Belonging to the city of Aswan [أسوان], the Philae Temple [فيلة] complex is currently part of the Unesco World Heritage Site Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. When the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902, the monument became semi-submerged, and it would have completely disappeared after the completion of the High Dam. Between 1972 and 1980, through the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, it was dismantled and reconstructed over at Agilika Island, 20 m higher.
The main feature in Philae is the Temple of Isis. Isis was the major goddess from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. Isis was the spouse of Osiris, and is considered a mother and protector goddess, divine mother to the pharaoh, and mourner of her husband. In the Osiris myth, after he was killed and dismembered by Seth, Isis looked up and down Egypt to gather all the pieces. After she did, she breathed upon him to resurrect him, they conceived Horus (there are more or less gory versions of this), and Osiris went back to the Underworld, where he became lord of the Afterlife. Isis was the longest-revered goddess of the Ancient Egyptian religion – her cult survived in Philae until 550 CE, when Christians took over, defacing the gods and carving the Coptic cross all around.
I left for breakfast having vacated the room, suitcase ready at the open door, and hoped for the best. I settled my drink tab, which rounded up to 235 EGP; however, with the same smirk I had been given the previous day, I reminded the person at reception that they owed me ten pounds. The debt was honoured and I left with a giggle – yes, it was not that much money and I could have let it slip, but nope. Not this time. After that, our luggage was loaded onto the bus (luckily) and we drove off to a tourist dock to board the boat to Agilika island, which we reached after a few minutes. We landed and climbed up towards the archaeological site.
The Temple of Isis holds the general structure of an Ancient Egyptian Temple, with a pylon, a court, a hall and finally the inner sanctuary of Isis. An obelisk stands before the pylon, in the outer court that has been preserved.
When looking carefully at the pylon, it shows the different water marks from the time the temple was submerged – at two different levels, depending on whether it was flood season or dry season. During the rescue, a cofferdam was built around the original constructions to dry the area out. Then, between 1977 and 1980, the whole complex was dismantled into 40,000 blocks, moved and rebuilt. The old position can still be spotted 500 m away, marked by the remains of the metal anchors for the cranes.
Another structure in the island is the unfinished Kiosk of Trajan. I even managed to be alone in there for a heartbeat.
The final building is the Temple of Hathor, Horus’ wife.
Next in the plan was shopping (joy -.-“) and we went to an essence shop. The lady claimed that Egyptian essences were the base of many brand-famous perfumes. I have no idea, but I was irked by the rigid sex separation of scents, and I developed a rash from one of the testers… While some people in the group shopped, someone else found the adjacent papyrus shop, and a small number of us went to snoop there.
After being spared a second shop – this one for spices – we were shuttled to the airport to take our charter to Cairo. It was a surreal experience through which I was patted down twice. The airport segregated by sex because you got the pat down even if you cleared the metal detector, which was weird. Also, it turned out that we had an extra suitcase in the bus! Creepy!
Our tour guide did not fly with us. When we landed in Cairo [أسوان], we were taken to the hotel by another representative, who assigned rooms and called our names in the bus, before we even arrived, but did not hand the cards until we were there and had handed in our passports for check-in. It was of course too late to try and go to the Pyramids light show – seriously, everything would have been so much easier with a “sorry, no time”, especially considering the crazy Cairo traffic. At this point we were already planning to try it on our own – I had found out that the hotel had a mini travel’s agent that we could use.
We met up for planning – and paying for the Night Cairo Walk, which was to take place the following day – and I sat down to catch up on everything that had happened in the days when I had been internet-less (have I mentioned that it was not such a bad experience?).
The whole trip was a New Year’s special and came with an optional 190 € dinner that I had not booked because… no. I had packed some cereal and chocolate bars just in case, and it turned out that only one couple out of our eighteen-people group had reserved it. There had been a tiny riff-raff when I asked my travel agent about dinner that day, and she received an email about the “Gala Dinner” being compulsory (demanding the extra money), and I asked her to reply that nope, I would not be attending.
Well, that night we were told that the local agency was treating us to the dinner – my theory? The restaurant they had agreed for the Night Walk would not take us for New Year’s Eve, the walk would be impossible due to people celebrating. Thus, they found themselves in a tough spot – so they used the spare from the overpriced optional trips to pay for it. Then, the night walk was bumped to the first of January. Looking back, I believe that they had completely overlooked the NYE factor.
Also, the hotel not only had free Wi-Fi, it also had complimentary water in the rooms, and free mineral water during dinner. And a bed that did not vibrate. It was a good night’s sleep. But before that I took a shower so long and so hotm, that I almost glowed in the dark afterwards.