PHILAE, an islet in the Nile above the First Cataract, of great beauty and interest, but since the completion of the Assuan dam in 1902 submerged except for a few months yearly during High Nile (July to October), when the water is allowed to run freely through the sluices of the Assuan dam. Philae is the nearest island to the point where the ancient desert road from Assuan rejoins the river south of the cataract. It marks also the end of the cataract region. Below it the channel is broad and straight with rocky granite islands to the west. The name in Egyptian was Pilak, " the angle (?) island ": the Arabs call it Anas el Wagud, after the hero of a romantic tale in the Arabian Nights. Ancient graffiti abound in all this district, and on Bigeh, a larger island adjoining Philae, there was a temple as early as the reign of Tethmosis III. The name of Amasis II. (570-535 B.C.) is said to have been found at Philae, and it is possible that there were still older buildings which have been swallowed up in later constructions. About 350 B.C. Nekhtnebf, the last of the native kings of Egypt, built a temple to Isis, most of which was destroyed by floods. Ptolemy Philadelphus reconstructed some of this work and began a large temple which Ptolemy Euergetes I. completed, but the decoration, carried on under later Ptolemies and Caesars, was never finished. The temple of Isis was the chief sanctuary of the Dodecaschoenus, the portion of Lower Nubia generally held by the Ptolemies and Romans. The little island won great favour as a religious resort, not only for the Egyptians and the Ethiopians and others who frequented the border district and the market of Assuan, but also for Greek and Roman visitors. One temple or chapel after another sprang up upon it dedicated to various gods, including the Nubian Mandulis. Ergamenes ( Arkamane) , king of Ethiopia, shared with the Ptolemies in the building. Besides the temple of Isis with its birth-temple in the first court, there were smaller temples or shrines of Arsenuphis, Mandulis, Imuthes, Hathor, Harendotes (a form of Horus) and Augustus (in the Roman style), besides unnamed ones. There were also monumental gateways, and the island was protected by a stone quay all round with the necessary staircases, etc., and a Nilometer. The most beautiful of all the buildings is an unfinished kiosque inscribed by Trajan, well known under the name of " Pharaoh's Bed." Graffiti of pilgrims to the shrine of Isis are dated as late as the end of the 5th century A.D. The decree of Theodosius (A.D. 378) which suppressed pagan worship in the empire was of little effect in the extreme south. In A.D. 453 Maximinus, the general of the emperor Marcian, after inflicting a severe defeat on the Nobatae and Blemmyes who were settled in Lower Nubia, and thence raided Upper Egypt, made peace on terms which included permission for these heathen tribes to visit the temple and even to borrow the image of Isis on certain occasions. It was not till the reign of Justinian, A.D. 527-565, that the temple of Philae was finally closed, and the idols taken to Constantinople. Remains of Christian churches were disclosed by the thorough exploration carried out in 1895-1896 in view of the Barrage scheme, under the direction of Captain Lyons. The accumulations of rubbish on the island were cleared away and the walls and foundations of the stone buildings were all repaired and strengthened before the dam was completed. The annual flooding now appears to be actually beneficial to the stonework, by removing the disintegrating salts and incrustations. The tops of most of the buildings and the whole nucleus of the temple of Isis to the floor remained all the year round above the water level until the dam was raised another 26 ft. a work begun in 1907 when the temples were entirely submerged except during July-October. But the beauty of the island and its ruins and palm trees, the joy of travellers and artists, is almost gone.
See H. G. Lyons, A Report on the Island and Temples of Philae (Cairo, 1896), with numerous plans and photographs; a second report, A Report on the Temples of Philae (1908), deals with the condition of the ruins as affected by the immersions occasioned by the filling of the Assuan dam ; Baedeker's Egypt ; and on the effects of the submersion, etc., reports in Annales du service des antiquites, vols. iv. v. (F. LL. G.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)