Our cruise boat just set sail. Contrary to our expectations this boat Nile Admiral is fantastic. The cabin is almost like a modern hotel suite.
Before we set sail, we did an excursion to the High Dam and the Temple of Philiae. Our guide Mr. Bassum has encyclopaedic knowledge of Egypt. He answers all our questions effortlessly and with aplomb.
The High Dam was the 2nd one built in the 60s after the old one by the British in the late 19th century. It is a massive engineering project to dam the Nile – the 2nd longest river in the world. One reason why the High Dam and the resultant Lake Nasser project is important because it submerged a number of ancient Egyptian monuments like the
Abu Simbel we saw yesterday. The temple of Philiae is one such and it also has been transplanted at a new island site by UNESCO.
The temple was built during the Greco-Roman period and it took nearly 500 years to complete it. Alexander had invaded and conquered Egypt approx 330 BC which started the Greco-Roman period. Nectanebo, the Nubian king started it, with Alexander continuing it and Roman king Trajan added some more elements.
Most of the work was done during the reign of Bartholomew II (also known as Ptolemy II). As you enter the temple complex you see 2 massive walls with large reliefs on either side describing the story of the temple – Bartholomew worshipping the main gods of this temple Isis (goddess), Ossyris (husband) and Horus (son).
You enter the temple and you see another main hall with pillars (much like a hall in a Hindu temple) called Hypostyle Halls. The top of the pillars have motifs of lotus or Hathor represented with a human head with cow ears.
Then you pass through a series of small halls leading into the sanctum sanctorum. All the walls are covered with reliefs which depict many stories from the Egyptian mythology.
The stories are very symbological like Hinduism and you can see the origins of many myths in other religions.
I am now going to describe some of the stories we heard from our guide in the following sections:
1. River Nile is considered to originate in the tears of Isis. She sat on a rock and cried and this temple holds that rock. I have a picture of it. Why did she cry, see below.
2. Seth, another god, kills Ossyris and cuts him into 42 pieces and throws the pieces everywhere and Isis goes looking to collect all the parts. There’s a relief showing Isis trying to protect Ossyris’s mummy from enemies. Important thing to note is that Seth is a bad god and is also the brother of Ossyris (Cain and Abel story in the Bible has its origin here perhaps).
3. Isis gives birth to Horus (the falcon god). There are reliefs showing Isis suckling Horus. When the Christians took over, they damaged the face of Isis because it resembled Mary suckling infant Jesus. For a time this temple was used as the Church by the Coptic Christians ( a local sect of Christianity). They also added the Coptic cross and a few other Christian symbols to this temple.
4. Horus seeks revenge and goes after Seth his uncle to kill him and avenge his father’s death (Now where do we have nephew killing the uncle myth?). Since Seth is a god, and can’t be killed, legend has it that Horus puts a knife in Seth’s back and paralyses him. Apparently this event is commemorated in the temple at Edfu which we will see later on the tour.
5. The key of life is a widely used symbol and is there in all temples. It looks like a T with an arc going from the left to the
right arm of the cross and without the top part of the cross. This symbolizes the river Nile – the life force of egypt. The lower
straight part is the river and the left and right arms represent upper and lower Egypt and the arc – the Nile Delta.
6. The last ever inscription of the hieroglyphics was made in 393 AD and it is in this temple and some think it is the lost Nubian alphabet.
7. In the UNESCO project lots of temples were relocated and some were gifted to donor countries. One of the temples – the temple of Dendur was donated to the USA and it is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Myself and Priya Raju have seen this in New York. If you goto New York, you should check this out.