The Silk Route - World Travel: Abu Simbel, Egypt

Egypt: Aswan, Philae, Abu Simbel, Kom Ombo & Edfu
1989 & 2000

Temple of Horus at Edfu Temple of Horus & Sobek at Kom Ombo Temple of Isis at Philae Aswan Abu Simbel
Horus at the Temple of Edfu

By felucca on the tranquil Nile we explored the sites around Elephantine Island.

The atmospheric Temple of Isis at Philae is unlike any other temple location and a huge contrast to the power and magnificence of Abu Simbel. On the way north Kom Ombo and massive Edfu also lie close to the life-giving Nile.




Some of the gods:
Amun: god of Thebes
Atum:creator god of Heliopolis, identified with Re
Hathor: the cow goddess, wife to Horus
Horus: the falcon god, son of Isis and Osiris
Isis: goddess of motherhood and rebirth, wife of Osiris
Mut: primal creator goddess, wife of Amun
Nut: sky goddess, shown with arched body to form heaven
Osiris: god of the dead
Ptah: creator god of Memphis
Re: the great sun god of Heliopolis, often linked with other gods
Re-Herakhte: falcon-headed god, fusion of Re and Horus
Seth: brother and murderer of Osiris
Sobek: crocodile god

The legend of Isis and Osiris tells how, when his brother Seth killed Osiris, dismembered and scattered his body, Isis searched out the pieces and, putting them together, restored Osiris to life in the Underworld where he reigned.



Aswan Oberoi
Aswan Oberoi 1989

Elephantine Island lies north of the First Cataract of the Nile and 210 km south of Luxor. Here an important trading centre was located as far back as 3000 B.C. Aswan itself is thought to have been originally the market for this city and does not appear in texts until the 20th Dynasty (around 1100B.C.).1,2

feluccas on the Nile
Botanical Island
Friendship Monument to Russia for help in building the Aswan Dam.

In 1989 we stayed at the Aswan Oberoi on Elephantine Island. We loved the excursions on the river in the traditional feluccas.

Aswan Oberoi
Aswan Oberoi
Christmas dinner entertainment at the Aswan Oberoi.
Aswan Oberoi
Xmas Dinner Menu at the Aswan Oberoi printed on papyrus:
Rabbit Terrine
on Cherry Aspic (Jelly)
Bouillabaisse Marseillaise
Graved Salmon [gravlax] on Asparagus Dill Foam
Veal Rack in Herbs Coat
with Morei Potatoes in Puff Paste
Tom Turkey
Chestnut Stuffing
Cognac Figs with Strawberry Parfait
Xmas Pudding
Chocolat Mint

The old British Aswan Dam is 5km south of Aswan, built between 1898 and 1902. A need for more power for industrial expansion and more land for cultivation to support Egypt's burgeoning population led to the construction of the High Dam a further 6km up river in the 1960s with Soviet help.

On the Nile
On the Nile
On the Nile
On the Nile


We had a wonderful majestic boatman on our felucca, helped by a young boy.


On the Nile
Boatmen chat in the shade.


The Aga Khan's Mausoleum is a simple building which fits into the landscape beautifully with its clean lines and pink granite construction.

The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shi'ite sect, who died in 1957, spent the winters here in his white villa which is just below the mausoleum.

There is a terrific view over the Nile from here.

Nile view
View from the Aga Khan's Mausoleum.
Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
Mausoleum of the Aga Khan.



Monument to Russian Friendship
Giant poinsettia bushes on Botanical Island.

Botanical Island boasts tropical, Asian and African plants - an enjoyable change of scenery in this desert region! It is also known as Kitchener Island, as it was presented to him while he was Consul General of Egypt, and here he grew flowers brought from all over the Middle and Far East.

sunset on the Nile
Old Cataract Hotel
The terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel.

We visited the stone quarries where much of the pink and red granite came from, destined for statues, columns and obelisks in temples throughout ancient Egypt. There is an unfinished obelisk which would have weighed over a million tons if it had been completed but a flaw was discovered.

After visiting the Temple of Isis at Philae we had gin and tonics at the Old Cataract Hotel on the banks of the Nile. Dating from the time of the British it was always very opulent and many famous people have stayed here including Agatha Christie who incorporated the hotel into her book "Death on the Nile" - the film was made here too.



The Temple of Isis at Philae

Temple of Isis


The Temple of Isis originally stood on the Island of Philae below the First Cataract at Aswan, the original dam built by the British at the end of the nineteenth century. Even then it was flooded for half the year but when the High Dam at Aswan was built, 6 km up river, the temple was almost completely submerged. When the waters partially receded it was subject to very destructive tidal-like forces.1,2

A decision was made to remove the temple, stone by stone, to the nearby island of Agilqiyyah and there re-erect it.

The temple, seen on the approach by boat, is very atmospheric.

Temple of Isis
The western colonnade with floral capitals.
Temple of Isis
First Pylon and eastern colonnade.
Temple of Isis
The First Pylon is on the right; behind it is the columned Birth House and the Second Pylon.

Two long colonnades line the outer temple court which leads to the First Pylon of the Temple of Isis.

The left side of the First Pylon has a very typical carving of the pharaoh, in this case Ptolemy XII, grasping a number of enemies by the hair prior to striking them with a club.


Temple of Isis
The Second Pylon.

The Birth House, situated just behind the First Pylon and before the Second Pylon, is a feature of Ptolemaic temples.

Each pharaoh legitimised his dynasty by demonstrating descent from the god Horus, in a ritual association with the god's birth, celebrated in the Birth House.

Temple of Isis
Hathor-headed columns of the Birth House
Temple of Isis


Temple of Isis

On the western edge of the island the distinctive Kiosk of Trajan stands above the Nile. Floral capitals top the columns of this small rectangular building which is otherwise rather austere as it was never finished.

Temple of Isis
Kiosk of Trajan


Abu Simbel

abu simbel

280km south of Aswan are the remarkable re-sited temples of Abu Simbel, originally built at the southern borders of Egypt by Ramses II to display the might of Egypt to travellers venturing north.

abu simbel
Temple of Re-Herakhte


abu simbel
abu simbel




When threatened by the waters of Lake Nasser, which rose after the building of  the High Dam, the ambitious decision to move the temples was made.

In an impressive feat of engineering the temples were painstakingly carved into blocks, catalogued, moved to the current site and reassembled in artificial cliffs exactly as in the originals.

abu simbel
The Ramses colossi on the Temple of Re-Herakhte - the faces are particularly beautiful.



The largest temple is the Temple of Re-Herakhte, with its four enthroned colossi of Ramses II on the facade, one cracked, the pieces lying where they fell.

Each statue is 20m high and hugely impressive.  In this temple Ramses identifies himself with Re-Herakhte, the falcon-headed sun god.


abu simbel
abu simbel

The smaller statues at the feet of Ramses are members of the Royal Family including Queen Nefertari.
abu simbel
abu simbel
Huge Ramses statues inside the Temple of Re-Herakhte.
abu simbel
Inside the Temple of Re-Herakhte.
abu simbel
abu simbel
The Inner Sanctuary in the Temple of Re-Herakhte.
Ptah, Amun, Ramses and Re-Herakhte.

Inside is an impressive Hypostyle Hall with depictions on the walls of the Battle of Kadesh - a battle which was not as great a victory as Ramses would have liked as he failed to take the Hittite city of Kadesh.2

Lining the central aisle are 10m high Ramses figures leading to the Inner Sanctuary where four seated deities are carved out of the rear wall: Ptah, god of Memphis, Amun, god of Thebes, the divinised Ramses and Re-Herakhte.

abu simbel
abu simbel
Queen Nefertari in the Temple of Hathor.

abu simbel
Temple of Hathor
Nefertari is flanked by statues of her husband, Ramses II.

The smaller Temple of Hathor has four colossi of a striding Ramses and two of Nefertari, his favoured and much-loved wife.

Nefertari is identified with Hathor, wife to the sun god Re-Herakhte during his daily passage across the sky and mother to his rebirth.

abu simbel
abu simbel


The Temple of Horus and Sobek at Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo

25 miles north of Aswan, facing west overlooking the Nile, this Ptolemaic/Roman temple stands on a low promontory. The northern part of the temple is dedicated to Horus and the southern to the crocodile god Sobek.

medical instruments at Kom Ombo


medical instruments at Kom Ombo
Medical instruments including shears, hooks, saws and a set of scales.


On the north section of the outer wall, in the north east corner, is a famous carving of Roman-era medical instruments.

Here the ornate capitals of the columns reflect Greek influence.

Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo
Vultures decorate this ceiling.

Kom Ombo


The Temple of Horus at Edfu

The massive entrance pylon rises to a height of over 44m.


Edfu, on the west bank of the Nile, lies mid-way between Luxor and Aswan. Only Karnak is larger than this sandstone Ptolemaic temple which was finished by the mid 1st century B.C. Due to wars and changing dynasties it took almost 200 years to complete with the pylon being the final structure built when Ptolemy Auretes was pharaoh.3



The temple is entered through the great pylon which is carved with the figures of Ptolemy Auletes striking his enemies while Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera look on.

The beautiful courtyard behind the pylons with floral and palm leaf columns.
Horua at the Temple of Edfu

Horus, the falcon-god, is one of the most important of ancient Egyptian deities. Legend relates that he defeated rebels in many battles along the Nile while the god Re-Herakhte, the king of the gods, was in Nubia. Amongst the rebels were the god Seth and his followers who returned in the form of crocodiles and hippopotami. Horus drove them east to the borders of Egypt where he assumed the form of a winged solar disk which became the emblem of protection against evil and can be seen guarding the gateways to temples.

Through the pylon facade is a large courtyard which has beautifully carved columns on three sides.

The walls behind the colonnade are also elaborately carved and include depictions of the annual journey of Hathor to Edfu. Opposite the pylon is the entrance to the pronaos and the temple proper.

An unusual feature of the site is the enclosing wall around the rear of the temple which creates a walkway. Among the carvings on the walls look for the killing of the rebels as crocodiles and hippopotami.


  1. Egypt Times Bartholomew Guide, Times Books, 1986
  2. Egypt Michael Haag, Cadogan, 1999.
  3. The Temple of Edfu, Simpkins Splendor of Egypt, 1983