Saturday, August 1, 2009

Color in Egyptian
Art and Jewelry
The Egyptians considered the color of an object to be an integral part of its nature or being. The word iwen was used to signify the concept of color, and could also mean external appearance, nature, being, character, or even disposition.
Not every color and variation has symbolic significance of course. When groups of objects were being depicted, colors were varied to distinguish one object from another. So rows of people or chariot horses may be alternated as light and dark. And color was often enjoyed for its own sake.

Names and uses of colors:
Old Egyptian had four basic color terms:
km,,, or black, hence, Kmt, or "Black Land". The color black carried connotations of fertility and regeneration, and was also the color of the underworld, where the sun regenerated every night. The god Osiris, king of the Underworld, was sometimes referred to as kmj, "the black one." Black stones were used in statuary, and black backgrounds used in some coffins, to evoke those regenerative qualities of Osiris and the Underworld.

khdj,,, or white, was also used from prehistoric times. Chalk and gypsum provided the white pigment used.
White was associated with cleanliness, ritual purity and sacredness and so, was the color of the clothes worn by ritual priests. The Instructions of Merikare speaks of service as a priest in terms of the wearing of white sandals. The floors of temples were made of white calcite. White alabaster was used to make ritual objects such as small bowls to the massive embalming table of the Apis bulls mummification. Many sacred animals such as the Great White baboon were also of that color.
Khdj,,, also meant the metal "silver" and could incorporate the notion of "light": for example, in some texts, the sun was said to "whiten" the land at dawn. White was also used to denote the metal silver, and with gold, then symbolized the moon and sun.

W3d,,, where the "3" actually stands for the "a" that is not our letter A, had its focus in "green", as the term for the mineral malachite. The color green was symbolic of growing things and of life itself. To do "green things" was a euphemism for positive life-producing behavior in contrast to doing "red things."

The hieroglyph that represented w3d was a green papyrus stem and frond, carrying connotations of fresh vegetation and vigor and regeneration. Osiris was often shown with green skin to signify his resurrection, and in the 26th dynasty, coffin faces were often painted green to identify the deceased with Osiris and to guarantee rebirth.
Chapters 159 and 160 of the Book of the Dead give instructions for making an amulet of green feldspar, (though a variety of materials, ranging in color from green to blue, were used) The common amulet of the "Eye of Horus" or the Wedjat is usually green because of the connotations as an expression of the aspects of healing and well-being. Wadjet was the green one, the protective serpent goddess of Lower Egypt (though the color of that royal crown was red.)
Turquoise, or mfk3t, was the most valued of the green stones. Mined in Sinai, it was connected to the deity Hathor, who was called Lady of Turquoise, and as well as to the sun at dawn, whose rays and disk were described as turquoise, and whose rising was said to flood the land with turquoise. Thus, turquoise was also associated with rebirth, and faience figurines in this color were often used in funerary equipment.
Although blue pigment appears on paintings, the Egyptian language had no basic color term in Old Egyptian for "blue." Blue, or irtiu and khshdj, could represent the heavens as well as the primeval flood, and in both it functioned as a symbol of life and rebirth. Blue could also represent the Nile and its offerings, crops and fertility. The phoenix, or benu-heron, an ancient symbol of the inundation, was often painted in bright blue (the actual bird had light gray-blue plumage.) The sacred baboon was also depicted as being blue.
Blue pigment was introduced at about 2550 BCE, based on grinding lapis lazuli, a deep blue stone flecked with golden impurities. Lapis lazuli was the blue stone that figures prominently in much jewelry, but could only be acquired by import. It was called khshdj, and the term was extended to also mean blue. The stone and the color were associated with the night sky and the primordial waters. The rising sun was sometimes called the "child of lapis lazuli."
Blue pigment could also was manufactured by combining oxides of copper and iron with silica and calcium.
dshr,,, meant "red", hence, "Deshret", the "Red Land", the name given to the desert areas on each side of the fertile Nile Valley. Red pigments were derived from naturally occurring oxidized iron and red ocher.
Red was considered a very potent color, hot and dangerous, but also life-giving and protective. It is both the color of blood, relating to life ad death, and of fire, which could be beneficial or destructive. Expressions such as dshr ib, "red of heart" or "furious" are formed from this basic word.

Red is also a color given to the sun, red at its rising and its setting. In papyrus texts, red pigments or "rubrics" were often used to emphasize headings, but also used to write the names of dangerous entities and unlucky days.

Royal statuary was often made of rose or golden quartzite and red granite, which were used to invoke the regenerative properties of the solar cycle and the connection between the kingship and the sun. The obelisk of Senussret at Heliopolis was made of red granite.
khenet,,, or yellow, was symbolic of all that is eternal and imperishable. Anubis, often shown with black skin as a jackal, when depicted as a jackal-headed human male, had a black head with gold limbs and torso.
The color yellow was often associated with the sun disk and with gold, or nbw. Gold was not only associated with the sun, it was also the flesh of the gods, and the divine snake in the Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor was also gold.

Color in Art :
In paintings deities were not often colored to indicate gold flesh. Most male deities were represented with reddish-brown skin, and female with yellow skin. But other colors, as green and blue were indicated above for Osiris, were used.
The fertility deities Min and Amun-Re-Kamutef were shown with black skin. Amun-Re was depicted as blue-skinned from the 18th Dynasty onward, emphasizing his status at that time as king of the gods. The jackal that represented Anubis and Wepwawet was colored black, although most jackals were actually sandy-colored, to signify their funerary role and connection with the underworld.

Kings were often shown painted in different contexts with different colored skin. For example, the eleventh dynasty king Nebhepetre Montuhotep I was shown regularly with reddish-brown skin at his mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. But one statue found ritually buried shows him with black skin to symbolize his renewal in the afterlife. In addition, some faces on nonroyal coffins during some periods were also painted black for the same reason. But the most common color for coffin faces, apart from natural red for males and yellow for females, was gold, linking the deceased with the sun god and showing the deceased successfully transformed into a divine being.

Certain colors were often set side by side as well, to signify completeness. For example, red and white, or its alternate hue yellow, find completion together in the colors of man and woman, and the red and white crowns. Green and black are also often used in the same way as the symbolic opposites of life and death.
Some colors were interchangeable. While hair was often shown as black, it was sometimes depicted as blue for the gods. However, they too could also be shown with black hair. The converse could also be true, as illustrated in the example where the god Anubis is shown as blue, as is the mummy. In the pectoral of Tut, Ptah is shown with black hair, the Blue Crown is colored black. In the same way, light blue and green could be interchanged. In that Tut pectoral, the god Ptah, often shown with green skin, is shown here as light-blue skinned.

The heavens may be colored black, though blue is more commonly used. Yellow gold, the color of sun and stars, could also represent the heavens, though its use for such is relatively rare. Black also represented Egypt itself, the fertile Nile soil, but the color green also signified earth as opposed to heaven or the sea.
Horemheb and Ramesses I both used a blue-gray background on the walls of their tombs, perhaps to represent the entrance of the deceased King into the underworld or the heavens. Since the underworld was described in some texts as the field of malachite (a green stone) green could also represent the underworld as well.

Earlier it was stated that male figures, whether divine or human, were given reddish-brown skin tones. Women were given yellow-gold skin tones. A poem from the Papyrus Chester Beatty I describes a female object of affection with "bright skin," arms more "brilliant than gold," and "white-breasted."

Since Egypt included people close to the Mediterranean as well as to sub-Sahara, its people showed many skin tones. But the men of Egypt had to be distinguished from non-Egyptians, from foreigners. Foreign peoples of different races were given appropriate skin colors by stylized characterizations. While Nubians and Kushite kings living to the south of Egypt were depicted as black in contrast to the red-brown skin hues of the Egyptian male, Libyans, Bedouin, Syrians and Hittites, living to the north, west, and closer to the Mediterranean were all shown with light yellow skin, as well as distinctive clothing and hair-styles.

Color in Hieroglyphics:
Hieroglyphics illustrate the dual use of color, one, where objects are given the same hue they have in nature, and two, where objects are assigned colors to which they are symbolically linked. Each glyph had its own color or combination, which was faithfully kept whenever multiple colors were used. Sometimes difference in color was used to distinguish between two otherwise identical signs. Color was omitted in everyday writing, in order to save time or expense, but it was nevertheless viewed as a very real part of a complete sign.

Where the signs were not painted black or red, each sign received its own basic color or combination of colors. The colors assigned to the various signs are in most cases simply the colors of the objects themselves. So signs for leg, arm, hand, mouth, or other body parts, were usually in red, whereas reeds and other plants were green, water was blue, etc. Other objects had more symbolic coloration, for example, metal butcher knife was red, the sickle was green, and the bread loaf was blue.

The Painter’s Work:

The paintings extant in the beautiful tomb of Nefertari are excellent examples of the symbolic and practical uses of color. After the outlines of the scenes were completed, color was applied with coarse brushes made from bundles of palm fibers, or pieces of fibrous wood chewed or beaten at one end.

Dry pigments were prepared by crushing various substances in a mortar or on a grinding palette with a stone pestle. These were then mixed with a water-soluble gum or egg white to bind them. Intermediate shades were derived by laying one pigment over another.

Many of the reliefs seen today in museums and even on the temple and tomb walls in Egypt itself have little of the tints originally placed upon them. But conservation is underway, and hopefully, as with Nefertari’s tomb, the vibrancy of the Artist’s craft, part of the soul of ancient Egypt, will return.

The mediums with which Egyptian artists worked were varied. One of the most easily obtained was limestone, which composed the cliffs to either side of much of the Nile Valley. Other common soft stone materials included calcite (Egyptian Alabaster), a crystalline form of calcium carbonate, sandstone, schist and greywacke. Harder stones included quartzite (a crystalline form of sandstone), diorite, granodiorite, granite and basalt. Stone was almost always used in royal free standing and rock cut temples and tombs after the earliest periods. It was also used to make statues, stelae, offering tables, libation bowls, vessels and other ritual equipment.

Soft stone, whether cut in place such as a rock cut tomb, or carved into blocks as in free standing temples, was usually covered by plaster prior to being decorated. Paint was sometimes also applied to hard stone, but often it was left visible for its symbolism. Hence, black stone such as granodiorite was representative of the life giving black silt left by the Nile inundation, thus symbolizing new life, resurrection and the resurrected god of he dead, Osiris. Red, brown, yellow and gold were associated with the sun, and so stones of those colors, such as red and brown quartzite and red granite, symbolized the sun. Green stone referred to fresh, growing vegetation, new life, resurrection and Osiris as well, who sometimes appears with black skin and sometimes green.

Limestone and other soft stones were carved with copper chisels and stone tools. Hard stones were worked by hammering and grinding them with tools made of even harder stone together with sand, which is basically quartz, acting as an abrasive. Stone vessels were hollowed out using drills with copper bits, together with an abrasive. These tools were also used to apply details and inscriptions to hard stone monuments. Afterwards, the finished object was polished with a smooth rubbing stone.

If the stone was to be painted, the surface had to be smoothed and any holes in the stone or joints between blocks filled in with plaster.

Scenes on stone surfaces were often cut into relief before painting (or when not painted at all). There were two main types of reliefs, consisting of raised and sunk relief. In both, chisels were used to cut around the outlines of figures. Then, in raised relief, the stone of the background was cut away, so that the figures were left standing out from the surface. In sunk relief, it was the figures that were cut back within their outlines, leaving the surface of the background at a higher level. In both methods, the figures were modeled to a greater or lesser extent within their outlines. Traditionally, sunk relief was used on outside walls and raised relief on interior walls, because bright sunlight has the effect of flattening raised relief and enhancing sunk relief. It should be noted that such work could also be applied to plastered surfaces on soft stone.

In Theban tombs which were often simply painted, as opposed to relief-cut, rock cut walls, the walls were first covered with mud that was then plastered before painting. Treated similarly to soft stone, mudbrick was used in houses, palaces and other public buildings. And like the walls in Theban tombs, the mud was prepared for decoration with a layer of plaster.

Prior to actually painting the prepared surfaces of stone or plaster over stone or mudbrick, scenes were laid out by first marking off the area to be decorated and then drawing in the initial sketches in red, to which corrections were often made in black, probably by the master draughtsman in charge of the project.
Squared grids were introduced at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. Used to assist the artist in obtaining the proper proportions of their figures and often also to lay out the composition as a whole, the grids were drawn out on the surface before the scene was sketched in.
The lines of the grid were either drawn against a straight edge, or more commonly made with a string that was dipped in red paint and stretched taut across the surface before being snapped against it like a modern chalk line.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Red Chapel of
Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III
When archaeologists rebuilt the White Chapel of Senusret I in the Open Air Museum at Karnak on the East Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes), it took many years to carefully arrange the layout of the structure like a big jigsaw puzzle on paper. In 2001, when the Supreme Council of Antiquities decided to rebuild the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty) in the Open Air Museum, the process, like all of our modern lives, happened much quicker (though still a number of years), as they fed the architectural elements of the building into a computer. The results are splendid.

What really sets the small monuments, such as the White and Red Chapels, in the Open Air Museum apart is their very well preserved state. When the Pharaoh, Amenhotep III decided to enlarge the temple at Karnak by adding a new facade in the form of two entrance pylons, he pulled down many monuments which he no longer thought relevant, putting their stone sections in the core of the structure. This was the Third Pylon at Karnak.

At the end of the 19th century, a large part of the massive Third Pylon of Amenhotep III at Karnak toppled over during an earthquake. Then, in 1924, the director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Pierre Lacau, ordered his director of works at Karnak, Henri Chevrier, to repair the structure. He had to completely dismantle it in order to do so, and in the process, he discovered some 951 blocks that belonged to a total of eleven different structures used as fill within the pylon. Though many of these blocks were damaged, their encasement in mortar in the pylon preserved their inscriptions and decorations. Chevrier was responsible for reconstructing the White Chapel of Senusret I many years ago, but the blocks from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut remained dismantled until the 21st century.
The Red Chapel of Hatshepsut was a barque shrine, as we believe was the White Chapel of Senusret I, built with a base and doorways of black granite (or more properly, gray diorite) with walls of red quartzite, from the quarry known as Djebel Akhmar, or "red mountain". Of course, the latter stone explains why the shrine is known as the Red Chapel. Actually, the natural color of the red quartzite varies, so the ancient craftsman painted all the block a uniform red color. It was probably begun about four years before Hatshepsut's death in about 1483 BC, and her nephew and successor (as well as defacer), Tuthmosis III may have continued work on the chapel, but never finished it.

The chapel, which set at the heart of the Karnak complex originally, was probably built to replace the earlier alabaster structure of Amenhotep I. It may have originally rested between her two obelisks in the temple, though this is by no means certain.

For many years the blocks from Hatshepsut's chapel were displayed on low stone bases where visitors could wonder along the blocks and see the exquisite reliefs, carved on both sides, at close quarters. However, in 1997 a decision was made to reconstruct the shrine. This work, actually begun in March, 2000, is now complete (early in 2002). It was undertaken by the Franco Egyptian Center, directed by Francois Larche, with the support of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). The project was funded by the Accor Company, a consortium that holds about 30 percent of the hotel capacity in Luxor (as of 2002).

The blocks, numbering about 315, were studied to work out their original order. This was not an easy process. Unusually, most of the blocks contained a complete scene, and therefore do not overlap on to adjacent blocks. In fact, they never overlap on the horizontal joints. Some researchers believe that, due to the way in which these decorations occur, that this was indeed the first "prefabricated" building in history, with its decorations complete (though possibly not painted) prior to the building's erection. This of course made it extremely difficult to identify the sequence of blocks within the structure. Also, about half the blocks were missing (some 40 to 45 percent), so modern blocks of stone cut from the same material as the original were required. In some instances, modern brick was also incorporated, which was then plastered over and carefully painted to match the original colors. In order to assemble the building, apparently a study of the notches and dovetails in the blocks was studied

This work resulted in a surprisingly large structure (over seventeen meters in length and over six meters wide) which now dominates the Open Air Museum. It is a striking building with its black granite and red stone walls. It has three doors at the same level and of the same dimensions. The structure is divided into two chambers, with a low plinth in the larger of the two rooms that was used as a base for the barque of the God Amun, who's image was carried in procession between the temples of Karnak and Luxor during the annual celebration that took place at the height of the Nile Flood. In the center of the chapel was apparently located a drain for the waters used in absolution during the celebration.

The decorations of the chapel are particularly rich, with gold paint filling the hollows of the engraving. However, the only unfortunate aspect of this construction is that now many of the inscribed blocks, with their major motif being Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III interacting with Amun-Min and various other gods, as well as scenes from the Opet festival, the dedication of the chapel, the establishment of the queen as ruler of Egypt and the recording of nome divisions, are more difficult for visitors to actually see since many of the carved scenes are high up in the walls and not always oriented for viewing. It has been suggested that a good pair of binoculars be taken along for a visit if any serious study is intended.

Bottom frieze inside: djedpillars, was-sceptres and ankhs.The frieze of leafs below them is probably lettuce leafs - sacred to Amun-Min.
The barkshrine is dedicated to Amun and his fertility aspect Amun-Min. Both Hatshepsut and Thutmose III are depicted making offerings and performing rituals to Amun. We see the King running in the Heb Sed, there are processions for the Opet with the Bark of Amun carried on the backs of priest, and we see Djehuty pouring purfying water over the King. Seshat records the events and assists Pharaoh in the rituals. A frieze of Sepat deities carry forward offerings around the outer base of the shrine. On the northern side, dancers and acrobats are performing, harpists are playing, sistra are rattled and food is carried forward.

Left: Hatshepsut depicted as man, making the Heb Sed run before Amun-Min.Right: The Bark of Amun on its stand, surrounded by offerings..

Hatshepsut conducts the Bark of Amun across the river to attend rituals on the West Bank.

Seshat, patron deity of records, assists Pharaoh Hatshepsut as she lays down the foundations to a new temple.

Upper register: Female acrobats perform and harpists play for Maat-Ka-Re.Lower register: Male dancers(?) pay homage and women play sistra for Maat-Ka-Re.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The White Chapel of
Senusret I

Senusret I was the second king of Egypt's 12th Dynasty, and was the first monarch of the Middle Kingdom to invest in an extensive building program. He constructed a number of temples from the Delta to as far south as Elephantine at modern Aswan, included structures at Thebes . We have evidence of at least 35 sites where he built, yet most of this work is lost to us. This is regrettable, because the art of this period is superb.

One building project that was lost to us, but now is found is the little pavilion built for Senusret I's first jubilee (Sed) festival, which according to custom, occurred during the king's 30th year as ruler (though it is probable that Senusret's festival was held in his 31st year of rule). It was probably built to house the royal barque and is sometimes referred to as a "barque shrine". Popularly known as the White Chapel, it had been disassembled and used as fill in Amenhotep III's Third Pylon at Karnak during the 18th Dynasty. In 1924, the director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Pierre Lacau, ordered his director of works at Karnak, Henri Chevrier, to repair this Pylon, but in order to do so, the pylon had to be dismantled.

It took years to do so, because it could only be done when the Nile was in a low phase, due to ground water. During this work, Chevrier discovered some 951 blocks that belonged to a total of eleven different structures that had been used as fill within the pylon. While many of the blocks were damaged, their reliefs were often in outstanding condition, due to the layers of mortar which had both bound them together and protected the blocks.

This work progressed slowly, but methodically, and after determining the proper block orientation and placement, Chevrier was able to reconstruct almost completely the so called "White Chapel" of Senusret I and the barque shrine of Amenhotep I. Both buildings are now located in the Open Air Museum at Karnak, along with the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut. The White Chapel as a structure is considered by many to be the most elegant, as well as the oldest structure in Karnak today, and Chevier thought that the structure may have once been covered in gold foil, so it could have been all the more glorious.

The White Chapel is a small, simple, but eloquent structure, built of Egyptian alabaster (calcite), most notable for its many inscriptions. It was probably built during the remarkable purity of form in this structure is echoed in the austerity of the temple at Qasr el-Sagha. Ramps led up on either side to the small rectangular building, situated on a platform, in which Senusret I himself possibly sat enthroned during part of his Sed festival. There are twelve pillars around the outside of the kiosk, with another four in the interior that support a complete roof. These pillars are decorated with raised reliefs on all four sides. Between the outside pillars is a low, rounded balaustrade. The different nomes of Egypt (the administrative centers) are recorded in columns on the parapet (base). Within the chapel, the god depicted with Senusret I is usually Amun-Re in his guise of the god of procreation and fertility, Min.

In many of these depictions, the god stands, ithyphallic, on a rectangular pedestal and is swathed as though a mummy, with linen bands crossed over his chest and with two tall feathers attached to the fillet around his head. Longstreamers from the head band hang down his back almost to the ground. His right arm is raised behind him holding a flail, the symbol of kingship. In these scenes, we find tall plants behind Amun-Min that depict cos lettuce which, even today as in antiquity, is regarded as a potent aphrodisiac. The plant was associated with Amun-Min. In other scenes, Amun is depicted in similar dress as the king, again with the tall feathers, usually offering the sign of life to the king. Alas, we find the king being led before Amun by Re-Horakhty, who instead offers the king the sign of life.

In various scenes, the king is shown either wearing the Red Crown of lower Egypt, which interestingly, appears to made of basketry, or the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

As an example of the scenes found within this chapel, from a viewpoint inside we see on one of the left central pillars Senusret I, who is offering a ritual conical loaf (shewbread?) to the god, Amun-Min. On the right, the north pillar of the eastern doorway is shown Atum, the Lord of Heliopolis, conducting the king towards Amun-Min, saying to him, "Come in peace, O Senusret, that thou mayest see thy father, Amun Re, who loves thee, that he may give thee the kingship of the Two Lands". Barely discernible on the shaded face of the pillar, the king is followed by his ka and embraces Amun-Min.

In the center of the scene on the pillar which stands at the north east corner of the building, Senusret I is consecrating to the god the sacred mast which he has erected for him and in return Amun-Min says to him, "I who am thy father, O Senusret...I establish thy crown as King of Upper and Lower Egypt on the throne of Horus, living for ever."

As an interesting side note, the White Chapel provides one of the earliest records of a "river-unit". This is a measurement that appears to correspond to 20,000 cubits in length, or about 10.5 kilometers.

Detail of the Finely Carved Raised Reliefs
However, it is not the content of the inscriptions that set this monument apart from almost all others in Egypt, but it is the minute, carved details of the costumes and glyphs, which were usually not engraved but added in paint. The reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions are integrally related to the architectural design and are not only some of the best work known from the Middle Kingdom, but of all the monuments in Egypt. Their caring and spacing was never really surpassed.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Temple of Philae in Egypt
Part II
The Approach to the Temple of Isis

Though the monuments of Philae Island are now located on the nearby reworked Island of Agilika, and Philae is now buried beneath the waters of the lake formed between the Old Aswan Dam and the High Dam, Philae and the neighboring island of Biggeh to the west, in ancient times, formed an integrated religious complex devoted to the cult of Osiris. The ritual focus was Biggeh, the site of the abaton, one of the alleged tombs of Osiris. At Philae, regular visits were paid every tenth day by Isis to the island of Bigeh and the tomb of Osiris.

There are many legends connected to Philae, but the most well known one tells the story of how Isis found the heart of Osiris here after his murder by his brother Seth. Each evening there is a Sound and Light Show which recounts the legends against the magnificent backdrop of the floodlit monuments - a truly magical experience.

Tourist boats on their way to visit the Temples of Philae in Egypt

Philae was dedicated preeminently to Isis, sister-wife to Osiris, and patroness of the Ptolemaic rule. Although Isis was the major deity honored therein, the location of the island on the frontier between Egypt and Nubia meant that cults of Nubia were also featured on theisland,represented by significant cult buildings.

There was some evidence at the actual island of Philae of cult activity in honor of Amun, in the time of King Taharqa, who ruled Egypt between 689 and 664 BC in the 25th dynasty, and who probably built an altar of granite to Amun. Perhaps the Kushites, when invading Egypt, established a stronghold on Philae. Traces of mudbrick houses in trenches between the stone foundations of the later temples and the early nilometer west of the mammisi may date to this period.

The monuments on the island are dominated by the great temple of Isis and its associated structures, which are concentrated in the west and center of the island, on, or adjacent to, a granite outcrop which must have been originally chosen as an embodiment of the primeval hill on which the first temple was said to have rested. This hill was reproduced on the new location of the monuments at Agilika.

The Taharqa altar to Amun is the earliest evidence of structures on the island. The known history of Philae does not go back farther than that, and it was not until the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods that Philae rose to importance. The priests believed their island had a far longer history, and as stated above, an inscription at the frontier on the island of Sehel states that as early as the 3rd Dynasty, Djoser gave them the country from the First Cataract to the island of Derar. (Dodekaschoinoi) During Ptolemaic times they held the gold mines of Wadi Alaki within their administrative sphere.

But the earliest known cult building in honor of Isis, known to the Egyptians as Aset, was a small shrine erected in the Saite period by Psamtik II. This was followed by a further small temple on the granite outcrop, erected by Amasis. So it now seems that the Saite kings introduced the cult of Isis into this area and laid the foundations for her subsequent glorification on the island.

The next evidence of building, and the earliest surviving monument of Philae, dates to the 30th Dynasty. Beginning at the ancient quay where boats now land at the southwestern corner of the great temple, the first structure is the kiosk of Nectanebo I, though one may first notice the obvious seating for the sound and light show. The kiosk or vestibule of Nectanebo is a hall with screen walls linked by graceful columns. Of its original fourteen Hathor pillars, only six remain. The screens between the columns are some six feet high, crowned with concave cornices and rows of uraeus-serpents. The screens are carved with reliefs showing Nectanebo sacrificing to the gods.

From Nectanebo's monument north, there are two colonnades, one on the east side and another on the west of an outer courtyard that leads to the first temple pylon. The western half of the colonnade is the more complete, and is pierced with windows originally looking toward the island of Biggeh. A nilometer descends the cliff from here. The colonnade is about one hundred yards long and contains thirty-one of the original thirty-two columns. The column capitals tops are floral, and remarkable in their variety with no two being alike. Most of the columns show carvings of Tiberius offering gifts to the gods. The ceiling, which is mostly destroyed, is decorated with stars and and flying vultures, while the rear wall has two rows of bas-reliefs of Tiberius and Agustus offering to the gods.

The eastern colonnade was never completed. On the south it abuts the temple of Arsenuphis, or Iry-hemes-nufer just to the north of the vestibule of Nectanebo. Arensnuphis was an obscure Nubian lion-god venerated as the companion of Isis. The temple was built by Ptolemy IV Philopator and extended by Ptolemy V Epiphanes. Here, the reliefs depict Ptolemy V before Isis and other gods, and also Ptolemy IV before Isis, Horus and Unnefer. The shrine was enclosed by walls that are ruined in some places but which have representations of Tiberius worshipping Osiris, Isis, Harsieses (Horus the Elder), Nephthys, Khnum, Satis, Anukis, Arsenuphis and Tefnut.

The eastern colonnade is partly roofed and has seventeen columns, only six of which have their capitals completed. Behind (to the north) of the Temple of Arsenuphis and to the east of the eastern colonnade is the ruined chapel of Mandulis, another Nubian deity. At the northern end of the colonnade is the Temple of Imhotep. In it, Ptolemy V Epiphanes is shown before the deified Imhotep.

Just beyond the temple of Imhotep and the first Great Pylon of the Temple of Isis is the Gate of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, with depictions of the Ptolemaic Pharaoh being led forward by Isis.

Just before the main gateway to the first pylon are two Roman style lions carved from pink granite that have been re-erected on this island from their fallen position on the old Island of Philae. Two obelisks once also stood here, erected by Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and his second wife, Cleopatra III (who by the way is not the more famous Cleopatra VII). On the base of the eastern obelisk was the inscription complaining to the royal that the priests of Isis at Philae were being forced to refund the expenses of civil and military authorities incurred during their stay on the island.

These obelisks made of pink granite are not lost to us, but may now be found at Kingston Lacy in Dorset in the UK. The eastern obelisk, which measures 6.7 meters tall and weighs six tons, was found on its side half-buried and its western counterpart was badly damaged and only about a third of it remained. They were taken by Mr. Ralph Bankes for his garden. Interestingly, they were partly instrumental in the decipherment of hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone bears many inscription of Ptolemy in hieroglyphics, demotic script and Greek. From these inscriptions, it was possible for the French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion to identify the hieroglyphic form of the name, by using the same method, Bankes pointed out the hieroglyphic form of the name, Cleopatra, which was unknown before. But these obelisks, or at least the eastern one, has a more interesting history than this.

Two of the most avid collectors of antiquities in Egypt around this time (1819) were the British Consul, Henry Salt, and the Consul-General of France, Bernardino Drovetti. They both gave money to local chiefs throughout Egypt who then saw to it that other collectors were either warned off or not supplied with labor. It was Salt, of course, who actually obtained the obelisks for Ralph Bankes, and Salt was lucky enough to have as his agent the giant Italian adventurer, Giovanni Belzoni, nicknamed the strongman of Egyptology.

On hearing of this matter concerning the obelisks at Philae, Drovetti claimed that they belonged to him, but grandly ceded the ownership to Bankes. Belzoni, who Salt tasked with their transport, thought that Drovetti had found it impossible to find ways of transporting the first obelisk (the complete, eastern one) through the cataract and had relinquished his claim for this reason. Given the size of the obelisk, he may have been right.

The obelisk was levered and pushed on rollers to a stout wooden pier for shipment, "But, alas," writes Bezoni, "when the obelisk came gradually from the sloping bank and all its weight rested on it, the pier, with the obelisk and some of the men, took a slow movement, and majestically descended into the river."

Nevertheless, Belzoni and his men hauled it out of the mud and got it loaded onto a boat for its journey to Cairo. Yet the story does not end there, for Drovetti had, it seems, not given up. Drovetti's men intercepted Belzoni on his way to Aswan and it was only after a long altercation which ended in gun-fire and the arrival of Drovetti himself that the monument was allowed to proceed on its way. It was shipped to England on the Despatch in May, 1821 and not erected in Bankes garden until 1827. In the interval, Bankes returned to Egypt in 1822 to collect the broken western obelisk.

This leads us up to the first pylon, beyond which is the temple of Isis proper.