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.

Coordinates: 24°01’30.9″N 32°53’02.2″E

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.

Statuette of Isis nursing the young Horus, Nubian Museum.

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).

David Roberts’ watercolour view of the Island of Philae as it appeared in 1838, with Bigeh in the foreground.

The complex 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.


The Kiosk of Nectanebo I was built in the 30th dynasty to honour Isis. This pillared, roofless hall originally had fourteen Hathor-headed columns, of which only six remain. It is the oldest still-standing temple structure at Philae.
The walls of the Kiosk of Nectanebo I are decorated with reliefs of the king sacrificing to the gods.
The Kiosk of Nectanebo I and the western colonnade of the forecourt of the Temple of Isis.
The Temple of Arensnuphis was built during the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopator in about 2250 BC and extended by Ptolemy V Epiphanes. Arensnuphis was an anthropomorphic Nubian deity from the Kingdom of Kush.
Reliefs on the walls of the Temple of Arensnuphis depicting Ptolemy IV Philopator and Ptolemy V Epiphanes offering gifts before with Isis, Horus and other gods.
The large, paved, trapezoidal forecourt of the Temple of Isis with the eastern colonnade and first pylon of Isis. Construction of the first pylon was begun by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and finished by Ptolemy III Euergetes I, but decorations were also added by their successors.
The forecourt of the Temple of Isis, with its western colonnade, was established in Augustan time.
The 77 m long western colonnade with 32 columns and 12 openings in the rear wall was decorated under Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero. Most of the columns show carvings of Tiberius offering gifts to the gods.
A column in the western colonnade of the forecourt with a bas-relief depicting Tiberius making offerings to the fertility god Min.
A floral column capital with bundled papyrus stalks and volutes from the western colonnade of the forecourt of the Temple of Isis.
View of the First Pylon of the Temple of Isis and the Gate of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The first pylon consists of two 18 m high towers with a gate between them.
The middle gate of the first pylon of the Temple of Isis with representations of Nektanebos I in front of Isis, Osiris-Onnophris, Nephthys and Hathor. On either side of the gate are large representations of the goddess Hathor.
The right facade of the first pylon with reliefs showing king Ptolemy XII before Isis, Osiris, Horus and Hathor (upper register) and Horus between Hathor and Isis (lower register).
The upper register of the western tower of the first pylon shows Ptolemy XII offering a mirror to the gods Osiris and Isis (left) and a menat to Isis and Horus (right).
The lower register of the western tower of the first pylon shows Ptolemy XII beating a group of enemies of Egypt.
The second pylon of the Temple of Isis.
The colonnaded Mammisi (birth house) and left facade of the second pylon showing Ptolemy XII hidden by the back of the Mammisi in front of Osiris-Onnophris and Isis.
The Hathor-headed columns of the Mammisi. The birth house occupies the western area of ​​the second courtyard.
The Mammisi at Philae was associated with the birth of Harpocrates (Horus the Child). The birth house was begun under the Ptolemies and improved upon by the Romans.
The right facade of the second pylon with reliefs showing Ptolemy XII in front of Horus and Hathor. The vertical groove between Hathor and Horus was designed to hold a flag pole.
The Dodekaschoinos stele of Ptolemy IV which records the grant of tax revenues of the Dodekaschoinos region (“Land of the Twelve Schoinoi”) in 157 BC to the Temple.
Behind the second pylon was the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Isis with several annexed chambers.
Bas-relief with scenes of sacrifice inside the Temple of Isis.
On the west side of Philae lies the Gate of Hadrian, a corridor-like passage with decorated side walls which served as a departure point for the ritual barge procession of Isis to the tomb of Osiris on the island of Bigeh.
The Gate of Hadrian features several scenes of the famous Osirian myth as well as reliefs commissioned by Roman emperors Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
On the lintel of the doorway, Hadrian is depicted making offerings to Osiris, Isis, and Horus (right) and to Osiris, Nephthys, and Harendotes (left).
Hadrian making offerings to Osiris, Isis, and Harsiesis (right) and to Osiris, Nephthys, and Harendotes (left).
Hadrian as a pharaoh making offerings to the gods.
Hadrian making offerings to Osiris, Isis, and Harsiesis (Horus the child).
The Gate of Hadrian.
The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom is the last known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was inscribed on Hadrian’s Gate in AD 394.
Translation: “Before Mandulis son of Horus, by the hand of Esmet-Akhom, son of Esmet, the Second Priest of Isis, for all time and eternity. Words were spoken by Mandulis, Lord of the Abaton, great god.”
North wall of the Gate of Hadrian with a representation of the Nile god Hapi crouched in his cave. This scene relates to the source of the Nile.
The northwestern Nilometer is next to the Gate of Hadrian. It reached via an underground staircase.
The Temple of Harendotes (the name of the god Horus in his role as the avenger of his father, Osiris, who was slain by Seth). The temple, which was built under the emperors Claudius and Nero, had four front columns and stood on a platform with a central staircase.
The Gate of Diocletian is a freestanding triumphal arch dedicated to Emperor Diocletian.
The Temple of Augustus and the Gate of Diocletian.
The Temple of Augustus was built by the prefect P. Rubrius Barbarus.
The Temple of Hathor was decorated under Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VIII, and Augustus. The cult of the temple focused on Hathor as the embodiment of the Sun’s Eye that was brought back from Nubia.
The Kiosk of Trajan. This structure is a rectangular chamber surrounded by 14 columns with floral capitals that supported a wooden roof. It is usually attributed to Trajan, but the actual building may date to the reign of Augustus.
The Kiosk of Trajan.
The Kiosk of Trajan was never finished, as only the southern wall was decorated with two offering scenes depicting the emperor Trajan.
Relief depicting Trajan offering wine to Isis and Horus.
The Kiosk of Trajan.
The First Pylon (left) and the Kiosk of Trajan (right).
The Temple of Imhotep was located behind the northern end of the rear wall of the first eastern colonnade. It was dedicated by Ptolemy V, possibly in gratitude for the birth of his son Ptolemy VI.
The outer courtyard of the Temple of Philae.
View of Philae from Lake Nasser.
View of Philae from Lake Nasser.


Hadrian’s Villa

Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) in Tivoli near Rome is an exceptional complex of classical buildings created by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. 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. Almost immediately after becoming Emperor, Hadrian made plans for an imperial villa in the countryside about 30 kilometres east of 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 number of buildings and the originality and complexity of the architectural forms makes the complex a unique monument in the history of ancient architecture.

The Emperor travelled frequently, and whenever he returned to Italy, Tibur was his preferred residence, away from the heat and bustle of Rome. The initial construction of the Villa began a year after Hadrian assumed power when he initiated the renovation of the existing structures into something magnificent. The monumental project was completed about 10 years later, in AD 128, when the Villa became Hadrian’s official residence.

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, extensive gardens, and 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 AD 130, 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. Since Hadrian was very interested in architecture and was himself a capable architect, he likely took part in the design and planning of the Villa.

A detailed study of the buildings, especially the brick stamps, allowed the reconstruction of the chronology of the Hadrianic buildings. Two construction phases, marked by Hadrian’s travels, have been identified. The first phase of construction, which witnessed the greatest amount of building activity, extended until AD 125 when Hadrian returned from the first of his great journeys in Greece and the East. Hadrian resided at the Villa in the summer of 125 and probably stayed there until he embarked on his second journey in 128.

  • Phase I (AD 118-125): Maritime Theatre, Hall of the Philosophers, Heliocaminus Baths, Pecile, Nymphaeum Stadium, Small and Large Baths.
  • Phase II (AD 125-134): Greek and Latin Libraries, Academia, Hundred Chambers, Piazza d’Oro, Canopus, Antinoeion.

After the death of Hadrian in AD 138, his successors occasionally used the Villa. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the Villa fell into disrepair. It 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 by the Italian archaeological authorities and the various foreign academies in Rome.

Many beautiful artefacts 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 was 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.

Coordinates: 41° 56′ 31″ N, 12° 46′ 31″ E


The Pecile is a large artificial terrace with a rectangular pool surrounded by a garden and colonnaded porticoes. It was intended to represent the Stoa Poikile in Athens. Its purpose was to provide an all-weather space for the ambulatio or daily walk.

The monumental quadriporticus surrounding the Pecile is a wall standing 9 metres tall with a monumental entrance at the centre corresponding to the road from the north.

Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Pecile and the Hundred Chambers. The so-called Hundred Chambers created a massive system of substructures for the Pecile, which rose 15 m above the surface on its western side.

The Hundred Chambers building was a series of rooms probably used for storing supplies and housing the servants of the Villa. Located along the western side of the Pecile terrace, it consisted of four stories of rooms (between 125 and 200) accessible using a system of external walkways made of wood and concrete stairs.

The so-called Three Exedras building was a magnificent structure that probably served as a cenatio, or dining hall, with three semi-circular exedrae open on three sides and internal colonnades.

View of one of the three gardens of the Three Exedras building.

The entrance of the Three Exedras building was dominated by a large, rectangular fountain around which were found twelve statue bases.

The Building with a Fish Pond is a large complex on three levels with a pool surrounded by a colonnade composed of forty fluted white marble columns in the composite order.

The Building with a Fish Pond. The structure dates to Phase II (125-133 AD).

The Nymphaeum-Stadium was a large garden with fountains and two pavilions separated by a central plaza.

The Nymphaeum-Stadium and its long rectangular pool.

The Heliocaminus Baths was an elegant bathing complex with opus sectile decorating both floors and walls. It was the oldest bath complex of the Villa, constructed on a portion of the site of the former Republican Villa.

The circular hot room of the bath complex was heated by sunbeams (heliocaminus). The room was roofed by a coffered dome with a central oculus and had large windows.

One of the Villa’s most striking and best-preserved parts consists of a pool named Canopus and the so-called Serapeum, a monumental summer cenatio with a nymphaeum set at the southern end of the Canopus.

The Canopus comprised a terraced valley (ca. 160 m) with a canal (119 x 18 m) along its main axis. Around the canal ran a colonnade, curved on the northern side, single on the western side, and double on the eastern side.

The Canopus was an open-air museum consisting of Roman copies of Classical Greek original statues, larger than life-size. These lavish statues provided a feast for the eyes of banqueters dining in the Serapaeum. The Canopus dates to Phase II (AD 125-133).

The rounded north end of the Canopus.

The middle of the western side of the Canopus, where four Caryatids and two Sileni stood in place of columns. These allude to Athens: the Caryatids to the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, the Sileni to the Hadrianic silenoi decorating the stage of the Theater of Dionysus.

The rounded north end of the Canopus.

Statues of Ares and an Amazon (Mattei type) in the Antiquarium of the Canopus. The Amazons are copies of statues in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

Statues of an Amazon (Sciarra type) and Hermes in the Antiquarium of the Canopus.

The Antiquarium of the Canopus. Statues of a crocodile and personifications of the Nile and Tiber have also been found near the Canopus.

The so-called Serapeum was dominated by a half-dome under which was constructed a semi-circular stibadium (13) on which banqueters reclined in the open air.

The Piazza d’Oro (Golden Hall) is located on the northern edge of the Villa. It was a vast building with a quadriporticus garden and water basins.

Side view of the main entrance of the Piazza comprised of a vaulted vestibule and related rooms.

The quadriporticus garden of Piazza d’Oro is a rectangular open court filled with flower beds and water basins.

The southern side of Piazza d’Oro had a cenatio and perhaps a library suited for a cultured emperor like Hadrian.

The Maritime Theatre was a complex with 35 rooms separated by a marble-lined canal from a circular colonnaded enclosure paved in white mosaic.

The colonnaded porch of the Maritime Theatre. The “island” rooms, paved in opus sectile, were accessible at entrances using two retractable wooden bridges.

The design was inspired by the Roman house with an atrium in the middle centred on a basin comparable to an impluvium.

The complex, generally thought to have been dedicated to Hadrian’s personal use, dates to Phase I (AD 118-125).

Hadrian’s Villa.

The large semi-circular Nymphaeum is located on the southern side of Piazza d’Oro, where water flows from seven niches. A basin collected the water at the foot of the niches, pouring into the long central basin and the garden’s fountains.

Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Piazza d’Oro (Golden Hall) and the Gladiator’s Arena. The plan of Piazza d’Oro is very similar to Hadrian’s Stoa in Athens, a library built by Hadrian during the same period (AD 123-125).

The Triclinium (probably a summer cenatio) is located on the eastern side of the Piazza d’Oro with a vaulted ceiling and niches on the rear wall from which water flows into an ellipsoid basin.

The Building with Doric Pillars was located between the Imperial Palace and the Guard Barracks. It was a rectangular space with a portico delimited by pillars connected by an architrave of the Doric order (hence the structure’s name).

View of the southeast corner of the Doric portico. The hall may well have been used for imperial meetings and audiences. The structure dates to Phase I (AD 118-125).

The Large Baths. The structure dates to Phase I (AD 118-125).

One of the frigidaria inside the Large Baths.

Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Small Baths (left) and the Large Baths (right).

The ceiling inside the Large Baths was decorated with stucco, geometric motifs, and figured medallions.

View of the remains of the Antinoeion, a sacred precinct devoted to Antinous with two temples. The structure dates to ca. AD 134.

The double paved way leading to the Grande Vestibolo next to the Antinoeion.

Hadrian’s Villa.

The Imperial Triclinium (dining room) of the Terrace Temple.

The Imperial Triclinium (dining room) of the Terrace Temple.

The Imperial Palace with a series of rooms disposed along the sides of one of the five peristyles of the complex.

The exedra of the Nymphaeum is located south of the peristyle in the Imperial Palace.

Opus sectile pavement in the Imperial Palace.

Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Imperial Palace.

The Hospitalia was a two-story building with 10 guest rooms on the first floor behind a long and wide central hallway, at the southern end of which was a hall. The structure dates to the first phase (118-125 AD).

The surviving rooms have three alcoves for three beds; the floors are paved in black and white mosaic with geometric and floral designs. The rooms had frescoes with mythological scenes.

Black and white mosaic in one of the rooms of the Hospitalia with geometric and floral motifs.

Black and white mosaic in one of the rooms of the Hospitalia with geometric and floral motifs.

The circular Temple of Venus was built in the Doric order. A statue of Venus of the Cnidian type was found in the middle of the cella.

The round Temple of Venus.

Links and websites referenced:


  • Adembri, Benedetta. “Hadrian’s Villa”. Electa: Milan, 2000.
  • William L. MacDonald, John A. Pinto: Hadrian’s Villa and Its Legacy:, Yale University Press, 1997.
  • Marina De Franceschini: Villa Adriana, mosaici, pavimenti, edifici, Rome 1991.
  • Chiara Morselli: Hadrian’s Villa – Past and Present, 1995.

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