Philae Temple on Lake Nasser

A Day at Philae Temple and a Nubian Experience

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The Philae Temple is one of the very first things people want to see when visiting Aswan, Egypt. And we were no exception. This island temple complex exceeded all our expectations.

The Temple of Isis, more commonly known as the Philae Temple, sits on an island in the lake behind the Aswan Low Dam. As a result, you need to take a brief boat ride to reach it. The temple complex is one of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Nubian area of Egypt.

Originally, the Philae Temple was 500 meters away, but it was moved block-by-block in the 1960s to preserve it from the encroaching waters of the lake.

The exterior of the Philae temple in Egypt
Despite the oppressive heat, we spent a long time wandering through the Philae temple complex

One of the most remarkable things we saw at Philae were the ornate capitals on the columns that line the sides of the temple.

The flower patterns in the carved capitals
Intricately carved capitals of the temple columns

We were all more impressed than we anticipated by the clarity of the enormous carvings, hieroglyphics, and other figures that were over 2000 years old. The Philae temple was taken over by Christians around the 6th century, so some of the Egyptian figures had been scratched out. There was also a cross clearly visible on what became the Christian alter in the heart of the temple.

Christian cross carved over Egyptian cartouche
Cross carved in the holy of the holies
Relief of a pharaoh at Philae temple
Relief of a pharaoh
Brilliant carvings of pharaohs and gods
Brilliant carvings of pharaohs and gods

After visiting Philae, you might be hot (just like we were). If you feel like you are on the verge of spontaneous combustion, seek out some water. You can take a dip in your hotel’s swimming pool (which we definitely recommend doing).

Or you can take to the Nile River to cool off. In the late afternoon, we took a felucca ride on the Nile to a cafe for some tea. The felucca is a traditional Egyptian boat similar to what most people would think of as a sailboat. Best of all, by being out on the water, you’ll be cooler!

Three feluccas on the Nile
Feluccas on the Nile
Boys in a homemade boat in the Nile River
Some boys we encountered in a homemade boat in the Nile

If you are feeling adventurous, you take your felucca trip, we headed by another to West Aswan, a Nubian community of about 25,000 across the river from the main part of the city. Here, many of the people there live in less-than-ideal conditions with dirt floors and parts of their homes not having a roof. Interestingly, most people still have cable television.

In West Aswan, you can find many different families that open their homes to tourists. We were fortunate to have dinner with a family in their home, which entailed removing our shoes and sitting on a large carpet in the front of the home.

Dishes in oven in an Egyptian home
Dinner cooking in a Nubian home

We saw their bread oven, which was very similar to ovens in Peru, and indulged in a delicious dinner consisting of bread, rice, lentil soup, fried fish, grilled chicken, an okra and tomato dish (HEAVENLY) and potatoes with tomatoes.

These kind of home experiences are a great way to gain additional cultural understanding and see how typical people there live. We were grateful for the experience.

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