thousands of years, a beautiful ancient Egyptian temple stood on the island of
Philae on the Nile river near Aswan. One of the best-preserved Ptolemaic
temples, its graceful columns stood as proudly at the turn of this century as
they had when Egyptians first constructed the temple around 380 B.C. But
the original Aswan Dam, built in 1898, created an artificial lake that
partially submerged the island and its sacred temple; boats drifted among
hieroglyph-inscribed pillars and walls. Then, as construction of the High Dam
began in the 1960s, authorities realized the temple faced an even greater
threat: soon the rising waters would completely drown the ancient site.
Between 1972 and 1980, a heroic feat of engineering orchestrated by the
Egyptian government and UNESCO succeeded in rescuing the temple. In 1977,
workers built a cofferdam around the temple and pumped out all water inside.
Next, they took apart Philae's various temples block by block, numbering each
piece and recording its precise location. Then, stone by stone, workers rebuilt
the temples on the nearby, still dry island Agilkai, which officials chose
because it bore a remarkable resemblance to Philae. In 1980, the temple of
Philae reopened to the public.
Principal source: Art and History of Egypt, by Alberto Carlo Carpiceci
(Florence: Bonechi Press, 1998)
Photo: Corbis/Otto Lang
Support provided by
For new content
visit the redesigned