Pull Aside for the Island of Philae

August 25, 2011
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Pilgrims once flocked to the Egyptian island of Philae, coming from all over the ancient world to worship Isis, a goddess who is commemorated with a massive temple that was re-erected from beneath the Nile River. Isis was mysterious to most who worshipped her, but was believed to have healing powers for those who sought her counsel.

The actual island of Philae, which was first host to a small temple dedicated to Isis dating back to 370 B.C., was submerged under the waters of Lake Nasser long ago. However, experts have pulled out the great temples and monuments of the island and re-built the civilization on a nearby island, which is now known as Philae.

The original temple devoted to Isis was eventually expanded into a larger temple by a number of rulers including Ptolemy II Philadelphius and Diocletian. The island served as the last place where Egyptian religion thrived — lasting for two centuries after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity.

Well-to-do Europeans toured the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, and now, those stopping off on a Nile cruise can explore the large outer court, pylons and colonnades of the spectacular temple. Massive pillars, columns, statues, reliefs and inscriptions characterize the structure. Emperors including Tiberious and Augustus can be spotted in reliefs in the west colonnade, while early Christian paintings can be seen in the central doorway to the east tower.

Pieces of the ancient civilization are continually found in the depths of the Nile and Alexandria's seabed. In 2009, the BBC reported that a piece of the Temple of Isis was pulled from the harbor. Excavators have also found dozens of sphinxes and parts of the Alexandria Lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, at this site.

After a Greek expedition discovered the massive stone in 1998, experts worked to clean mud and other scum off of it before dragging it along the ocean floor for three days to bring it closer to shore. This laborious process was nothing compared to what it must have been like for the ancient Egyptians. The block is made from a slab of red granite that was quarried in Aswan, which is some 1,100 kilometers to the south.

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