The tiny island of Philae, a mere 450 meters long and less than 150 meters wide, captured the imagination of countless travelers to Egypt from early times. It was famed for it’s beauty and was known as the pearl of Egypt. Plants and palm trees grew from the fertile deposits that had collected in the crevices of the granite bedrock.
Gracious Graeco-Roman temples and colonnades, kiosks and sanctuaries rose proudly against the skyline.
The sanctity of Philae during the Graeco-Roman periods outrivaled many of the other cities on Egypt. It had become the center of the cult of Isis, which was revived during the Saite period.
The Ptolemies wanted to please the Egyptians by building temples to their most beloved gods and goddesses.
Ptolemy II started the construction of the main temple of Isis. A temple to her consort Osiris was built on another island and their son Horus has his own place on Philae. Other structures on the island include a small temple of Imhotep and temples to two Nubian deities Mandolis and Arhesnoter.
Philae was situated south of Aswan and Isis was worshiped by Egyptians and Nubian alike, fantastic tales were told of her magical powers.
It was believed that her knowledge of secret formula had brought life back to her husband Osiris, that her spells had saved her son Horus from the bite of the snake and she was the protectress of all who sought her.
Priests were going to the site dressed in white celebrating the death and resurrection of Osiris, in which Isis played a major role.
It was Isis who found the body of Osiris that had been locked in a chest and cast on the Nile by his brother Set. It was she who made the body whole through her prayers, who knew the secrets and spells and even the name of the sun-god. Isis was the great goddess, she was once a mother
goddess and a magician. It was believed that her single tear caused the annual flood , which brought life to the land.
The myth of Isis and Osiris had by this name been enlarged and embellished countless times. In one version the coffin contained the body of Osiris was swept out to the sea, and came to rest on the Phoenician cost where a tamarisk tree enclosed the entire coffin in it’s trunk. The king of Byblos, who needed a strong prop for the roof of hi palace ordered the tree to be cut down.
Were it not for the fact that the tree gave off a sweet smelling odour, which spread across the Mediterranean, and reached Isis, she would never have been able to trace the body of her husband. She set off for Byblos without delay and, disguised as a nurse, she took charge of the newborn son of the king. When she finally revealed who she was and the reason for her being here, the king gave her the tree containing the coffin, and she took the body of Osiris back to Egypt. This wa when set found it and cut into pieces.
Once established on Philae island, the priests lost no time in laying claim to additional territory over 80 KM laying to the south of Seheil island. They found an ancient tradition on which to base their claim. There is an inscription shows how the governor appealed to king Zoser because of his concern for the people following years of famine. The king responded by enquiring about the sources of the Nile and asked whether the governor knew which god controlled it’s water. The governor responded that it was Khnum but he was angry that his temple had been allowed to fall to ruin. Zoser forth with issued a decree granting a large tract of land to Khnum and levying a tax on all those who lived on the produce of the river, fishermen and fowlers alike, for the benefit of the priests of Khnum. It was this island that the priests of philae claimed had been granted, and for the same reason to put an end to the famine that had been raging for seven long years. The taxes on fishermen forthwith went to their benefit.
Each day the priests would wend their solemn way into the holy precincts of the temple of Isis with incense and burnt offerings. The statue of the goddess would be washed, clothed and adorned. Service after service with humility chanting and prayers, she would be suitably appealed to and adored until such time as she was undressed, washed again, adored and replaced in the sanctuary until the following morning.
Little wonder that with such pageantry, with priests shuffling between columns, pouring libations on sacred alters, and swearing to direct communications with the gods, the site should attract curious visitors along with faithful. On the base of 2 granite obelisks found on the island show that their wishes were granted by Isis.
These Greek inscriptions played an important role solving the hieroglyphic language as the Rosetta stone wasn’t the only key. The obelisks now stand in the park of Bankes’s house at Kingstone Lacy in Dorset, England.