This morning we are to meet up with Ahmed and head out to Philae Island. A quick cup of tea, and then we tried to grab a taxi to where we were supposed to meet. The sports stadium. As with everything in Egypt this is a failure. The taxi’s wanted to charge us at best 10LE each to do a 5LE taxi trip. We called Ahmed to explain this, and he kindly came down to pick us up. While we were waiting we did find an honest taxi driver. His rate for 20LE was to take us all the way to Philae and even wait an hour before driving us back! The stadium is only about 2km away!
Still, we did meet up with Ahmed and his cousin. It was his cousins car, and he would act as the chauffeur for us. A bit over the top, but appreciated. The drive out was nice and scenic. We passed a graveyard that could be interesting for a walk around at a later date, and even though the grass is chest high, and a lot of the mausoleums are slowly disintegrating, what we could see was very different.
Before we got to the main car park,we had to pass through the Nile. The road was flooded, with the water coming up to door level. Asking what has happened here, the consensus was that someone had broken a water main, and it was just flooding the road. The water had been spewing out for some time,and there was still no sign of a repair crew on the way. We did make it through in the end, although I was a bit worried at one stage we would have to climb out the windows and push the car through the deepest bit!
On arriving at the car park, we left Ahmed’s cousin and went to buy our tickets. 50LE each and 2LE for Ahmed. There were clear signs up that this does not cover the boat ride. This threw us a little bit, but how bad can it be? We passed through the gates and went to find out. The other side is basically a big boat ramp with lots of little motorboats lining the sides. We left Ahmed to do the negotiating as he is Egyptian. This worked well in one respect, as he is a native Arabic speaker, but on the other, everyone thought he was a tour guide. The cheapest he could find for us was 80LE. We thought this was a bit pricey, and as it was for the boat, decided to try and find some people to split the bill with. A Belgium couple turned up, and we decided we would all go. The boat driver had seen this, and suddenly the price was now 120LE! Talking to the other couple, we found out they were on a strict time limit, as they had a taxi waiting. We did not have that constraint and could take our time. Still at one stage we started walking back to see if we could get a refund for the temple ticket. This made the price drop to 60LE and we thought that would be the best we could get (in 2008 it was 10LE a boat!). Considering the average wage of about 600LE a month, these boats are raking it in, as they would do three or four trips each day! On the boat we tried to let this wash away with the water we passed.
As we approached the island, tall indistinct structures appeared, passing the “uninteresting” side to dock at the front of the island. Walking up you are struck by the concrete seating of the sound and light show (If there is a single column sticking up anywhere, it has a ticket and sound & light show). Off to the side is the forecourt of the main temple. Taking a minute to read our book we set off.
This is the start of the temple of Isis. A very important place under the Ptolemaics. It was also a last stronghold of the old religion when Christianity was executing anyone that still practised. It lasted until after 550AD! As an interesting fact, when they built the old Aswan dam it was flooded for 6 months a year and people would go through with row boats in the partially submerged temple complex.
The watermarks are still clearly visible today. When they started building the High Dam, UNESCO stepped in and moved the temple complex 20m to a new island stone by stone letting it rest in its current location so it would not be completely submerged. (I will probably never stop bitching about UNESCO, but this was a monster effort taking 8 years and god knows how much money).
The first thing you notice is the columns. Each pillar top is supposed to be unique, but if you don’t trust the book and look, you can see the same patterns used very occasionally. Yes, they are unique, as they are all hand carved, but one or two had the same motifs on them. Still,they are the most ornate and intricate pillars we have seen to date. On the other side, you can appreciate that these temples take ages to build, as it was never finished.
Another interesting thing is that the complex is not symmetrical. The colonnade does not lead directly to the entrance in the first pylon, but is off centre. They think this is to do with the contours of the original island, and not just an error in reconstruction (they did sculpt the island here to fit the complex!). The pylon is not as big as the ones elsewhere, and is only a “measly” 18m high. The standard “capture and behead your enemies” scene is here of Ptolemy XII, yet the defacement is interesting. Our good book (The traveller’s key to ancient Egypt, written by an archaeologist) has an interesting theory about this. Most people think the destruction is due to later Christian or Muslim religious fanatics, but he seems to think there is a systematic pattern to this. The left side is almost totally chiselled out, and the right side untouched.
The theory is that it was done by the priests themselves. The left symbolises the past, which they could see was coming to an end. The right is the future. I like this theory as it could also explain why a lot of the carvings are chiselled out meticulously rather than a heavy handed “sledgehammer” approach of wanton destruction. He also thinks that it could be to remove powerful symbolism and representations of rituals so the knowledge is not passed on to the conquerors, much the same as a pirate would destroy his treasure map so it does not fall in the wrong hands.
Inside the first pylon is a small complex dedicated to Horus on the left. One story is that it is where Isis gave birth to him, and the building describes his life from start to finish. It is interesting as there are a few representations of Isis and Hathor having him suckle. Not just as a baby, but as a toddler and then a young man. On the other side was the medical centre, and you can see the forebear of the current medical symbol of the staff and snakes. Here it is only one snake though. It is used extensively through the entire complex.
Passing through the second pylon, we enter the Hypostal hall. Here the temperature suddenly plummets and is almost cold compared to the heat outside. The carvings are not etched into the stone, but more of a bass relief. They stand out from the rock more than anywhere else we have seen as well. Again, the most interesting thing to see here is the shrine to Osiris. On the second floor, and as with all the very interesting places in Egypt, Closed.
There are a few other unfinished complexes on the island. Including the temple of Hathor. Trajan’s kiosk is probably the most photographed section of the island as it is just the columns beautifully standing proud by themselves. The island was definitely worth the visit, and although small, very impressive. We made our way back to the boat for our return.
Passing around the other side of the island, we got a good view of the temple of Hathor on the waters edge. Back on dry land, we paid the boatie and started to make our way out. He was making a huge fuss. We had spent more than an hour out there and he wanted much more money. In fact we thought it was quite reasonable, it was only a bit over two hours, and we had expected to be there for around three.
Ahmed told us to go sit in the shade and wait for him to deal with it. This took sometime, and we just hope that he had not paid the extra for us. Apparently he has a friend that knows the police here, and a few phone calls sorted out the problem. A quick cup of tea and then back to town.
It was a good day, all in all, and we just have to accept that 99% of all Egyptians are scum and out to screw us for every cent we have. We are not people, not even tourists even. Just walking money bags that are there to be fleeced. If Egypt is not careful it will kill its own tourism business. Having said that, if we were not on such a tight budget, or had a job to return to, we wouldn’t worry as much! As it is such a nice place.