Philae and Kalabsha

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.

Ferry to Philae
Ferry to Philae
The Temple of Isis at Philae, Upper Egypt
The Temple of Isis at Philae, Upper Egypt

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.

Horus, on pylon at Philae
Horus, on pylon at Philae
Kiosk of Trajan, also referred to as Pharaoh's Bed, Philae (Agilkia Island)
Kiosk of Trajan, also referred to as Pharaoh’s Bed, Philae (Agilkia Island)
Gate of Diocletian, Philae (Agikia Island)
Gate of Diocletian, Philae (Agikia Island)
Pharaoh making an offering to Isis, Philae
Pharaoh making an offering to Isis, Philae
Looking from Agilkia Island across to the cotter dam surrounding the original site of Philae, now flooded
Looking from Agilkia Island across to the cotter dam surrounding the original site of Philae, now flooded
Capital of a column, Trajan's Kiosk, Philae
Capital of a column, Trajan’s Kiosk, Philae

Trajan's Kiosk, Philae

Outer Temple Court, Temple of Isis, Philae
Outer Temple Court, Temple of Isis, Philae
Isis, Horus and ???, on second pylon at Philae
Isis, Horus and ???, on second pylon at Philae
Colonnade, Temple of Isis, Philae
Colonnade, Temple of Isis, Philae

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.

Pharaoh making an offering to Isis, Philae
Pharaoh making an offering to Isis, Philae
Isis and Osiris (or could be Pharaoh)
Isis and Osiris (or could be Pharaoh)
Chris, Isis and Osiris (or could be Pharaoh)
Chris, Isis and Osiris (or could be Pharaoh)
Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Temple guardian, Temple of Isis at Philae (the lighting was basic but carefully tended)
Temple guardian, Temple of Isis at Philae (the lighting was basic but carefully tended)Temple guardian, Temple of Isis at Philae (the lighting was basic but carefully tended)

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.

The old Aswan Dam from Philae
The old Aswan Dam from Philae
Outer courtyard of the Temple of Isis, Philae
Outer courtyard of the Temple of Isis, Philae
First Pylon, looking across to Trajan's Kiosk, Philae
First Pylon, looking across to Trajan’s Kiosk, Philae
Cotter dam at Philae, from the cafe
Cotter dam at Philae, from the cafe
Trajan's Kiosk at Philae, from the water
Trajan’s Kiosk at Philae, from the water

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.

Temple to Marul (or Mandalus, Nubuan fertility and sun god) at Kalabsha
Temple to Marul (or Mandalus, Nubuan fertility and sun god) at Kalabsha
Causeway at Kalabsha, Temple to Marul
Causeway at Kalabsha, Temple to Marul
Kiosk of Kirtasi, Kalabsha
Kiosk of Kirtasi, Kalabsha

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!)

Cobras at Kalabsha
Cobras at Kalabsha
Winged cobras with sun disc, Kalabsha
Winged cobras with sun disc, Kalabsha
Thoth and another god symbolically pour life and power over the pharaoh at Kalabsha
Thoth and another god symbolically pour life and power over the pharaoh at Kalabsha
Relief at Kalabhsa
Relief at Kalabhsa
Temple from Girf Hussayn from roof of Kalabsha Temple
Temple from Girf Hussayn from roof of Kalabsha Temple
Hypostyle hall at Kalabhsa Temple from the roof
Hypostyle hall at Kalabhsa Temple from the roof
Newly reconstructed temple from Girf Hussayn at Kalabsha
Newly reconstructed temple from Girf Hussayn at Kalabsha

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.

Shipyard, adjacent to Aswan High Dam and Monument to Soviet-Egyptian Friendship
Shipyard, adjacent to Aswan High Dam and Monument to Soviet-Egyptian Friendship

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.

Temple from Girf Hussayn, relocated and reconstructed at Kalabsha
Temple from Girf Hussayn, relocated and reconstructed at Kalabsha
Statue (a fairly squat one) of Ramses II, Temple from Girf Hussayn, Kalabsha
Statue (a fairly squat one) of Ramses II, Temple from Girf Hussayn, Kalabsha
Me, with Kiosk of Qirtasi in the background
Me, with Kiosk of Qirtasi in the background
Kiosk of Qirtasi, Kalabsha
Kiosk of Qirtasi, Kalabsha

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.

Ramses II smiting Nubians, Temple of Beit al-Wali, Kalabsha
Ramses II smiting Nubians, Temple of Beit al-Wali, Kalabsha
Rameses II, sanctuary at Temple of Beit al-Wali, Kalabsha
Rameses II, sanctuary at Temple of Beit al-Wali, Kalabsha
Looking across Lake Nasser to the High Dam from Kalabsha (Temple of Beit al-Wali)
Looking across Lake Nasser to the High Dam from Kalabsha (Temple of Beit al-Wali)

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.

Today's towel arrangement at the Philae Hotel
Today’s towel arrangement at the Philae Hotel

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