Elephantine Island and Philae Sound and Light Show

Saturday 3 January 2009 – Aswan, Upper Egypt

The tour is structured so that we start with quite small, minor sites and work up to bigger ones – ultimately to the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Today we explored Elephantine Island, which was the site of settlement in this region for much of the ancient era. On our way across the island through the ‘modern’ Nubian villages, we passed an ancient Roman quay, now some way inland and being used by the locals as a rubbish dump!

Aswan and the Nile from Elephantine Island
Aswan and the Nile from Elephantine Island

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This ancient (Roman era?) quay, now used as a rubbish pit
This ancient (Roman era?) quay, now used as a rubbish pit

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Elephantine, and its Nubian inhabitants, form a very traditional Muslim community and the women of our group were required to don headscarves for the day. They weren’t entirely happy about it, but submitted in the interests of cultural tourism, and Patricia made a bit of fun of the scarf-tying lesson in the hotel foyer before we departed.

Scarf-tying lesson for the ladies of the group.
Scarf-tying lesson for the ladies of the group.
Our harem
Our harem

The major archaeological site of Abu, the ancient city, occupies the southern end of Elephantine Island. We saw the Aswan museum, a dusty collection (including my first mummy) housed in the house built for the chief engineer of the old Aswan Dam in the late nineteenth century. Sitting above the river overlooking Aswan, it would have been a lovely spot in those days.

With Chris at the Aswan Museum
With Chris at the Aswan Museum
Baboons and a very sweet hippopotamus at the Aswan Museum
Baboons and a very sweet hippopotamus at the Aswan Museum
My first mummy - Aswan museum
My first mummy – Aswan museum
Entrance at Aswan Museum
Entrance at Aswan Museum

The Abu site extends across the southern tip of the island behind the museum and consists largely of piles of rubble. Some of this rubble has been reassembled into temples, and it had some good examples of considered reconstruction for conservation and interpretation purposes.

Reconstructed temple of Satet
Reconstructed temple of Satet
Temple of Satet
Temple of Satet
Temple of Satet
Temple of Satet
Statue of Ankhet, daughter of Khnum, at Abu
Statue of Ankhet, daughter of Khnum, at Abu
A fine cobra - a bit like the towels folded on my hotel bed!
A fine cobra – a bit like the towels folded on my hotel bed!
Cartouche
Cartouche

The temples on the island are mostly to the goat-headed deity Khnum, his wife Satet and their daughter Ankhet, who were the particular gods of Elephantine. There were numerous temples to each, dating from different periods and tending to be layered one on top of the last. At one point, a new temple had been built on column stubs of a previous one, which were clearly visible below it.

Lintel of the Temple of Khnum
Lintel of the Temple of Khnum
Our site guardian at Abu
Our site guardian at Abu

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Pharaoh (Ptolomeic) and Khnum
Pharaoh (Ptolomeic) and Khnum
Khnum
Khnum

In Abu we also saw our first pyramid – somewhat disappointing as it too was basically a pile of rubble looking much like all those around it. We eventually paused for a rest along an ancient balustrade, which had been removed or had collapsed from its particular Khnum temple and been reconstructed very scenicly along the river front, high above the water directly across from the Old Cataract Hotel (which was closed for renovations, and the adjacent New Cataract Hotel was due for demolition).

'Pyramid' at Abu
‘Pyramid’ at Abu
Temple of Khnum, Old Cataract Hotel in the distance
Temple of Khnum, Old Cataract Hotel in the distance
Abu, looking across to the Nubian village of Siou and modern Aswan across the Nile
Abu, looking across to the Nubian village of Siou and modern Aswan across the Nile

This island was Mike’s specialist area so his account was better than my guidebook. Abu, and the area of Elephantine, was a major crossroads between Egypt and the nations to the south. One of the major imports into ancient Egypt through this route was apparently ivory, in the form of elephant tusks, which led to the island’s name. The settlement on the East bank was later, as we were to discover later in our time in Aswan, with a visit to a recently-discovered and partially excavated Ptolomeic temple.

Balustrade from a temple to Khnum, picturesquely relocated to the edge of the Nile.
Balustrade from a temple to Khnum, picturesquely relocated to the edge of the Nile.
The Old Cataract Hotel from Abu
The Old Cataract Hotel from Abu
A felucca viewed from the ruins on Elephantine Island
A felucca viewed from the ruins on Elephantine Island
Nileometer marks (these, in Arabic, are modern)
Nileometer marks (these, in Arabic, are modern)
Steps down to the Nileometer
Steps down to the Nileometer
Steps down to Satet temple Nilometer
Steps down to Satet temple Nilometer

The day became quite warm, so by mid-afternoon we were ready to head back through the village of Siou, across the island to the second Nubian village of Koti, to Ensa’s house sit in the shade for lunch. Ensa, Ahmed’s sister, had prepared a feast of meat, chicken, molokhia, birds tongue soup, salad and bread. We lounged in her courtyard for a couple of hours. Next door, when we climbed to the roof, we could see the Movenpick Resort, with its huge swimming pools – quite tempting even in winter!

David and Anita
David and Anita
Patricia, Claire, Jeff, Adam (behind) Judy, Chris
Patricia, Claire, Jeff, Adam (behind) Judy, Chris
Lunch - bread and meats, Molokheya, salad, rice (with fried noodles), Birds Tongue soup (chicken with pasta, delicious)., Also a wonderful vegetable stew, not shown.
Lunch – bread and meats, Molokheya, salad, rice (with fried noodles), Birds Tongue soup (chicken with pasta, delicious)., Also a wonderful vegetable stew, not shown.
Lunch at Esna's house
Lunch at Esna’s house
From the roof of Esna's house
From the roof of Esna’s house
Courtyard from the roof
Courtyard from the roof
Adjacent Movenpick resort
Adjacent Movenpick resort

After a quick gin and tonic back at the Philae Hotel, we headed towards Philae Temple for the sound and light show. En route we stopped at a Government jewellery shop to see the gawdy tatt for sale therein. The prices were not great and I wasn’t tempted. However, if I can find an attractive ‘Gods of Egypt’ chess set at a reasonable price, I may be tempted.

The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night
The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night

At Philae, a small bazaar included a shop with some ‘old’ bits and pieces among the souvenirs – not antiquities, but quite probably antiques. I found a sweet bronze ibis and another canopic amulet and was given a bonus scarab. Quite pleased!

Trajan's Kiosk, Philae Temple
Trajan’s Kiosk, Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple

Philae by night is impressive and monumental (truly) and the sound and light show, while cheesy, was quite atmospheric. The best bit was the ‘catfight of the gods’, where Hathor complains to Isis that Isis’ temple is bigger than hers!

Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Temple of Hathor (left) and Trajan's Kiosk (right), Philae
Temple of Hathor (left) and Trajan’s Kiosk (right), Philae

Philae sits between the old and High Aswan Dams – not quite sure if that bit should be called ‘Lake Nasser.’ The ferry ride there and back across the lake without navigation lights or any sort of safety devices, added to the experience. The Ma’at group was unkind enough to laugh at a group of British tourists who wore life perservers – not just on the boat but also for the duration of the show, and on the bus back to Aswan at the end of the night!

Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
Philae Temple
The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night
The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night
The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night
The Temple of Isis at Philae, by night

Back at Aswan, Chris and I went for a stroll up the Corniche then stopped at Emi’s restaurant (actually another barge on the riverfront) for some dips and a beer, before heading back for a decaf and ‘Aunt Mary’ (Tia Maria).

Nubian villages on Elephantine Island

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