Today we visited Aswan and took a motorboat out to Agilkia Island to visit the Temple of Philae Complex: a temple dedicated to Isis and the unfinished Trajan's Kiosk.
In 1902, the Aswan Dam was built. Though it helped Egypt to control and regularize the flow of the Nile (so crucial to agriculture and the feeding of a growing population), the dam also endangered numerous ancient archaeological sites and the Egyptian homeland of the Nubian people. A second dam further upstream, called the Aswan High Dam (conceived in the Fifties), also would have submerged numerous important archaeological sites. When the controversial dam opened in 1970, it displaced many Nubians living in that area. They were forced to relocate; some moved down to Aswan and others moved to Sudan.
As for the ancient temples and other significant structures: archaeologists around the world jumped-in to help throughout the Sixties, relocating important monuments to higher ground stone-by-stone—a gargantuan task. When the move had been completed, the stone buildings now found themselves several hundred feet away and on higher ground. Philae Island lies offshore either fully- or partially-submerged (depending on the height of the river).
Truly, the dam project benefited the country, modernizing agriculture and providing electric power (despite the havoc it wreaked on a relocated minority). And Lake Nasser (named after then President Gamal Abdel Nasser) is a beautiful body of water, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. (Note: Sudan, which shares the lake, refuses to call it Lake Nasser; they call it Lake Sudan.)
Shown above, we see the unfinished Trajan's Kiosk which had been relocated from Philae Island in the 1960's. The temple had been started under Augustus Caesar (who reigned 27 BC - 14 AD) with more work done under the Emperor Trajan (who ruled 98 - 117 AD). As was the fashion, Trajan is depicted in the interior wall carvings dressed as the new pharaoh (complete with Egyptian gods, standing with him in endorsement). The Egyptian nobility and the Roman occupiers often would hammer-out a mutually beneficial working relationship rather than fight each other endlessly. Egypt got protection (and got to keep their religion, for now) and Rome got a large (and treasure-rich) expansion.
Next to Trajan's Kiosk is the Temple of Isis, begun in 690 BC, dedicated to the goddess who is spiritual mother to the pharaohs and helps souls enter the afterlife. Isis was enormously popular; people would make pilgrimages to this temple on Philae. And her cult spread widely throughout Greece, Rome and other parts of Africa. Isis was actively worshiped at this temple until 530 AD.
Shown above, a stylized palm frond carved-stone capital.
Shown here, one of the two "pylons" which front the Temple of Isis. Carved stone columns—each with different capitals—form a forecourt leading to the entrance. On the stone façade, we see Isis in the form of Hathor (with the horns and the solar disc).
Horus is shown above wearing the double crown of Unified Egypt. The crown which resembles a bowling pin is the symbol of the King of Upper (that is, Southern) Egypt. The crown which resembles a ladle is the symbol of the King of Lower (that is, Northern) Egypt. This double crown is a powerful symbol of a powerful ruler—one who can hold together the two halves of this large country. At the end of the day, Egyptians knew that a good pharaoh was one who could provide (for example, a Nile which flooded on-time or big wins in battles against Egypt's enemies). A good pharaoh could also conquer and eliminate chaos.
All these stone blocks—stacked without any mortar to hold them together—benefitted from joinery such as that shown above. A wooden or metal "butterfly" could be inserted between the blocks to give the structure added strength and permanence.
Ancient temples were often reappropriated: first by succeeding pharaohs (who might support a different god or cult), next by the evangelizing religious (like Byzantine Christians in the Fourth Century), or, finally, by conquering Islamic forces (in the Seventh Century). Shown above, an altar and tabernacle used by Byzantine Christians as they spread their faith throughout Egypt—making it the country's dominant religion for a time (until the Muslims arrived).
When President Nasser's High Dam at Aswan flooded the Nubian homeland (and created Lake Nasser), the Nubians needed to relocate. Many moved to Aswan, living amongst other Egyptians, though they kept their traditions and oral language.
Shown above, three Nubian boys waving and smiling. Nubian faces are rarely seen without a warm smile.
The Temple of Kom Ombo is dedicated to Horus and the Egyptian Crocodile God, called Sobek. Crocodiles played a complex role for the Ancient Egyptians. Although crocodiles could be used for food or medicine, they were also dangerous, fearsome. Sobek, the crocodile, was the god of fertility, military prowess and was associated with pharaonic power.
It's no surprise, then, that the Ancient Egyptians mummified crocodiles (for millennia). Next to the Temple of Kom Ombo is The Crocodile Museum, where mummified crocodiles are on display.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248