It’s an odd thing, but it’s common to picture Roman architecture as exactly the same in all regions and over all periods – a sort of standardised brick structure sheathed in marble and with arches and columns. And, of course, that’s ridiculous. Take Philae, near Aswan in Egypt, for example. Several of the structures on the island belong to the Roman era, and yet to the everyday visitor, it would be hard to think of them as anything other than ancient Egyptian.
Philae had been a holy island (actually a pair of islands forming one civic group) throughout the days of the Hellenistic Pharaohs . In its heyday it was the home only of temples and priests and everyone else was forbidden entry. That changed over the Greek and Roman eras, and the place became something of a pilgrimage centre. The Roman buildings there date numerous periods. The Byzantine empire also held Philae converting some of the religious structures to churches, though pagan worship seems to have remained in practice at Philae until 550AD, when Justinian ordered the closure of the pagan sites.
- Hadrian is accredited with the gate on the north side of the island.
- The Temple of Horus Avenger was built by Claudius.
- The Mammisi was finished and decorated by Tiberius.
- The Temple of Augustus was constructed for that emperor.
- The triumphal arch and quay are said to be Diocletianic.
- The famous ‘Trajan’s Kiosk’ is an Ulpian monument.
- Several coptic churches existed but are now gone beneath the water.
Visit to Philae is only possible by boat. It lies on the island to where it was moved after the building of the High Aswan Dam and the flooding of Lake Nasser. Trips are easy to arrange from Aswan. The island is stunning and contains more than just the Roman remains. Highly recommended for a visit.
Remains: 4/5 Atmosphere: 5/5 Access: 3/5 Overall: 4/5