract area , was popular throughout the Roman Empire as the goddess of fertility , love and redemption . Philae was one of the major shrines of that time; the temple operation was not stopped until the end of late antiquity on imperial orders.

Myth of the sun's eye

Not only the mother goddess Isis or the Nile were worshiped as life givers on Philae, but also the sun . As the daughter of Re , Tefnut appeared as Hathor in the myth of the gods " The Homecoming of the Goddess " also as the sun eye . The double-sidedness of her nature is expressed on an inscription in Philae: "As a Sekhmet she is angry, as a Bastet she is happy". Sachmet, Bastet, Sopdet , Hathor and Isis are united in Tefnut. As the sun eye, the goddess had withdrawn deep into the south to Nubia during the winter , which is why she was nicknamed the Nubian cat :

“The celebration went away with you, the drunkenness disappeared and was not found. There is a serious quarrel all over Egypt. Re's ballroom is frozen, Atum's pump room is depressed. They all went away with you and hid from Egypt. One is in serenity among the Nubians. "

- The Homecoming of the Goddess, Demotic Papyrus

As the sun's eye, she evidently felt little inclination to return to Egypt . Re sent after her the messenger of the gods Thoth , who succeeded in persuading the apostate to return. Arrived in Egypt, the whole country celebrated her happy homecoming with the goddess as part of the Hathor festival and the Bastet festival :

“The monkey (Thoth) was before her in every place she would go. The goddess went on in joy, being the Tefnut in her beautiful form. It was reported to Re in the great palace. He came to Memphis from Heliopolis before them. He greeted the goddess and celebrated a party with her in Memphis. "

- The Homecoming of the Goddess, Demotic Papyrus

Temple complexes

Kiosk of Nectanebo I.

The pavilion or kiosk of Nectanebo I was built during his reign from 379 to 360 BC. Built in BC. The building remains rebuilt on the southwest corner of the island of Agilkia represent the oldest upright structure of the temple complex today. The rectangular portico with 14 composite columns made of a combination of bell-shaped papyrus and sistrum capitals with depictions of the head of the goddess Hathor was probably part of one of Nektanebos developed overall concept for island development.

By Ptolemy VIII. The building was in the second century BC. AD with two obelisks . One of them was used by Jean-François Champollion to decipher the hieroglyphic script because of its inscription in hieroglyphic and Greek spelling of the royal names Ptolemaios and Cleopatra IV . He stands in front of the Kingston Lacy mansion in Dorset today . The inscriptions date to 118 or 117 BC. Chr. , And contain a request of the Egyptian Priest of Philae and the authorization by Ptolemy VIII., And the queens Cleopatra II. And Cleopatra III.

There is a relief of the child god Hor-pa-chered on one of the walls of the kiosk . The relief is the oldest and only evidence of Hor-pa-chered in a temple from the time before the Ptolemies . The relief shows Nectanebo I, how he was enthroned Isis and her child Hor-pa- chered offering a food offering. Hor-pa-chered is depicted iconographically as a naked child god with a double crown and youth curl; Holding an Ankh symbol in the left hand , the right hand is on the mouth.

Buildings on the Dromos

The place in front of the first pylon of the Isis Temple, flanked on both sides by colonnades, is called dromos . The eastern colonnade was left unfinished with 16 columns. On the west side, 32 columns decorated with sacrificial scenes form the border of the temple complex to the water surrounding the island in front of a wall decorated with similar reliefs. The shapes of the column capitals, which are modeled on plants, differ from those of the other columns.

In the front, southern area of ​​the drom there is an ancient nilometer in the ground for measuring the Nile level. The remains of the temple of Arensnuphis - Dedun , which was built by the Meroitic king Arqamani and the pharaoh Ptolemy V , form the southern end of the eastern row of columns . To the east behind the wall with the 16 columns is the small chapel of the Nubian deity Mandulis , which was probably built under the emperor Augustus , who was worshiped in his own Augustus temple on the island . To the north of this row of columns, in front of the first pylon of the Temple of Isis, a little to the rear, the Temple of Imhotep, a building from the time of Ptolemy II.

Main temple of the goddess Isis

Complex of the Isis Temple

The rows of columns on both sides of the dromos were laid out in such a way that they led apart in the direction of the main temple of Philae and, in their center, exposed an entrance gate that still exists today and dates from the time of Nectanebo I. The gate is located in the left tower of the first pylon and leads through it to the entrance of the Mammisi , the “birthplace” ( Coptic “place of birth”). Even the Nektanebos Gate, intended as the actual entrance gate of the temple building, as well as the Mammisi built under the Ptolemies, deviate from the axis of the Dromos to the east due to the geographical conditions of the island, which is even more evident in the temple building behind it, including the second Pylons applies.

Through the Ptolemaic pharaohs Ptolemaios II. And Ptolemaios III. extensive renovation and expansion of the temple complex took place. The two temple pylons, the forecourt at the Mammisi and the hall of columns ( hypostyle ) of the Isis temple were built below them .

First pylon from the southeast
First pylon from the southwest

The size of the first pylon, 20 meters high and 38 meters wide, made it necessary to shift the axis of the temple complex, which was already bending to the east. To the east of the existing Nektanebos gate integrated into the western pylon tower, a new, larger entrance portal was built between the towers of the pylon. Correspondingly, the rear columns of the eastern colonnade of the Dromos are missing in front of the entrance area. While the first pylon with the new portal dates from the time of Ptolemy II, the reliefs attached to it represent the later pharaoh Ptolemy XII. depicts how he offers sacrifices before Isis, Hor-pa-chered, Harendotes , Nephthys, and Hathor, and prostrates the enemies of the land.

The courtyard of the Isis Temple is laid out irregularly because of the deviation from the building axis between the two pylons. It becomes wider towards the second pylon. The pylon delimiting the north side with the entrance to the temple is 13 meters high and 30 meters wide. Similar to the first pylon, there are other reliefs of Ptolemy XII, who kills prisoners before the gods. In front of the right (eastern) tower of the second pylon is a granite block with hieroglyphics on which a donation of land by Pharaoh Ptolemy VI. to the temple is depicted.

Hathor columns in front of the Mammisi

On the east side of the courtyard there is a building with a portico and six different annexes, which were used for cult purposes in the past. The western area is occupied by the Mammisi, which is a peripheral temple with surrounding hathoric columns. Above the capitals depicting plant leaves, the face of the goddess Hathor is incorporated on four sides. Only this goddess was depicted from the front, the faces of all other gods always from the side.

A few steps lead up to the actual temple entrance in the center of the second pylon. Behind him there is an atrium with columns, the pronaos , a columned hall with ten formerly painted columns that is open at the top. The colors were largely washed out by the waters of the Aswan Dam reservoir in the 20th century. Flower capitals support a circumferential ceiling on which symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt , solar boats and astronomical symbols are depicted. Numerous Coptic crosses are carved on the walls. They date from the 6th century, when the pronaos was converted into a church by Bishop Theodoros under the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I.

Isis altar in the naos
Ptolemy II brings gifts to Isis and Hor-pa-chered

The following naos consists of twelve rooms decorated with liturgical scenes and the sanctuary in the center of the temple. In the middle of the sanctuary there is still the pedestal on which the boat with the image of the goddess Isis was located. Here, too, the walls show rich reliefs depicting gods and kings. Different rulers make offerings to Isis and Osiris. Other deities are also depicted. A staircase leads from the Naos to a terrace on which the burial chapel of Osiris is located. Here the Osiris myth is depicted, with death, burial and resurrection of the god.

From the pronaos, a side gate leads west to Hadrian's Bastion (also Hadrian's Gate), which opened up a view of the neighboring Osiris sanctuary on Bigeh Island before the temples were moved to Agilkia . On the walls depictions of Osiris, the ruler of the afterlife, whose mummy sprouts stalks of corn, proclaim the hope of a new life after death . The representation of the source of the Nile on the north wall of the inside of the gate, as it was what the ancient Egyptians imagined, is also interesting. The holy bull Apis is seen as a hermaphrodite with human features as the deification of the upper and lower Nile . Standing in a cave surrounded by a snake, the water of the river pours out of two vessels held in his hands, the source of which was suspected to be near the mountain Mu-Hapi ("Water of Hapi / Apis") during the first cataract . On the inside of the north wall of Hadrian's Bastion is the last datable inscription of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the graffito of Esmet-Achom .

To the north of Hadrian's Bastion there were two other outbuildings of the Temple of Isis, but hardly anything has been preserved. These were the kiosk of Psammetich II and the temple of Harendotes . To the south of Hadrian's bastion, parts of a second, more recent nilometer have been preserved. The Mammisi to the east of this Nilometer, described below, can also be seen as an outbuilding of the Isis Temple.

The Mammisi in the courtyard of the Temple of Isis

Construction and decoration phases

Two entrances lead through the first pylon into the first courtyard: the main gate in the middle and a passage in the western gate tower that leads directly to the Mammisi (birthplace). The reliefs inside depict the birth of "Horus the Child" and his youth in the delta swamps. The Mammisi of Philae was built by Ptolemy II for the deity "Horus, the child".

Ptolemy VI later decorated parts of the vestibule and chamber I, with "Horus, the child" in Philae taking on the role of the local appearance as child of the gods and son of Isis and Osiris. In the corresponding inscriptions of Ptolemy VI. is it [called:

"Ptolemy VI. made his monument to his father Hor-pa-chered, the son of Isis and Osiris. It is the son of Re, Ptolemy, living forever, loved by Ptah by building the house of the birth of her (Isis) son Hor-pa-chered. "

- Inscriptions of Ptolemy VI.

Augustus decorated numerous other scenes of the Hor-pa-chered on the buildings on Philae, including also on the outer walls of Mammisis. Hadrian was to reserve the right to make final decorations of the Hor-pa-chered on Philae; at the same time also the last evidence of the worship of the child god Hor-pa-chered in an Egyptian temple.


Mammisi of the Temple of Isis

The legend of the birth is depicted on the walls of Chamber II . The associated scenes have their mythological roots in the New Kingdom , when the divine birth of the king was an integral part of the pictorial programs in the temples of the New Kingdom. The Ptolemaic kings changed the birth myth . In all Mammisis of the Greco-Roman times , the respective new local form of a child god replaced the previously existing central royal motif of the New Kingdom. The name of the deities involved was based in the local Mammisis on the pantheon that existed there .

In the Mammisi of Philae the associated local form of the child god is mentioned only once by name as Hor-pa-chered. In the other representations, on the other hand, the name of the child of the gods is not mentioned, but reference is made again and again to the function of Khnum , who forms the child of god Hor-pa-chered on a potter's wheel . In contrast, the Isis motif is used as the mother of gods.

The iconographic motifs show the cult of hor-pa-chered in the acts of sacrifice . Similar representations can also be found on or in other buildings on Philae. In addition, the images on Philae show numerous parallels to other Mammisis. There, too, the naming of the child of the gods as Hor-pa-chered is dispensed with, which suggests the special importance of the central Isis motif. A naming of the child of the gods is not necessary on this basis. The veneration of the Hor-pa-chered has been preserved in the private names that are seldom recorded in Philae; thus the son of a Pa-di-Hor-pa-chered was first minister of Isis and the son of a Hor-pa-chered was also minister of Isis. In addition, the Philae cult of Hor-pa-chered is attested in Greek consecration inscriptions on three altars .

Small temple of Hathor

Hathor Temple

To the east of the second pylon of the Temple of Isis rise the remains of the small Temple of Hathor, which was built in the time of Pharaoh Ptolemy VI. completed, expanded by Ptolemy VIII and later adorned by the emperors Augustus and Tiberius . Its entrance is on a cult terrace on the east side above the east bank of the island. Behind the entrance is the pronaos with 10 columns, behind it are the small rooms of the naos.

The reliefs of the temple are reminiscent of the myth of the gods of the " homecoming of the goddess ", in which Hathor, the daughter of Re, rested on the island of Philae on his return from Nubia . She is depicted there as the “Lady of Joy” who dances to the music that is played by musicians in her honor and to appease her anger that caused her to leave Egypt. These include a priest playing the double flute, a monkey playing the lute, other dancing monkeys and the dwarf god Bes , who drums or plays the harp.

Trajan's kiosk

Augustus' Trajan Kiosk

The Trajan kiosk is located south of the small Hathor temple and, like it, on the east bank of the island. With it, an east-west processional axis was created from the island bank to the main temple. It consists of 14 columns connected by means of intermediate walls with bell-shaped papyrus capitals under a surrounding epistyle that once supported a wooden structure to support a tent roof. During river processions, the sacred boat with the statue of the goddess Isis docked on the eastern terrace.

The Trajan kiosk is 15.4 × 20.7 meters and 15.45 meters high, making it the largest preserved free-standing kiosk in Egypt. On the basis of two reliefs that show the Emperor Trajan as a sacrificing pharaoh before the gods Isis, Osiris and Horus as a child, the building was mostly attributed to this emperor. The Trajan kiosk, however, was built under Emperor Augustus and later rebuilt by Trajan. After Dietrich Wildung , however, the building remained unfinished because there are no reliefs or inscriptions.


In the film The Mummy Returns, the protagonists also travel to a digital replica of the island in the course of a chase.


  • Hans Bonnet : Philae. In: Lexicon of Egyptian Religious History. Nikol, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , pp. 592-594.
  • Johannes Hahn : The destruction of the cults of Philae. History and legend of the first cataract of the Nile. In: Johannes Hahn, Stephen Emmel, Ulrich Gotter (Hrsg.): From temple to church: destruction and renewal of local cultic topography in late antiquity. (= Religions in the Graeco-Roman world. Vol. 163.). Brill, Leiden 2008, ISBN 978-90-474-4373-5 , pp. 203ff.
  • Wolfgang Helck / Eberhard Otto : Philae. In: Small Lexicon of Egyptology. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04027-0 , p. 224.
  • Sandra Sandri: Har-Pa-Chered (Harpokrates): The genesis of an Egyptian god child (= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta. (OLA) Vol. 151). Peeters, Leuven 2006, ISBN 90-429-1761-X .
  • Alexandra von Lieven : Floor plan of the course of the stars. The so-called groove book . The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Ancient Eastern Studies (among others), Copenhagen 2007, ISBN 978-87-635-0406-5 .
  • Erich Winter : The temples of Philae and the problem of their salvation. In: Ancient World. Vol. 7, Issue 3, 1976, pp. 2-15.

Web links

Commons : Philae  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ "Edition of the temple inscriptions from Philae" of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna (Institute OREA)
  2. ^ Karl Mustafa: Temple Island Philae., January 23, 2011, accessed April 6, 2012 .
  3. Sandra Sandri: Har-Pa-Chered (Harpokrates) . The genesis of an Egyptian child of gods (=  Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta . Volume 151 ). Peeters, Leuven 2006, ISBN 90-429-1761-X , 2.8. Philae and Surroundings, S. 54/55 ( online [accessed April 6, 2012]).
  4. Sandra Sandri: Har-Pa-Chered (Harpokrates) . P. 242.
  5. Marco Zecchi: Abu Simbel, Aswan and the Nubian Temples. Translated by Susanne Tauch. White Star Publishers, Vercelli 2004, pp. 121/122, ISBN 88-540-0070-1
  6. a b c Giovanna Magi: Aswan. Philae, Abu Simbel. Translated by Christine Hock. Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence 1992, p. 64, ISBN 978-88-7009-240-0
  7. a b c d e Sandra Sandri: Har-Pa-Chered (Harpokrates). P. 56/57.
  8. Frieze inscription on the north wall of the vestibule.
  9. Passage at the western tower of the pylon.
  10. Hadrian's Gate.
  11. Sandra Sandri: Har-Pa-Chered (Harpokrates) . P. 58.
  12. ^ Philae - The Jewel of the Nile. The Temple of Hathor. (No longer available online.), October 12, 2005, archived from the original on March 30, 2012 ; accessed on April 7, 2012 .
  13. Marco Zecchi: Abu Simbel, Aswan and the Nubian Temples. Translated by Susanne Tauch. White Star Publishers, Vercelli 2004, p. 128
  14. ^ Giovanna Magi: Aswan. Philae, Abu Simbel. Translated by Christine Hock. Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence 1992, p. 69
  15. a b The Temple of Isis at Philae. The Trajanskiosk. (No longer available online.), November 7, 2003, archived from the original on November 17, 2012 ; Retrieved April 7, 2012 .
  16. ^ Dieter Arnold: Lexicon of Egyptian architecture. Albatros, Düsseldorf 2000, ISBN 3-491-96001-0 , p. 265.
  17. ^ Giovanna Magi: Aswan. Philae, Abu Simbel. Translated by Christine Hock. Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence 1992, p. 66.

Coordinates: 24 ° 1 ′ 31 ″  N , 32 ° 53 ′ 3 ″  E