Philae at night

Our guide said that if you wanted to see all of Egyptian history in one spot, the temple at Philae would be the place.  It was begun by the ancient pharaohs, expanded into a temple for Isis by the Greeks, further expanded by the Romans, defaced and converted into a church by the Christians, mentioned in the stories of the 1,001 Arabian Nights, and surrounded by the lake that was created by building of the modern dam across the Nile.  Wow.

The last bit about the dam actually doesn’t quite do it justice:  The temple had always been on an island in the Nile, and when the British build the original dam in the early 20th Century it was submerged during the summers during the traditional Nile inundations.  But when Nasser was building the high dam, the temple (along with many others and the entire Nubian population) would have been wiped out.  So UNESCO (including, prominently, the US) led a massive effort to save the most significant temples, including Philae.

The temple was dismantled stone by stone, a new island selected and modified to be exactly the same shape and size as the original island, and then the temple was reconstructed on the new island.  The dam was built, the valley flooded, and now the temple and island appears as it always has, as if nothing had changed.

We went at night to see the “Light and Sound Spectacular” which meant that we had to endure a cheesy and somewhat nonsensical 1970s audio production with multi-colored lights — but it also meant that we got to see the temple by the light of a nearly full moon with only a few other visitors.  It was great.

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