Saturday, May 07, 2011

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Temple of Isis in Philae was also a part of the ancient relics that were salvaged under the UNESCO Nubia Campaign. 

The complex was partially submerged under water with the construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902.  It was anticipated that several historical monuments will be further inundated with the completion of the High Dam in 1970.  UNESCO team came to the rescue in salvaging 22 of these monuments that includes the temple in Philae.

In the same way as the Temples of Abu Simbel that I have visited the previous day, the Temple of Isis in Philae Island was dismantled and re-assembled to its present location at the nearby Agilkia Island, 20 meters above and about 550 meters away from its original location.  Up to the time of writing, the tips of metal trusses can still be seen above the lake where the temple used to stand.

I booked a full day tour with the hotel (Memnon Hotel) I was staying, basically a private car with a driver.  I paid EGP70 that will take me for a visit to the Aswan High Dam, the Temple of Isis in Philae and the Unfinished Obelisk.

Coincidentally, the guy at the reception (the owner?) was watching the news on TV of Osama Bin Laden’s death, unconvinced as he was, he started rumbling in his Arabic tongue that is difficult to understand (I do understand a bit of the language but Egyptian Arabic’s a different class, it's intense).  I was glad that my driver arrived after a couple of minutes as I was not really keen engaging in political discussions, a subject I am never interested, and especially in a language I am not competent with. 

My driver was an old man who speaks very minimal English with an equally old car, but I find him to be nice and polite and that all that matters to me.  We drove for about 15 minutes from the center of Aswan to the long highway where the High Dam is located.  There was a sign board that says “"The High Dam project is considered the Egyptian challenge to the silent nature" beside the entrance where I paid EGP20 to get in.  I didn’t quite get what that quotation means. It must have been originally delivered through political speech in Arabic language but didn't come out as intended when translated in the English language.  Did they use google translate again???

Water reservoir at High Dam.

Dam information at the entry.

The controversial High Dam started construction in 1960 during the time of Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser (Lake Nasser was named after him) with a borrowed funding from the then Soviet Union.  Controversial because (someone whispered to me) that it was supposed to be funded by the United States or the UK who had made a lot of contributions and archaeological expeditions around the country, and of course there were internal challenges and disagreements to the idea.  This is Egypt, remember?

To commemorate the alliance, the 70-meter lotus-shaped Egyptian Russian Friendship Monument was erected not far and dominates the scene.

The 100 meters tall dam can handle maximum 11,000 cubic meters per second of water passing through it. Benefits include protection from floods and droughts, increase in agricultural production, employment, electricity production and to boost tourism.

Russian-Egyptian Friendship tower in the distance.

 It may have been an interesting subject for architecture students but failed to impress me.  I stood there for only 10 minutes to see the expanse of the dam within a very limited viewing area beside the highway.  Visitors are allowed to stay only within about 20 meters parameter, I was about to walk a bit farther but was deterred by the military personnel for security reason, after all Bin Laden was killed that day – if it has any connection at all.  

If you have limited time, without guilt, you can skip the dam, at least for me it wasn't that kind of sight to behold.

From the High Dam, we drove next to Philae, well not exactly, a car can’t take you to the site.  We stopped at the lake side where several small boats were moored.  Entry to the wharf is EGP50 and was instructed from the ticket window to hire a boat to get to the island.  My driver erstwhile informed me that the maximum that I should pay the boat was EGP50, he gave me his mobile phone number and told me he’ll be back for me after I’m done with Philae.  I forgot his name but undoubtedly one of the calm Egyptian drivers I have encountered in the whole country.  Most of the time it’s the rough talking or hard-hollow-sounding voice that no matter how polite and slow they talk, it still come to me as explosive.  I've spent years working with a lot of them, some became really good friends but I can't get the hang of things.  One guy at work, who by the way became a chat-buddy, seemed to be always grumpy with the intensity of his tone ten decibels up times mine and he was just explaining how the buttons on the telephone set works.  HA HA HA.

I walked down the wharf and was immediately offered a boat trip for EGP100.  It would be cost-effective if you are in a group as you could split the boat fee.  I was alone so I have to haggle down to 50 for one hour  on the island.  The boat trip took about 10 - 15 minutes and I got excited as the sight started to loom with my boat approaching. The boatman anchored at the wooden board landing beside the river.

One of the last pagan temple in operation right before the advent of Christianity, Philae Temple was the center of the cult of the goddess Isis and her connection with Osiris, Horus, and the Kingship, during the Ptolemaic period of Egypt. The cult of Isis at Philae goes back at least to the 7th century BC, but some of the surviving remains date back as early as 380BC during the reign of Nectanebo I.

The big courtyard is flanked by colonnades with rows of columns on both sides.  The gate to the temple is in the middle of the fa├žade of the two 60-foot tall great pylon which in my opinion is the most striking sight in the complex with several reliefs inscriptions, the most prominent is the image of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysus in a smite pose holding his enemies by the hair on his right hand while brandishing club on his left hand.

Column at the courtyard.

The First Pylon.


I could continue on blabbering about the stuff that can be seen but there are a lot of remarkable artifacts – structures and inscriptions – in and around the premise which can be foound online (internet), my recommendations:

Trajan's Kiosk in Hypostyle Hall

I kept on looking at my watch as I don’t want to get past my one hour that was allotted to me by my boatman so being  punctual as I was I walked back to the boat landing and my boatman is nowhere to be found.  The silly guy was on the other shore catching fish.  Damn! I could have stayed longer if he told me that.  Now, I have to wait for him to run his engine and sail over to the landing. 

The original location before the temple was relocated.

We sailed back to the wharf, paid him the agreed EGP50 and phoned my private car driver who arrived after few minutes and off we went to the next and last destination -- the Unfinished Obelisk.

Upon reaching the entrance to the site I've lost my interest thinking that I have to climb those rock boulders near the gate and pay the entry fee of EGP50 just to see one unfinished obelisk.  I have seen a lot of obelisks around Egypt and Turkey, I don’t think I would be delighted to see another one which in fact is even half-done so I told the driver that we drive back to Aswan. 

Before reaching my accommodation though, about a kilometer away, I spotted this garden I passed by during my first morning in Aswan the day I went to the Nubian Museum.  I got off in front of the park’s gate and bade him farewell. 

Wide view deck at Fryal Garden.

At EGP5 entry to the Fryal Garden, I think it is a better deal than the EGP50 unfinished obelisk.  The main feature of the garden park is the wide panorama deck high up on the edge overlooking the length and commanding a nice view of the Nile river, the desert in the west bank, and Nubian village along the bank.  Many locals were passing their time sitting on the patches of grass and benches having picnics.  Snack kiosks, kids playground, water fountain, and different species of flora around.

It was late afternoon so I lay down on the grass and had some relaxing moments while waiting for the sun to descend.


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