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Philae, View of the southeast
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Philae, View of the southeast
Work Type
Temple; photographs
Egypt, Philae
black and white photography
21 x 26.1 cm
Island situated immediately south of Aswan in Upper Egypt, which was the original location of an ancient temple of the goddess Isis, surrounded by associated cult building. The earliest surviving parts of the temple date from the reign of Nectanebo I (reg 380–362 BCE), and it was subsequently extended and enlarged until the 2nd century. Between 1972 and 1980, in an internationally financed rescue operation mounted by UNESCO, the buildings of Philae were transferred to the higher ground on the neighbouring island of Agilqiyya. In the course of this work some 300 blocks from an older construction, dating to the time of the 26th Dynasty ruler Amasis (reg 570–526 BCE), were found in and around the later (Ptolemaic) 2nd pylon. These reliefs of Amasis show that there was already a cult of Isis on Philae in the 26th Dynasty. However, even earlier reliefs, dating to the time of the 25th Dynasty ruler Taharqa (reg 690–664 BCE), were found near the 1st pylon, and these show no connection with the cult of Isis. The worship of Isis was probably brought to Philae from the Delta during the 26th Dynasty. By Ptolemaic times the island was the most important place of pilgrimage of the cult of Isis (who, according to the temple myths, brought her husband Osiris back to life, symbolizing the regeneration of the natural cycle). Hundreds of reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the Temple of Isis provide details of the theological background, and many Greek, demotic and Meroitic graffiti throw light on the daily happenings at this centre of pilgrimage. The cult of Isis in Philae persisted even after the suppression of pagan cults (c. 391). It was not until ad 535–7 that the temples of Philae were closed down or transformed into Christian churches at the command of Justinian. The oldest constructions are the middle gate of the 1st pylon and the small hall, both built by Nectanebo II (reg 360–343 BCE). This hall was part of an earlier temple, which at first stood to the north of the 1st pylon but which was later shifted (in the early Ptolemaic period) to the southern end of the island of Philae, in order to make way for the new Temple of Isis, decorated under Ptolemy II Philadelphos (reg 285–246 BCE). Most of the buildings at Philae were erected during the Ptolemaic period, but there are many inscriptions and reliefs of later periods, especially the reign of Augustus (reg 30 BCE–14 CE). This demonstrates that the new regime of Roman emperors maintained the temples of Philae for political reasons, since the Temple of Isis was the favourite shrine of the inhabitants of Nubia, which constituted a dangerous trouble spot at the borders of the Roman empire.Grove Dictionary of Art
Washington University (Saint Louis, Mo.) Art & Architecture Library
Volume 16: Philae/Edfou Page 6
Image Materials/Technique
albumen paper
on album page, lower left, in pencil: 24; on album page, lower center, in black ink: Philae- Vue d'Est Sud
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Permission to use, copy and distribute is hereby granted for non-commercial and education purposes only, following fair use guidelines
Permission to use, copy and distribute is hereby granted for non-commercial and education purposes only, following fair use guidelines
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