Sunday 4 January 2009 – Aswan, Upper Egypt
After breakfast we headed back to Philae for a look around by daylight. The position on Agilkia Island, to where the temple was moved during the late 1970s and early 1980s to save it from complete inundation by the waters of the High Dam, provides an impressive first view as one motors across the lake.
The columns of the forecourt of the main temple to Isis are typically Ptolomeic, with flamboyant lotus capitals and its huge first pylon. The alignment of the forecourt to the rest of the temple is not square, a result of the topography of its original location. Other structures on the site include Trajan’s kiosk (not an icy-pole in sight, he joked!) and a smaller temple to Hathor, as well as a couple of gates of Diocletian.
However so many of the inscriptions, particularly on the Temple of Isis, had been defaced by Christians in the AD 500s and later, that the detail rarely lives up to the impressive first view. The Ptolemaic period artwork is not (according to Mike) generally considered to be up to the standards of the New Kingdom era. (This view was not exactly opposed by Patricia, but she loudly encouraged us to make up our own minds as we see more and become able to judge). Overall, I found the site to have been more impressive by night.
Looking around I had felt the need for a ‘pocket guide’ to the Gods of Ancient Egypt. Naturally this need had been anticipated and a souvenir seller on the quay sold me just such a publication for LE10. It was poorly spelt, but had good colour illustrations of the 20 or so major deities for ready reference.
Our second site was another island, just south of the High Dam, where the major relic was the box-like Roman-era Kalabsha temple. It was erected by Augustus to the Nubian god Moval, or Mandalus. Originally located around 60km further south, this temple had also been moved by the German Archaeological Institute when Lake Nasser was flooded.
Several smaller temples and structures, including the Kiosk of Kirtasi and a temple to Ramses II from Girf Hussayn and some delightful prehistoric stone art, were also moved to this site from around Nubia. The Temple of Beit al-Wai was erected by a local governor for Ramesses II and shows wonderful scenes of him smiting Nubians from his chariot (as I was to discover, did most of the depictions of Ramesses ‘the Great’, including those on beach towels being sold through McDonald’s outlets throughout Egypt!)
The island is within sight of the High Dam and an especially charming monument to Egyptian-Russian Friendship dominated its surroundings. The Russians had provided funding and engineering nous to build the dam, and this memorial pretty much typifies everything that is wrong with both modern Egyptian and Soviet-era architecture. However, the Temple of Kalabsha is not exactly a thing of great beauty itself, resembling something between an aircraft hanger and a massive council toilet block, so it’s not entirely out of place.
It is challenging for an independent traveller to reach Kalabsha. From Aswan it requires a taxi and a boat, as well as running the gamut of the army, which is very protective of the entire Aswan Dam area. Only a small handful of other visitors were with us here.
After dinner (pizzas at the Philae – pretty ordinary) Chris and I strolled again through the Souk. Chris came across an old acquaintance and needed to ‘take tea’ in his shop, so I went into a nearby jewellery store where a young chap called Hamid sold me a silver ankh and chain (LE160). After the sale Hamid was joined by a friend, Ehab and we also had tea. I had ‘anis’, a refreshing and unusual warm tea-like beverage with a distinctly resinous flavour.
When we had both extracted ourselves, we repaired to McDonalds where the internet was running marginally faster than previously. I sent my emails and checked a couple of news sites. The Israelis have killed hundreds in Gaza and started a land invasion. Police caused havoc at the Falls Festival in Tasmania by blanket breath-testing all drivers leaving the event, causing huge traffic delays.
Back to the Philae Hotel for a scotch and to download photos, then bed.