A Day to Remember in Egypt 1.6 - Aswan & Philae

After another night of sailing, we found ourselves in Aswan, the final destination of our cruise.  Greeted by yet another beautiful day, we left the ship with anticipation of a full day of touring.  As it turned out, it was a day of extremes that had us traveling over land and water to admire the engineering feats of both ancient and modern man.

* The Unfinished Obelisk
By now, we'd heard repeated references to Aswan as it was the source of the granite used for nearly every temple we had visited thus far.  As such, our first stop in Aswan had us land in its Northern Quarries, the birthplace of so many statues and obelisks in temples across Egypt and still home to what would have been the largest obelisk ever made (above).  Carved as a single piece from a bedrock of granite and measuring nearly 42 meters long, this behemoth of a project is believed to have been commissioned by Queen Hatshepsut in celebration of her 16th year in power.  Unfortunately, cracks began to form partway through its construction and the obelisk was abandoned while still attached to its parent rock.  

Our guidebook as well as the video presentation we saw at the visitor's center mentioned that ancient pictographs of various animals could still be seen on some of the quarry's walls.  Yet despite wandering through every chasm and channel we could find, we failed to observe any.  Instead, we found another unfinished obelisk surrounded by the ancient stone tools used by workers millenniums ago (above).

* The Aswan High Dam
On our way to Philae Temple, we crossed the Nile and stopped along the Aswan High Dam.  Standing atop the nearly 100 meter dam wall, I was surprised to witness the incredible size of Nasser Lake which was created as a result of the dam's construction.  From our perch we could also see ancient ruins long abandoned on lonely islands (above).  While the dam provides electric power and has increased the amount of cultivatable land, it has stopped the flooding of the Nile and thereby stopped the flow of silt that once fertilized farm lands.  It was a little terrifying to realize that modern humans now have the power to alter nature's course so completely that a phenomenon so unique to the Nile and that so deeply shaped Egyptian culture and way of life has now been completely harnessed. 

* Philae Temple 
Hands down one of my favorite sites of the trip, Philae Temple was nothing short of paradisaical.  As it is located on the island of Agilika, we had to approach the temple via motor boat, crossing waters as deep and blue as the cloudless sky.

Even before arriving at the temple, I found the story behind Philae to be fascinating when I learned that it was once flooded for 6 months out of the year after the old Aswan Dam had been built.  During these times, tourists had to take row boats to visit the temple and could float among the partially submerged columns.  But then with the construction of the High Dam, the temple was in jeopardy of being completely submerged.  Luckily, Unesco intervened and disassembled the temple stone by stone so that it could be moved and reconstructed on the higher and nearby Agilika Island.  

While it escaped the rising waters of the Nile River, the temple failed to escape being defaced by early Christians who tried to destroy pagan reliefs.  Throughout the temple, Coptic crosses could be found carved into doorways and columns that once boasted ancient Egyptian symbols and gods.

* Temple of Hathor
Just east of the main temple are the remains of the Temple of Hathor where we found several stone reliefs of Bes, the dwarf god of childbirth, music, and dancing (above).  He was so unlike any of the other Egyptian gods that we were intrigued by him instantly.  

* Kiosk of Trajan
Cast against an idyllic river background, the Kiosk of Trajan felt like something out of an epic Hollywood movie.  It is named after the Roman Emperor who had it built and to this day is held up by intricately carved columns (above).  This monument neighbors the Temple of Hathor just outside the south eastern corner of Philae Temple and opens to beautiful views of the Nile River (below).  

* Gate of Hadrian 
On the west side of the temple, we found the Gate of Hadrian decorated with a funny image of Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile.  Pictured sitting in a cave, it is believed that this scene represents the source of the Nile River (below).

* The Mammisi 
The mammisi, or birth house is a common feature of many Ptolemaic temple complexes.  Simplistically, it is a kind of chapel that is associated with the nativity of a god.  The mammisi at Philae is located on the western side of the temple, near the Gate of Hadrian and is mostly encircled by columns, each with differently carved capitals.  While the columns look nothing alike, this view reminded me of many bike rides through Stanford's Main Quad.


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