The Pyramids of Giza
The Step Pyramid

Temple of Karnak
Luxor Temple
Temple of Hatshepsut

Esna Temple

Kom Ombo Temple

Temple of Philae

Temples at Abu Simbel



The Pyramids of Giza


The Pyramids are situated at Giza just outside Cairo and is one of the engineering marvels of all time and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Situated on the west bank of the Nile, which is associated with death, the pyramids are generally believed to be tombs for the Pharaohs or a resurrection machine for his rebirth. The first large Egyptian pyramid was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom to protect the body of the king Djoser who died around 2650 BC. The Pyramid was the development of the Mastaba which was a house built over the body. The most prolific builder was Sneferu who ruled from around 2612–2589 BC and built three pyramids. The greatest and most famous however, are the Pyramids of Giza, built near the capital city of Memphis for the fourth dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure who ruled from 2589-2504 BC. 


Built on a Plateau they consist of a number of other buildings associated with the preparation and maintenance of the Pharaoh and his afterlife. Such buildings include mortuary temple, where rituals for the dead king and for the Egyptian gods may have been carried out; small subsidiary pyramids and numerous other tombs for the royal family and officials together with storage for objects including pits for funerary boats. The complex consisted of a causeway running to a lower temple at the Nile that acted as an entrance to the complex.


The first and great pyramid was constructed by Khufu (also known as Cheops) the son of Sneferu. Khufu ruled around 2589-2566 when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was nearing its peak of prosperity and could afford the vast amounts of money required to build the pyramid.  Constructed of limestone and granite the total weight is 6.5 million tons with some of the 2,300,000 blocks weighing 70 ton. The whole structure reached 140 metres in height and had a base length originally of 230 metres. It is believed that the stone blocks were hauled up gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone, and with wood runners which would be lubricated by water the Sledges pulled by a team of men using ropes of papyrus twine. To complete the face white limestone blocks were placed, smoothed and polished. It is believed that construction took 20 years. The original entrance to the great pyramid is on the North face, 15m high and surmounted by a double vault. The modern entrance is located several metres down, which was forced in the 9th century. Inside the pyramid are a number of chambers and passages. The burial chamber is almost six meters tall, and was built by solid blocks of granite to prevent penetration. The floor is made with blocks of pink granite, which cover 60 square meters. Inside the chamber is the sarcophagus, which was built inside the pyramid during construction as it would have been almost impossible to move it in considering the confined and narrow passage.


The other two pyramids were constructed by Menkaure (also known as Mycerinus), which is the smallest and Khafre’s (who is also known as Chephren) which although looks higher than Khufu’s it is actually half a metre smaller but was built on higher ground.  The most distinctive feature of Khafre's Pyramid is the topmost layer of smooth stones that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid. Some believe that the Sphinx has the face of Khafre while others will argue that it was Khufu, and that it was part of Khufu’s pyramid complex, while others believe that it was there before Khufu built his pyramid.


Due to the vast expense, the end of the Old Kingdom and the movement of the capital to Thebes, modern day Luxor, the Pharaohs started to be buried in tombs cut out of the rock in the Valley of the King and the construction of pyramids ceased.


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The Step Pyramid 

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara is situated 20 km from Giza near Cairo. Built for the Pharaoh Djoser the first king of the Third Dynasty as his tomb and mortuary complex it is surrounded by a panelled, bastion wall of white limestone, which imitates bound bundles of reeds and has a number of symbolic doors, although it only has one functional entrance. Originally with 9 metres (30 feet) high walls, the complex covers an area of approximately 560 x 275 metres. Surrounding the wall is a trench which measures 750 m long and 40 m wide which was dug in the underlying rock, around the sides the trench was decorated with niches. 


The construction of the pyramid was carried out in several stages. The first stage was to construct a shaft, 7m square which descended into the ground for 28 meters, this lead to the burial chamber built of four courses of granite blocks. The chamber had one opening which had been sealed with a 3.5 ton block, although when first excavated the tomb had already been emptied. Under the pyramid are a number of chambers and galleries with a total length of nearly 6 km. Surrounding the burial chamber are four galleries which contained offerings and the funerary equipment of the king.


The pyramid started as a normal mastaba, which was the house of the soul, the place of burial. Once the original mastaba had been constructed, the architect Imhotep, enlarged it and placed a further three tiers of mastaba on top of each other. It was then increased by a further two mastabas creating the six steps and finished with a facing of white limestone which gave it a total height of 60 metres.


Pyramids were not built as standalone structures but were part of a complex that consisted of a number of buildings.  In the southwest corner of the complex is a sanctuary or storeroom, which is accessible from outside of the enclosure wall.  The entrance to the complex is through a narrow colonnade which comprises of 40 ribbed columns, designed to look like the stems of palm trees, these are connected to the side wall by masonry and would have been enclosed by a roof. At the end of the colonnade is a rectangular hall, supported by eight shorter fluted columns.


On the corner at the south west is the South Tomb which provides a replication of the substructure of the pyramid itself. It includes a descending corridor leading to a granite vault and a chamber.  It is entered through a tunnel-like corridor with a staircase that descends about 30m before opening into the burial chamber. The staircase then continues west and leads to a gallery that replicates the chambers below the step pyramid. As the burial vault is too small for the actual body, one suggestion is that this was to house the Ka (Soul) of the Pharaoh, although another is that it was for the canopic jars containing the organs of the Pharaoh.


Many of the buildings are replications of the buildings which were used by the king in the royal palace at Memphis and include wall carvings and paintings. It has been suggested that the whole step pyramid complex symbolizes the royal palace enclosure thus allowing the king to eternally perform the rituals associated with kingship.


To the north of the pyramid is the mortuary temple: This was the place for the performance of the rituals associated with the dead Pharaoh and the place for the Ka Statue which was where the Ka of the Pharaoh resided.


In fact the pyramid was not just a grave; its purpose was to ensure the Pharaoh travelled to the afterlife and took his place with the Gods. Architecturally the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the initial transition from mastaba to pyramid and the start of the pyramid era.


Like many archaeological sites work is presently being undertaken both to preserve that which has been uncovered and to excavate that which is still below the sands waiting to be discovered.

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Temple of Karnak


The Temple of Karnak is not a single temple but a temple complex which developed over a period of 1500 years. It is one of the largest religious complexes in the world and consists of gates, pillars, halls, obelisks, statues and a sacred lake. Each of the Pharaohs would make further additions and then remove those erected by their predecessors; thereby replacing them with their own.  In order to make the people believe that they were the builders, they would remove predecessors’ cartouches and replace them with their own. The Temple played a significant part in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, being situated in what was Thebes, the religious capital of Egypt.


The principal temple was dedicated and sacred to Amun, who was originally a local God who became the principal God nationally from 1600BC, and was identified with Re, the Sun God. He was worshipped with his consort Mut, who has an adjoining temple.  At its height, over 80,000 people worked in the Temple of Karnak and it had significant income from its estates, markets and the plunder that the Pharaohs brought back from their military campaigns.


The temple is approached along the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leading to the first pylon, which was built by the Ethiopian kings around 656 BC.  In antiquity this would have been connected to the Nile by a canal.  Against the pylon in the courtyard is a mound of mud bricks which indicate that construction was still being undertaken when the temple was finally abandoned. This also gives us an indication of how construction took place, with the bricks being used as a ramp.


Inside the entrance is the first courtyard, this contains the Shrine of Seti II, the Kiosk of Taharka and it leads to the Temple of Ramses III. At the other end of the courtyard is the pylon of Ramses II which leads into the enormous hypostyle hall which was built between 1294 and 1213 BC by Seti I and his son Ramses II. It is over 100m long by over 50 wide and contains 134 columns 23 m (75ft) high. At the top are open papyrus shaped capitals with a circumference of approximately 15 metres (49 feet) which are big enough for 50 people to stand on.


Through the hall, toward the holy of holies, you come to the two obelisks that are still standing. The one to the right was erected by Thutmosis I, the other by Queen Hatshepsut and is 30 metres high and weighs approximately 200 tons.  Both are made of pink granite.  Nearby is the Statue of Ramses II.


The Sacred Lake at Karnak is 120 metres (393 feet) by 77 metres (252 feet) wide and was used by the priests to perform their ritual ablutions three times a day. It symbolizes the primeval sea of the Egyptian history of creation, from which all life sprang. It was surrounded by storerooms and living quarters for the priests.  The lake was fed by water from the Nile by underground pipe work.  Next to the Sacred Lake is a giant scarab, dedicated by Amenophsis III to the God Khepri.  The Egyptians believed that the Sun was pushed by a scarab on its daily crossing of the sky and it came to symbolize eternity. It is said that if you walk around the scarab seven times, you will never again have love problems. You will therefore frequently see visitors to the Temple walking around the scarab seven times in order to fulfil the prophesy. 

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Luxor Temple

The city which is now called Luxor, was known as Thebes in Ancient Egypt - although it was also known as Waset to the Ancient Egyptians. It was the capital of Egypt from 2040 BCE when Mentuhotep II (2061-2010 BCE) of the 11th Dynasty (the Middle Kingdom) reunited Egypt following the civil war; prior to this it was a small trading post. It was renamed Luxor following the Arab invasion in the 7th century AD.  
Lyng parallel to the Nile,  the construction of the temple of Luxor started during the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BCE) but was completed by Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BCE) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BCE) and then added to by Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE). The temple was dedicated to the Gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. 
During the Christian era, the hypostyle hall was converted into a church and the remains of a Coptic church can also be seen at the site. Following the demise of the Christians dominance, the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was constructed.  
In the original temple, initiated by Amenhotep III, the entrance was at the northern end of his courtyard. The pylon which visitors are greeted with today, known as the first pylon stands 24 metres high and was added by Ramesses II. It contained six large statues of him - four standing and two seated. It also showed details of the battle of Kadesh depicting Ramesses as the victor (see Abu Simbel below). In front of the pylon flew four banners which were flown from large cedar flag masts which were let into the face of the pylon. Later the Pharaohs of the 25th dynasty added scenes to the pylon depicting their own victories.  It also contained two obelisks, although only one now remains, as the other was given to King Louis V of France in 1874.  He was given both, but moving them proved difficult, so only the one was removed.   The obelisk that was moved now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.  
Passing through the pylon, one enters the peristyle courtyard, also added by Ramesses II. The courtyard is set at an angle to the rest of the temple in order to preserve three shrines in the northwest corner of the temple which were constructed by Queen Hatshepsut. The courtyard consists of a colonnade with seven pairs of columns 16 metres high with open-flower papyrus capitals. It also includes a number of large statues. These were originally of Amenhotep III, who had constructed the courtyard, but were appropriated by Ramesses . 
To the left, towering over the courtyard, is the mosque with its minaret rising to a height of just over 14 metres. The mosque dates from the 9th century AD and rests on a number of columns of the temple, which at the time of construction were below ground level. The Mosque was carefully preserved following the excavations carried out at the site and is an integral part of the site today. 
From the peristyle courtyard one progresses through a processional colonnade built by Amenhotep III, the decorations of which were added to by Tutankhamen, Horemheb and Seti I (1290 to 1279 BCE).  At the entrance to the colonnade, they bear the name of Ramesses II but were in fact of Tutankhamun, being appropriated by Ramesses.  The colonnade contains fourteen large columns with papyrus capitals whilst the walls are decorated with scenes depicting the celebrations of the reinstatement of Amun and the other traditional Gods, following the Atenist heresy ((the religious changes during the 18th dynasty (14th century BCE) when Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1351/3–1334/6 BCE) (Akhenaten) changed the state religion to the Aten (one God). Following his death, the country reverted to the traditional Gods and any person or records relating to this were erased.  As Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten his name has been erased. 
From the columned hall one enters the court of Amenhotep III.  The columns in this courtyard are of a superior quality to those of Ramesses’s as during the time of Amenhotep (14th century BCE) was a time when the arts and crafts in Egypt was at its height. 
Moving on from the courtyard one enters the Hypostyle Hall, with thirty-two columns. At the rear of the hall are a number of small rooms.  To the right is the Chapel of Khonsu while on the left is the Chapel of Mut.  Further along on the left is an antechamber leading to the Coronation Room and Birth Chamber with its many depictions in low-relief relating to the coronation and the conception and birth of Amenhotep III. There is also the chapel of Alexander the Great, and at the far end of the complex is the Chapel of Amun, the sanctuary. 
When first constructed by Amenhotep III the temple was joined to the Temple of Karnak (See above), a distance of 2 miles, by an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. These were replaced by Nectanebo I (379/8–361/0 BCE) of the 30th Dynasty to ram-headed sphinx; he also built a large brick wall around the entire site. 
In 1979, the ruins of ancient Thebes were classified by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.  

Temple of  Hatshepsut

In Ancient Egypt there were two types of temple: Cult Temples, these were not places of worship in the modern sense since the people did not take part in religious rituals, that was the job of the priests as only they, or the Pharaoh, were allowed into the temple to carry out the rites. These were centred on a statue of the god housed in a shrine in the inner most part of the sanctuary.  An example of a Cult temple is Karnak listed above. Mortuary Temples was the place where rituals would be performed in order to ensure the dead Pharaoh reached the afterlife. The The Temple of Deir El-Bahri, which means in Arabic, the “Temple of the Northern monastery”, got its name, in the 7th century AD after a Coptic monastery in the area, although it is better known as the Temple of Hatshepsut, which is a mortuary temple.   


The Temple of Hatshepsut was built on the West bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. It was created by the architect Senmut who was also chancellor and, some suggest, the lover of Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty). Hatshepsut became queen and took over the rule of Egypt in 1473 BC after her husband and half-brother, Thutmosis II, died.  As Tuthmosis’s heir, the son from a secondary wife, was still a child. Hatshepsut ruled on his behalf for 7 years before proclaiming herself Pharaoh and ruling jointly with him for a further 14 years. Queen Hatshepsut is best known as the only woman who actually reigned as a pharaoh and even portraying herself as a man.


The temple is partly built into the rock and partly free standing built of limestone and not sandstone which was normal for funerary temples of the New Kingdom period.  It has undergone extensive renovation, something that still goes on today in an attempt to restore its former glory. Today it is quite impressive but when first built it would have been brightly painted with the causeway lined with an avenue of sphinxes, rich colours and trees and flower beds.


Consisting of three terraces reaching a height of 29.5 metres (97 feet), each terrace is connected by long ramps which were surrounded by lush gardens with plants and trees.  Each terrace has a double colonnade of square piers with the temple itself being located on the top terrace. 


The walls and columns of the temple are covered with relief sculptures.  Along the colonnade on the 1st terrace to the south are scenes, which tell the story of the transportation of Hatshepsut’s two obelisks to the Temple of Karnak. On the north side of the colonnade the scene show the Queen offering four calves to the God Amon Ra.


The 2nd terrace is now accessed by a ramp; although originally it would have had stairs. The southern side shows the expedition to the Land of Punt (now Somalia) to trade for gold, incense and tropical trees. Also to be seen is the shrine of the Goddess Hathor which is reached through a court with columns; this shows a woman’s face with cow’s ears; on the walls, Hathor is depicted as a cow.  On the northern side is a scene depicting the birth of Hatshepsut who claimed she was the divine daughter of Amon Ra to legitimize her taking the title of Pharaoh. Beyond the colonnade is the chapel of Anubis, who was the God of mummification and the dead on their path through the underworld.


The 3rd terrace consists of two rows of columns, which were damaged by her step-son Tuthmosis III who also destroyed the columns at the rear, as he did with many of the images of Hatshepsut after her death (1458 BC). This sanctuary consists of two small chapels. A third chapel was added to the sanctuary in the Ptolemaic period.


Above the temple in the cliff was found a tomb which contained a cache of royal mummies moved there from the Valley of the Kings during the 21st dynasty in an attempt to avoid them being desecrated.

Esna Temple

The Temple of Khnum (Khoum) is located in the centre of the town of Esna which lies on the west bank of the River Nile, approximately 35 miles from Luxor. Esna was known as Lunyn or Ta-Senet, by the Egyptians and Latopolis by the Greeks. 

Originally dating back to the 18th Dynasty when it was constructed by Tuthmosis III; around the 1500’s early 1400 BC it fell into disrepair and the existing temple was reconstructed during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (332 BC to 641 AD) and was one of the last temples built in Egypt.

The oldest part of the existing temple is the rear wall which was the façade of the original temple. The reliefs on this wall depict Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII.

Built of red sandstone, the temple is situated in a pit 9 metres below that of the modern town. For many centuries it was covered by the mud from the Nile and parts have still to be excavated. The part that is currently visible is around a quarter of the size of the original building. The temple façade is 37m long and 15m high and is typical of the style of the period with the screen walls being inset with columns. At the top of the façade is a cavetto cornice with a winged sun in the centre, and on either side are the names of Claudius and Vespasian.  

The reliefs on the façade show the cartouches of the Pharaohs and Roman Emperors, before many of the deities from Upper Egypt, and a frieze of the Gods can be seen along the base of the façade.

On the south side of the outer wall Domitian is shown smiting his enemies in the presence of Khnum and Menhet, while the north side shows Trajan smiting his enemies.

Egyptian temples consist of the Pylon, courtyard, Hypostyle hall and the sanctuary.  The pylon, which was constructed of mud brick was destroyed by the Nile and only the courtyard and hypostyle hall remain visible.

In the courtyard at the front of the temple there is a statue of the goddess Menhet who was a lion-headed war goddess and who was the consort of Khnum.  Reliefs of the pair can be found in the hypostyle hall.

The hypostyle hall is supported by 24 columns, which are 37ft high and 18ft in girth with varied floral capitals. This type of capitals indicate that they date from Ptolemaic and Roman times. Each of the columns is decorated with reliefs and inscriptions describing the religious festivals and show several Roman emperors making offerings to the Gods.

On the walls are four rows of reliefs showing the Emperors dressed as Pharaohs, and who are making offerings to the Gods,  or performing other rituals relating to the building of the temple. In the middle of the rear (west) wall is a pylon-like doorway topped by a cavetto cornice, which would have led into the sanctuary; it shows reliefs and inscriptions relating to Ptolemy VI Philometor. The carvings on the south wall depict the Roman Emperors Domitian, Septimus Servius and Caracalla.

The ceiling of the hypostyle hall - with its roof still intact - appears to be floating above the capitals. This is achieved by resting it on a square block hidden by the capitals themselves. The central aisle ceiling is decorated with two rows of flying vultures while the side aisles show astronomical figures and signs.

On each side of the entrance to the temple are chambers which were used as storerooms or robing rooms by the priests.

The temple is undergoing a programme of restoration with some of the colours being restored to their former glory.

Kom Ombo Temple

The Temple of Sobek and Hathor (Haroeris) is located on the bank of the Nile River between Edfu and Aswan at Kom Ombo, although the temple is better known as the Kom Ombo Temple.

Little is known of the town of Kom Ombo during the Dynastic Period, although it was known to have originally have been called Nubt, meaning City of Gold. It became prominent during the Ptolemaic Period due to its location, where it exercised some control over the trade routes from Nubia, although changes in agriculture techniques are also thought to have influenced its rise. It was also known to have been a garrison town and a training ground for African elephants used by the army during the Ptolemaic Period;  factors which led to the construction of the temple in the 2nd century BCE,  which had a significant effect on the town’s development.

Construction on the temple was started by Ptolemy VI Philometor, (180 – 145 BCE) although blocks of stone dating from the 18th Dynasty have been found at the site,  indicating that some form of temple existed there prior to the construction of the current temple.   Although the temple was started by Ptolemy VI, it fell to the following Pharaohs - most notably Ptolemy XII Auletes (112 - 51 BCE) and Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator (61 – 47 BCE) to significantly add to it. 

Kom Ombu Temple is unique in that it is in fact a double temple, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile God, and Horus the falcon-headed God. The temple has therefore been called both "House of the Crocodile" and "Castle of the Falcon".

Built of local sandstone, the design and layout combines the two temples, with each temple being located on either side with its own gateways and chapels.  The whole complex was surrounded by a mud brick wall built by the Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BCE – 14 AD) sometime after 30 BCE, although this has now mostly disappeared. 

Approaching the temple from the Nile one passes the Birth House of Ptolemy VII which at one time abutted the pylon. Originally the Birth House measured 18 by 23 metres and 9 metres high although only half of this now remains, part of which includes four Hathor columns. 

To the left of the temple there is a large well with a descending staircase which was used as a Nilometer to determine the height of the Nile. Close by is another pit used to raise young crocodiles, for with Sobek being the crocodile God, crocodile was held in great reverence at Kom Ombo,  and many mummified crocodiles have been found. Many of the mummified crocodiles are now displayed in a specially constructed museum at the site.

Only part of the pylon now remains but this includes a long text of 52 lines in hieroglyphics. On passing through the pylon with its double gateway 14.5 metres wide, one enters the Courtyard of Augustus where, at the centre of the courtyard the base of the altar can be seen. At each side of the altar base are small basins to accept the offering made to each of the Gods. The courtyard was enclosed on three sides by colonnades, with some of the columns containing images of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BCE – 37 AD). 

Across the courtyard is the first hypostyle hall, which leads on to a slightly smaller second hypostyle hall of a similar design.  From this are two separate processional ways leading through three narrow transverse halls or vestibules. These were probably used for the preparation of ointments and other offerings. These were built by Ptolemy VI, Philometer, and contain a calendar which records important festival dates of the temple.

Passing through these chambers are the two inner sanctuaries. On the left (to the North) is that of Horus, while on the right (South) is Sobeks.  The sanctuaries are surrounded by ten smaller cult chapels. The back wall has six small rooms, three on either side of a stairwell, which lead up to the roof. A number of reliefs in this area are unfinished, providing an insight into the methods of construction used during the Greco-Roman Period. 

Situated below the inner part of the temple are a number of rooms, some of which have three levels.  They also contain hidden passages. These could be used by the priests to hear petitions and respond on behalf of the God.

In this area is a relief depicting a set of surgical instruments including scalpels, curettes, forceps, dilator, scissors and medicine bottles. Horus the Elder, was revered as a healer, and therefore many people would visit the temple as a pilgrimage in the hope of having any health problems cured. The hall way here contained game boards scratched into the stones of the floor which could be used by those who were waiting.

Surrounding these buildings is the inner enclosure wall, which in turn is surrounded by the outer enclosure wall. Throughout the temple, the exterior walls and columns contain deeply carved sunken reliefs, while the interior walls are fine quality bas-relief, typical of Ptolemaic and Roman periods. 

The upper part of the column display a band of hieroglyphs containing the Ankh (the symbol of life) while the bottom depicts the Pharaoh rendering homage to the Gods. In the first hypostyle hall, some of the reliefs used the ancient technique of inlaying the eyes, something that would have given a lifelike impression to the figure, although none of these have survived. 

Much of the relief was covered with a very thin layer of painted plaster and many of reliefs still contain their original colour. The decorations of the inner rooms contain depictions of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II (185 – 116 BCE) and Ptolemy VII with Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III (161 – 101 BCE).

With the advent of Christianity, the Temple was converted into a Coptic church, which led to many of the reliefs being defaced. The temple was further destroyed when many of the stones were removed for building materials.  Further damage was sustained both by erosion caused by the Nile and by earthquakes. Restoration started at the end of the 19th century and continues today.

Temple of Philae 

The Temple of Philae is located on the island of Agilka near the first cataract (shallow white water rapids) on the River Nile and is dedicated primarily to the Egyptian Goddess, Isis, although her consort Osiris and her son Horus were also worshipped there. Considered to be the burying-places of Osiris, Philae became a place of pilgrimage. Temples and shrines dedicated to other deities, including Hathor and Harendotes were also constructed there.  

Philae was not, however, merely a religious complex.  It was the centre of commerce between Meroë and Memphis, as the rapids of the cataracts were impassable for most of the year, resulting in Philae being a place for the exchange of goods between Egypt and Nubia.

Although a temple for the Goddess Isis was built in the reign of Nectanebo I during 380-362 BCE, the current Temple was built by Ptolemy II Philadelphus who was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 - 246 BCE .  It is believed that the Temple developed from a shrine constructed by Amasis I Pharaoh from 1550–1525 BCE.  

Apart from its prominence in the Egyptian religion, Philae has also been a seat of the Christian faith, and after the Temple was closed down officially by the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565 AD),   in 535 AD the Temple was converted to a church dedicated to St Stephen.   At this time, many of the sculptures in the Temple were extensively damaged by the Christians.  Additional damage was also sustained when Pope Gregory XVI sent an archaeological expedition to Philae in 1841.  The Temple also contained a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  One of the altars can still be seen today in the Temple of Isis.

Following the construction of the old Aswan dam in 1902 the Temple was flooded for the majority of the year and was only able to be visited for a short period.  It was proposed at that time that the Temple be relocated to a nearby island, but the foundations were strengthened instead; something that protected the buildings, although the colours of the Temples' reliefs and the vegetation were destroyed by the water.   Also, the Temples became encrusted with silt and other debris carried by the Nile.

The Temple was threatened further by the construction of the Aswan High dam in the 1960s. This resulted in a project by UNESCO and the Egyptian Government to dismantle the Temple and move it to the nearby island of Agilka and reassemble it there. This involved the construction of a coffer dam around the site enabling the site to be drained. Each of the 40,000 stone blocks were then labelled and removed and transported the 500 metres to the higher ground on Agilka where they were reassembled.  The whole project took ten years, which enabled it to be finished before the completion of the High Dam in 1970, and the subsequent flooding of the island on which it had previously stood.

Today, the Temple is reached by boat, and visitors can gain an indication of its layout even prior to landing.  Ascending from the boat, the Kiosk of Nectanebo and the Temple of Imhotep precede two colonnades leading towards the first pylon of the Temple of Isis. The western colonnade is in better condition and is around 90 metres and contains 31 of the original 32 columns with their floral capitals, each of which is different. Some of the columns depict the Roman Emperor Tiberius, whilst there are also reliefs of Tiberius and Augustus on the wall at the rear.  The ceiling still contains the remains of the decoration of stars and vultures. The eastern colonnade was never completed. 

Most of the ruins date from the Ptolemaic times and from the reigns of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Ptolemy Epiphanes (205-185 BCE), and Ptolemy Philometor (280-145 BCE), although they also contain work carried out during Roman times.  The site contains many small temples, with particular emphasis to the deities related to midwifery; no doubt in deference to the Goddess Isis who was worshipped as a Goddess of Healing, Welfare and was also believed to have cured the sick and to have magical powers.  In fact, she is still worshipped today by Pagans.

Lying between the Temple of Imhotep and the first pylon of the Temple of Isis is the
Gate of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.  The gate is decorated with images of Isis leading Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

Leading to the gateway are a series of steps, either side of which were two large granite lions, behind which stood a pair of granite obelisks 13 metres (43 ft) high (only the bases of which now remain).  These lead between the two towers.  

The first pylon consists of two 60 feet towers with a gate between them. The gateway was constructed by Pharaoh Nectanebo during the 30th dynasty - the last of the Egyptian dynasties - and predates the rest of the first pylon. Nectanebo can be seen on the gateway with a number of the Gods. Also to be seen are a number of Coptic Christian crosses cut into the stone.

On either side of the gateway are grooves cut into each side of the pylon to support flag poles. Construction of the pylon was begun by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and finished by Ptolemy III Euergetes I, but inscriptions were also added by their successors.

Passing through the first pylon is the inner courtyard.  To the left is the Mammissi (Birth House) of Isis which is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade with floral topped columns each crowned with a Hathor-headed capital. The walls depict a number of the Pharaohs and the Gods.  On the right of the courtyard is a colonnade which provides access to a number of small rooms, which may have been used for storerooms, a library and purification rituals.  

Straight ahead in the courtyard is the Second Pylon which provides access to the Temple of Isis. The second pylon is approximately 105 feet wide and 40 feet high and is unusual in that it is not parallel to the First Pylon.

The towers depict Ptolemy XII making offerings of incense and animals to Horus and Hathor. The pylon also has the grooves for containing the flagpoles, which is usual for temple pylons.

On entering the Temple, three small antechambers with small rooms set off them are found, whilst straight in front is the sanctuary itself. The sanctuary is a small chamber which contains the pedestal upon which would have stood the statue of Isis. 

Adjacent to the main temple complex of Isis is the Temple of Hathor. This consists of a colonnaded hall and a small forecourt which was constructed by Ptolemy VI Philometor and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and was later decorated by Augustus to show the festivals which honoured Isis and Hathor. 

The well preserved rectangular building containing fourteen columns with floral capitals is known as Trajan’s Kiosk being attributed as being built by the Roman Emperor Trajan. Two of the walls are decorated with images of Trajan making offerings to Isis, Osiris and Horus.

Philae was a site of great importance not only to the Ancient Egyptians, but also to the Greeks and Romans and is today a major tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Addition information can be seen on Encyclopaedia Britannica

Temples at Abu Simbel

The temples of Abu Simbel consists of two temples which were originally carved out of the mountainside at the border of Southern Egypt and Nubia by the Pharaoh Ramesses II (the Great) (1279–13 BCE) to proclaim his greatness and commemorate the Battle of Kadesh fought between the Egyptians and the Hittites. It was also designed to proclaim the power and military might of Egypt and was placed there to impress any potential invaders.  Like Philae (see above) the temples were dismantled and moved to a new location in the 1960’s in order to save them from being submerged by the waters of Lake Nasser by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

One of the temples is dedicated to Ramesses and the other to his queen Nefertari. The construction of the complex started around 1264 BCE and took over 20 years.

The Great Temple – the temple of Ramesses - was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Ramesses himself. The facade of the temple is 35 metres wide and consists of four statues of Ramesses  - 20 metres high, which are carved out of the cliff face;  two on either side of the temple entrance. The statues are also functional, as they support the façade.  They show Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Around his feet are carvings depicting his wife Queen Nefertari, his mother, Queen Tuya, and some of his many children. When first constructed, the statues would have been painted and would have been an impressive sight. The upper part of one of the large statues has broken away from the lower section, as the result of an earthquake, but still remains at the foot of the statue.

Over the entrance is a bas-relief showing two images of the king worshipping the falcon-headed Ra Harakhti, whose statue is in a niche.  At the top of the facade is a row of 22 baboons; their arms raised in the air, supposedly worshipping the rising sun. In front of the facade is a stele which records the marriage of Ramesses with a daughter of King Hattusili III.  This marriage sealed the peace between Egypt and the Hittites following the battle of Kaddesh and the subsequent peace treaty.

The interior consists of three chambers which recede 56 metres into the cliff. These are decorated with statues of the Ramesses and painted scenes depicting the Battle of Kadesh (1275 BCE); a battle which both the Egyptians and the Hittites claimed as a victory. Photographs are not allowed in the Temple but you are permitted to take them from the entrance.

The first chamber is the hypostyle hall which is 18 metres long and 16.7 metres wide.  The roof is supported by 8 large pillars depicting Ramesses. Depictions of his military triumphs are shown on the walls. Moving further into the temple is the second chamber; this has four pillars showing scenes of Ramesses making offerings to the Gods and of Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Harakhti. 

At the far end is the sanctuary which contains the statues of four seated figures cut out of the rock: the deified Ramesses, and the gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah. On the 22 February and 22 October the rays of the rising sun penetrate the whole length of the temple and illuminate the statues with the exception of Ptah, the God connected with the Underworld, who always remains in the shadow.

The second temple dedicated to Hathor and Nefertari, is 100 metres to the northeast of Rameses’ Temple. Nefertari was Rameses’ favourite wife and was held in such esteem that he not only constructed a temple for her but also portrayed her as of equal size to himself.  Traditionally, the statues of the Queens had never been taller than the Pharaoh’s knees.  

This temple was also cut from the cliff face, and the façade has two groups of figures of over 10 metres high of Ramesses and Nefertari, on either side of the entrance.

The interior is similar to Ramesses Temple but on a smaller scale. The hypostyle hall is supported by six Hathoric columns (Columns that have the face of Hathor) and are decorated with images of Nefertari, Ramedses and the gods. This then leads to the Sanctuary.

It is known that Ramesdes went to Abu Simbel with Nefertari in the 24th year of his reign but following his death it ceased to be used, and by the 6th century BCE the main temple was covered by sand up to the knees of the statues of Ramesses. Little is known of the temple until 1813 AD when Jean-Louis Burckhardt discovered it; although it was Giovanni Belzoni who was to remove the sand to allow him to enter the temple in 1817.

With the plans to build the Aswan High Dam it became imperative to save the temple from the waters of Lake Nasser which would have flooded the whole complex.  A number of schemes were suggested but it was decided to remove the top of the mountain, cut up the temples into blocks weighing up to 30 tons, move it to its new location 65 metres above its original site and 200 metres from the water, construct a concrete dome and then reassemble it. The concrete dome was then covered to give it a natural look. The process took four years and cost $40 million.

In 1979 the site was designated the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. 

Addition information can be seen on Encyclopaedia Britannica

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