The original island of Philae was the site of an Egyptian temple complex in the Nile that now lies submerged beneath the waters of Lake Nasser to the south of Aswan in southern Egypt. It was originally located near the First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt but was dismantled and moved to nearby Agilkia Island when the Aswan High Dam was built in the 1960s. This beautiful temple complex was the cult centre of Isis who was venerated from the Pharaonic era until at least AD 550. Philae, together with Abu Simbel, and other nearby ruins, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
The island of Philae was an important sacred site dedicated to Isis and by extension to her husband-brother Osiris. The adjacent island of Bigeh was said to be one of the burying-places of Osiris, and both islands formed a temple complex in which the ritual focus was on the tomb of Osiris on the island of Bigeh. Every tenth day and on festival days, the statue of Isis travelled accompanied by priests by boat or bark across from Philae to visit the tomb of Osiris.
The myth of Isis and Osiris dates back to the very beginning of pharaonic civilization. It tells the story of Isis, the great goddess and wife of Osiris, and her journey throughout the country in search of the pieces of her husband’s body after he had been assassinated and dismembered by his brother Seth. She put Osiris’ body back together, mummified him and magically brought him back to life. She then copulated with him, conceiving their son, Horus. Rulers in Egypt and Nubia built temples dedicated primarily to Isis, and her temple at Philae was a religious centre for Egyptians and Nubians alike where she was described as the protectress of the entire nation. Isis’ popularity increased over time, and her worship was greatest during the Graeco-Roman period and spread to other parts of the Roman empire.
Construction on the island of Philae began around 690 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Taharqa of the 25th Dynasty. The first religious building was likely a shrine which was probably dedicated to Amun. The earliest known evidence of Isis-worship was a small kiosk built by Psamtik II of the 26th Dynasty (595 BC – 589 BC) which was found dismantled and reused in the Ptolemaic structures. However, the oldest structure still standing dates from the time of Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty (circa 370 BC) who constructed the enclosure walls and a monumental gate. He also built a kiosk and began the construction of the Mammissi (the birth house).
The complex of structures of the Temple of Isis was completed under the reigns of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Ptolemy V Epiphanes, and Ptolemy VI Philometor (282-145 BC) and continued through the Roman period. Several Roman emperors made artistic and architectural contributions to Philae. While most of the architectural additions date to the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the island continued to receive contributions to its temples up to the time of Diocletian. Augustus built a temple at the northern end of Philae in 9 BC, Tiberius and Nero added reliefs and inscriptions, and Hadrian added a gate west of the complex leading to the island of Bigeh.
The main building complex of Philae is the Great Temple of Isis located in the centre of the island. It was erected during the third and second centuries BC and decorated from the time of Ptolemy II onward. There are also several smaller temples and shrines dedicated to other deities and Pharaohs and at least two Nilomemters.
Philae is the site of the last known inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphs, written in AD 394, and the last known Demotic inscription, written in 452. So strong was the popularity of Isis on Philae that her cult continued there for centuries until at least AD 550 when the Byzantine emperor Justinian had the priests arrested and the statues taken to Constantinople. However, Philae was not destroyed but turned into a church, and two other Coptic churches were built.
As part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign project, the whole temple complex was dismantled and moved from its original location on Philae Island to its new location on Agilkia Island after the flooding of Lake Nasser. The reconstruction at the current site painstakingly preserved the original appearance and layout of the complex and even landscaped the island to match its former location.
Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) in Tivoli near Rome is an exceptional complex of classical buildings created by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. Almost immediately after becoming emperor, Hadrian made plans for an imperial villa in the countryside about 30 kilometres east of Rome. In ancient times it occupied about 120 hectares of land and was designed as an ‘ideal city’, combing the best elements of the architectural heritage of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Hadrian’s Villa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important cultural and archaeological site.
Thanks to the abundance of water and the beautiful hilly landscapes, the city of Tivoli, formerly known as Tibur, had been a popular retreat for important individuals and especially senators since the Republican era. Indeed, Hadrian created his Imperial residence on the site of a small Republican villa, possibly built on land owned by his wife Vibia Sabina (see map of pre-existing Republican and Augustan structures here). Occupying a low plain on the slopes of the Tiburtine Hills, Hadrian’s Villa was the richest and largest villa of the Roman Empire, generously spread out over 120 hectares (an area larger than Pompeii). The quantity of buildings, the originality and complexity of the architectural forms make the complex a unique monument in the history of ancient architecture.
The initial construction of the villa began a year after Hadrian’s assumption of power when he initiated the renovation of the existing structures into something magnificent. The monumental project was completed about 10 years later in 128 AD when the villa became Hadrian’s official residence. The Emperor travelled frequently and whenever he returned to Italy, Tibur was his preferred residence, away from the heat and bustle of Rome.
Designed for both business and pleasure, the villa contained many rooms that could accommodate large gatherings. A large court lived there permanently and many visitors and bureaucrats were entertained and temporarily housed on site. The vast residential complex was therefore almost always teeming with people. The servants lived in hidden rooms and moved around the site through a series of service tunnels which allowed them to transport the goods from one area to another, well out of sight of the emperor.
Archaeologists have identified some 30 buildings including palaces, thermal baths, a theatre, libraries, living quarters for the elite, lodgings for the servants as well as extensive gardens and dozens of fountains. Because Hadrian wanted to surround himself with reminders of his travels throughout the vast territories of the Empire, many structures had features and decorative sculptures copied from the various places the emperor visited.
His villa at Tibur was marvellously constructed, and he actually gave to parts of it the names of provinces and places of the greatest renown, calling them, for instance, Lyceum, Academia, Prytaneum, Canopus, Poecile and Tempe. And in order not to omit anything, he even made a Hades. Historia Augusta
Named for the ancient city near Alexandria in Egypt, the Canopus is believed to represent the Nile Delta that Hadrian visited in 130 AD where his lover Antinous drowned that same year. The colonnade of the Canopus was supported by caryatids like those of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens. Greek and Egyptian culture and architecture were obviously reflected in his villa and since Hadrian was very interested in architecture and was himself a capable architect, it is highly likely that he took part in the design and planning of the villa.
A detailed study of the buildings, and especially of the brick stamps, allowed the reconstruction of the chronology of the hadrianic buildings. Two phases of constructions, marked by the travels of Hadrian, have been identified. The first phase of construction, which witnessed the greatest amount of building activity, extended until 125 AD when Hadrian returned from the first of his great journeys in Greece and in the East. Hadrian resided at the villa in the summer of 125 AD and probably stayed there until he embarked on his second journey in 128 AD.
Phase I (118-125 AD): Maritime Theatre, Hall of the Philosophers, Heliocaminus Baths, Pecile, Nymphaeum Stadium, Small and Large Baths.
Phase II (125-134 AD): Greek and Latin Libraries, Academia, Hundred Chambers, Piazza d’Oro, Canopus, Antinoeion.
After the death of Hadrian in 138 AD the villa was occasionally used by his various successors. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the villa fell into disrepair and was taken apart piece by piece over the centuries, with one local cardinal stripping off marble in the 16th century to build his own Villa d’Este located nearby. Proper excavations only started in 1870 by the Italian government and continue even today in part by the Italian archaeological authorities, in part by the various foreign academies in Rome.
Many beautiful artifacts have been unearthed at the Villa including marble statues, frescoes, mosaics and ornate architecture. Most statues have been removed from the villa, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, and are now displayed in major antiquities collections elsewhere in Europe and North America.
One of the most recent discoveries made in Hadrian’s Villa were the remains of a temple complex devoted to Antinous (the Antinoeion) which consisted of two small twin temples facing each other in front of a semi-circular colonnaded exedra.