Guide to the Great Pyramids of Giza

The number one thing to see on any trip to Egypt is of course, the Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are located in Giza, a stone’s throw away from Cairo and are easy to visit (although going with a guide is still recommended.)

Contents:

About the Great Pyramids of Giza           

The Giza pyramid complex is composed of 9 pyramids in total. The 3 large pyramids were built in order to house the remains of the deceased pharaohs of Egypt and the smaller pyramids in sets of 3 were built to hold queens/ family members. The pyramid structure was a religious symbol in thought that at the highest point, they would touch the sky. The belief was that the king’s spirit would continue on as a god of the sky and would rise and set with the sun- so being close to the sky was of vast importance. Each pyramid would additionally have at least one mortuary temple built for the pharaoh and used only once to celebrate that king’s life and perform the mummy rituals preparing for afterlife.

Things to see at the pyramids:

The Great pyramid (also known as the pyramid of Khufu)

The Great Pyramid is the oldest and largest of the pyramids. It’s also the oldest, most intact building of the Seven Wonders of the Anicent World. It was the first pyramid to be built and is estimated to have taken 27 years and was completed sometime around 26 BC. The dimensions of the pyramid are a base length of 756.4 ft. (230 m) and height of 481.4 ft. (147m).

The structure of the pyramid

There are 3 chambers known inside the pyramid- a base chamber, the queen’s chamber, and the king’s chamber. The royal chambers contained granite sarcophagus and were located fairly high up within the pyramid structure. The pyramid was built with many different types of rock with the most notable including giant granite blocks quarried from Aswan used for the king’s chamber, and white polished limestone for the outside. It’s estimated to be built from 2.3 million blocks of limestone making the pyramid structure almost entirely filled with stone apart from small shafts and the 3 known chambers.  There’s only a small amount of the white polished limestone left visible along the base of the temple so what is visible now on the outside is NOT what the finished pyramid would have looked like when it was built. (It would have been smooth and polished)

Building the great pyramid:

Other things to note about the great pyramid is that it was estimated to have taken an average of 13,200 laborers to complete this pyramid within 27 years with a peak workforce of 40,000 people at a time. Based on findings in excavated laborer camps near the pyramid, it’s believed the pyramid was not actually built from slave labor, but more of a conscript workforce.

The pyramid was built for King Khufu who ruled during the 4th dynasty of the Old Kingdom. (most other archeological sites in Egypt are from the New Kingdom or younger) Not much is known about Khufu’s reign besides the great pyramid and the only preserved portrait of the king is a small 3-in ivory figurine that was in a temple ruin at Abydos.

The 3 subsidiary pyramids known as the Queen’s pyramids that were also built by Khufu and are still in good shape today.

Going inside the pyramid

A visit to the inside of the Great Temple costs about $20 more per person and you only see plain hallways of stone. If we’d had time we would have considered it just for the experience of entering a pyramid. If you are clausterphobic it is not recommend. Unlike the valley of the kings, the walls are unadorned and the hallways tight, dark, and smelly. So, it’s up to you on how worth it you think it is.

This is the highest you can climb up on the outside of the pyramids and it is right to the entrance of the Great Pyramid if you have tickets to go inside. We didn’t go inside, but we still climbed up there to check out the view from the entrance.

The Pyramid of Khafre

This is the second-tallest and largest of the 3 Ancient Pyramids of Giza. It’s notable for the polished limestone cap that shows what all 3 pyramids would have looked like in their entirety back in the day. It appears from some angles as the largest pyramid due to the ground height it is built on. It was frowned on to build a pyramid taller than your predecessor, so Khafre found a way around this by building a smaller pyramid but on bedrock 33 feet (10m) higher than Khufu’s.

The Mortuary and Valley Temples of Khafre

The temples of Khafre’s complex survived much better than Khufu’s. The temple is most notably known for its proximity to the Sphinx although the Spinx itself is not attested to any king. (more on that below) That temple once contained 24 statues of Khafre that are now only represented by depressions in the floor where they used to be. The mortuary temple, although in ruins, has enough remaining to understand the layout. It’s notable for being the first mortuary temple to include all 5 standard elements of later temples: an entrance hall, a columned courtyard, 5 niches for statues, 5 storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary.

The temple is awesome and while we didn’t spend much time exploring there, it’s definitely worth heading in for the best side view of the Sphinx!

Sphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza is made of limestone facing directly west to east. While there’s no direct documentation linking the Pharoah Khafre with the Sphinx, the plans for his temples surrounding it as well as similarities in the carved face to his statues point to him commissioning the statue. The purpose of the statue is unknown. Our guide told us a theory of there already being a large rock formation there (or even a more ancient statue) that was in the way of Khafre’s temples. Instead of dismantling it, it would be less work to just carve the bedrock stone into a statue itself.

Regardless of the reason, the sphinx is an impressive and legendary site to see in person. It measures 240 feet long (73 m) from paw to tail, and 66 ft. (20 m) high from the base to the top of the head. It’s best seen from the Valley Temple while visiting in there although make sure to capture it head on before entering the temple.

The pyramid of Menkaure

The final pyramid of the 3 main pyramids at Giza is thought to be the tomb of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Menkaure. Like its predecessors, it was constructed of limestone and Aswan granite. However, this pyramid was unfinished and several of the casing blocks are visibly unfinished as well. This pyramid gives great clues at the construction methods used by the old kingdom stone masons.

Panorama Point

The best spot for photos with the pyramids in the background. You’ll want to take your hired car, or if you’re on a tour, wait to be driven out to this spot. It would be an awfully long walk from the main pyramid entrance.

How long do you need for your visit to the pyramids?

To walk around the outside of the pyramids and visit the Sphinx and Mortuary Temple, you only need about 1- 1.5 hours. If you want to take a camel ride, or go inside the pyramid then you will need to add more time. We did a 40 minute camel ride but had less time to visit the temple so we only spent around 2 hours total here.

Is a camel ride worth it?

This is a pretty controversial question and since everyone has different experiences, you may not always get the same answer. Based on our experience, I would say YES (read more below), but know what to expect. Here are the pros and cons based on our experience:

Pros:

  • Some trails and vantage points are just not doable by foot but taking a long camel ride will give you more perspectives of the pyramids
  • Amazing photos in general with the camels
  • A memorable experience

Cons:

  • Like all of Egypt- this experience is prone to scammers and overly zealous tip collectors .
  • Not all camels were in the best of shape.
  • Riding down hill is challenging and camels might not be the most comfortable experience on your body

Read my separate post here for more info on our experience and tips to make the best of your camel ride.

Where to stay for a visit to the Pyramids of Giza?

Steigenberger Pyramids Golf Hotel $50+ – Luxury hotel feel on a budget wallet. The hotel has a pool with pyramid views. Some rooms have pyramid views and others have views of the new museum. Once the new museum is complete, this hotel is across the street in an unbeatable location. We stayed here and sadly only had like 6 hours in the hotel due to late flight in, and early flight out. We didn’t get to enjoy the pool but our room was very comfortable and the breakfast box the hotel provided for our flight was the BEST of our entire trip.

Other hotels of note:

Hayat $30+ Budget friendly and still within walking distance of the pyramids

Marriot Mena house – $200+ – Walking distance to the pyramids, very safe, and VERY nice. Easily the best pool.

Top things to see on Luxor’s West Bank

When most people think of Egypt, the pyramids and Memphis (the old kingdom capital) come to mind first. Luxor (ancient day Thebes) holds a huge part of story and is not to be missed, from soaring temples constructed through the ages and bright colorful tombs buried beneath the earth- Luxor holds the key to understanding and learning some of the most interesting parts of Egypt’s history.

Like 2 sides of a coin, there’s 2 banks of Luxor and they each hold different types of archeological sites and different historical importance. The East bank is where people live, work, worship… it’s where you’ll find a lot of the temples as the sun rises in the East- this represents life.

The West Bank, where the sun sets, represents a journey of the dead to the afterlife. This is where you will find mortuary temples (temples created for preparing the kings for burial) and the magnificent tombs that were built to help guide their occupants to a successful here-after.

Contents:

Both banks have lots to see and do so this post will focus on the west bank specifically.

Top things to see in Luxor’s west bank

Valley of the Kings

The valley of the kings is made up of at least 63 known tombs with 20 or so belonging to known kings. The tombs are not as grand in scale as the temples and are mostly devoid of any antiquity now- however the art work on the walls is really impressive to see. The colors are all original and almost all the wall space (including the ceilings) is covered. The way the tombs have been preserved against time is really incredible to witness in person, as is walking the steep narrow corridors down into the rock. For more information and photos from our visit, check my valley of the kings post here.

The Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut

This temple is unlike any of the others you will see on your visit and is widely considered a great architectural wonder of the world. It is cut into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari (another name used for it) and involves many floors and terrances. It took 15 years to build during the reign of legendary Queen Hatshepsut (which makes this temple worth visiting to honor Hatshepsut alone).

The temple is primarily dedicated to the god Amun (whom Hatshepsut used to legitimize her reign) and includes shrines to 2 other gods – Hathor and Anubis. It is a quick stop taking maybe an hour or so and definitely worth seeing when visiting the other west bank monuments. Read more about this incredible temple in my post here.

Ramesseum

The Ramesseum is a mortuary temple dedicated to Ramesses II. (Same guy that built a LOT of temples during his long reign) This temple doesn’t often make it into a must do for people with shorter itineraries but looks like a great stop and will have less crowds if you’re visiting during the busy season. We didn’t have time on our day tour but we did marvel at the site from the air during our hot air balloon tour.

Colossi of Memnon

The two massive statues are of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III and greet all visitors on the main road to the west bank of Luxor. They are built from quartzite sandstone which was quarried down river near Cairo and transported 420 miles (675 km) overland to their present site.

They used to stand guard at the entrance to the pharaoh’s massive mortuary temple, which at the time was larger even than the temple of Karnak. The temple is all in ruins however due to being in a major flood plain for the Nile and potential dismembering from successors in the later dynasty’s to build their own temples. They are free to visit and a quick stop.

Hot Air Balloon tour

If you’re visiting Luxor and have a hot air balloon experience on your bucket-list, I can’t recommend this tour enough. There is nothing life being sky bound in the early morning- watching the sunrise over the east bank of the Nile and witnessing the lights of the west bank monuments flicker off. The air is crisp and silent, punctuated only by the jet of hot air filling the balloon and all around you can see other hot air balloons flying on the wind.

You get a birds eye view of so many of the west bank archeological site but on top of that, get to experience the wonder of feeling like you’re part of a balloon festival. Even during the low tourist season, there were around 20 balloons in flight and I just can’t really emphasize how incredible this experience is. For more photos and information from our tour, you can see my post here.

Valley of the Queens – Nefetari’s tomb

The Valley of the Queen’s is where the wives of pharaohs were buried in ancient times since valley of the kings was a more privileged (and too small) of a valley to bury everyone. The main valley contains at least 91 known tombs dating back to the same dynasties as the valley of the kings. We didn’t have time to visit this valley but the main thing to see there is Queen Nefetari’s tomb.

Queen Nefetari is the same queen honored at Abu Simbel’s smaller temple and was a very revered queen of the time. Her tomb is the most expensive tomb you can visit but for good reason. It is the single best preserved tomb and resembles how it would have looked at the time it was built with white plaster and colors all in original condition. If you want to actually get a clear picture of what the colors on the walls looked like, a trip to this elaborate tomb is worth it.

Cost to visit is 1400 EGP ($90 USD) per person.

If you have more time (2 days to see the west bank)

Mortuary Temple of Ramesses  III

Mortuary temples are temples built to honor a pharaoh instead of a god. This temple was built for Ramesses III (who consequently has a beautiful tomb as well in the valley of the kings). It has impressively large pylons (gates) at the entrance and few adventurous corners to explore. It’s best known for inscribed reliefs depicting the king’s defeat of the sea peoples during his reign.

Valley of the Artisans (Deir El-Medina)

These are the tombs of the highly skilled artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the kings. It is an ancient village which gives insight to the lives of the laborers during their work on the elaborate tombs over in the valley of the kings. The tombs here are less extravagant and much smaller but worth the time if you have 2 days.

Temple of Seti I

This temple was begun by Seti I and was completed again by Ramesses II after Seti I’s death. It is dedicated to Amun-Re. This is another cool spot to check out if you’re visiting during crowded peak season and want to have a temple more to yourself.

Howard Carter House

Howard Carter lived from 1874-1939 and was a famous English archeologist and Egyptologist. He’s best known for his discovery of the intact tombs of King Tut in 1922. His house on the west bank of Luxor has been preserved and turned into a museum so stepping into it feels like stepping back 100 years into the real life of an archaeologist. If you’re a fan of archeology and learning about how these ancient wonders were discovered- this is a great stop.

And there you have it. I wish we had more time to see more of the West Bank but our already lengthy tour did not plan for it. I definitely think there are some must do’s on this list as with all things in Egypt, you kind of have to be there to really experience the wonder and history. Which places on the west bank are on your list?

Guide to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple

This temple is unlike any of the others you will see on your visit and is widely considered a great architectural wonder of the world. It is cut into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari (another name used for it) and involves many floors and terraces.

About Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut is somewhat a controversial character with some legends depicting her as good, and others… power hungry. She came to power through somewhat dubious, albeit justified means. She had perfect blood lines, being both a daughter, sister, and wife of a king and a great knowledge of religion to establish herself as wife of the god Amun. She was the chief wife of Thutmose II and when he died- became a joint ruler with her step son Thutmose III (who was only 2 at the time). This is where the controversy begins.

She assumed the position of pharaoh and sent her step son away from the capital to be raised. Some reports claim she sent Thutmose III away for safety until he was old enough to assume the throne himself. Others claim that even once he was old enough, instead of being allowed back to the capital he was sent on military campaigns while Queen Hatshepsut maintained the exalted position of Pharaoh.

This second option seems the most likely to be true as there are records of Thutmose III’s military campaigns and evidence of Thutmose III’s great displeasure with his step mom. Once she died, her step son either destroyed or replaced many of her religious depictions with himself both at this temple and others she had contributed to.

Regardless of her motivations, her reign was largely successful and she is regarded as one of the first major female players in history. She established new trade routes and became one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt. Her reign is not known in total length but is estimated to be around 20 years. (a very successful reign for the time)

About the mortuary temple

The temple is primarily dedicated to the god Amun (whom Hatshepsut used to legitimize her reign) although it includes shrines to 2 other gods.

The shrine to Hathor

Hathor is venerated on the left side of the temple with a small portico containing scenes of Hathor being fed by Hathsepsut and 4 columns with Hathor capitals. This then leads into 2 hypostyle halls- one contains 12 columns and the second contains 16 columns. Beyond these is a vestibule containing a sanctuary depicting Hathor with Hatshepsut – who represented herself as a reincarnation of the goddess.

The shrine to Anubis

One the right side is a smaller shrine to the god Anubis. It contains a hypostyle hall with 12 columns and 2 small rooms that end in a small niche. The images throughout the hypostyle are very interesting depicting multiple offerings to the god Anubis and a large relief showing Anubis escorting Hathshepsut to the shrine. The depictions on this side still have a lot of the original color.

The final shrine at the top level is of course to the chief god Amun. We didn’t spend as much time up there as the top level is crawling with people wanting to show you something or be in your photo (for “tips”) but it is quite the experience just walking the ramp up to that top level of the temple and looking out.

Time needed to visit Hatshepsut’s Temple

It really doesn’t take very long to visit making it a great add on to the Valley of the Kings. To walk around the whole area, it is maybe 30 minutes – 1.5 hours depending on if you go with a guide or not. We spent around 1 hour.

Cost for Hatshepsut’s Temple

The cost was included in our tour but if you are interested in visiting on your own here are the costs:

140 EGP adult/ 70 EGP student

Cameras and phones are free! No flash allowed however.

Our experience

Overall I would definitely consider this temple a must do if you’re in the area since it is an easy place to visit with other West Bank attractions. Would it entice me to travel all the way to Egypt? Probably not but if you’re already there for all the other amazing places, definitely check this one out since it really is UNLIKE the other places we saw.

Guide to Valley of the Kings

Another must see on any trip to Egypt is the valley of the kings, making a journey to Luxor well worth it. The valley of the kings is made up of at least 63 known tombs with 20 or so belonging to known kings. The tombs are not as grand in scale as the temples and are mostly devoid of any antiquity now- however the art work on the walls is really impressive to see.

The colors are all original and almost all the wall space (including the ceilings) is covered. The way the tombs have been preserved against time is really incredible to witness in person, as is walking the steep narrow corridors down into the rock.

*Most of my photos are near the bottom in the section assigned to the tombs we saw. If you’re here for the pics, scroll on down.

Post Index:

About the Valley of the Kings

History

The tombs in the valley of the kings house kings, royals, and other important political figures that reigned during the new kingdom of Egypt. (1570 BC to about 1077 BC) Important key pharaohs you learn about through other sites like Abu Simbel and the Luxor temples were buried here with the most famous including King Ramesses II (most known for building a lot of the great monuments), King Ramesses III (largely known as the last great pharoah), and King Tut (the boy king whose tombs was just discovered in 1922 intact). 

Location

Location of the valley of the kings comes down to 2 very important aspects. The first is that it is on the west bank of Luxor (ancient day Thebes- the capitol for many kings) The Egyptians built their temples and homes on the east bank in order to greet the rising sun as a sign of life. Mostly tombs and mortuary temples were built on the west bank to represent the fading of the sun and the afterlife.

The second thing to note is the valley is located under the mountain peak Al-Qurn which has a pyramid-shaped appearance. This echoes the old kingdom (the actual pyramids) and symbolizes those who are buried there being closer to the gods through the peak of the mountain.

Design

The usual tomb architecture includes a long corridor usually depicting spiritual and religious texts. A lot of the tombs (the newer ones specifically) contain the book of the gates which shows the sun god passing through the 12 gates of night on his journey back to day. This was meant to help the owner of the tomb make their way through the 12 gates of night as well and rise again with the sun god. Some of the older tombs have a 90 degree bend that was on purpose in order to fill the upper corridrs with rubble and conceal the entrance to the tomb. Later tombs have bends in the corridor as well which is more due to unwittingly digging into someone else’s tomb and needing to divert in order to continue finishing the tomb. (King Ramesses III is a good example of this)

The ceilings of the burial chambers were usually decorated with the Book of the Heavens, which also describes the sun’s journey through the 12 hours of night. Major players who are represented in this artwork of the tombs are scarabs who were instrumental in protecting and helping the sun disk, Anubis, the god who presides over the embalming process and accompanies dead kings to the afterlife, and Nut the goddess of the sky and stars who frequents the ceilings in many tombs and temples. 

Information for visiting the valley of the kings

Tickets:

With the standard entrance ticket, you are permitted to enter 3 tombs (out of many) however there are some tombs that cost more and require an extra ticket. If you go with a guide, they will likely tell you which tombs are the most impressive to see on your trip. I’ll review the 4 tombs we went visited in more detail below but here is an overview of the tombs worth visiting.

The standard entrance ticket cost is:

240 EGP ($15 USD) per person

Discounts are available for children or students for 120 EGP.

*It is important to note the tombs are on a rotation schedule and some of these may be closed to visitors during your visit. This is to protect the delicate reliefs and paintings from the carbon dioxide, friction, and humidity from hot sweaty tourists.

Best tombs to visit included on the standard ticket:

Tomb of Ramesses I (KV16)

Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11)

Tomb of Ramesses IV (KV2)

Tomb of Ramesses IX (KV6)

*Again it is likely these won’t all be open on your visit. Only the first 2 were open when we visited.

Tombs you can pay extra to visit:

Tomb of Ramesses V and VI (KV9) – Requires an extra 100 EGP ($6 USD) per person. Absolutely worth it. This was our favorite tomb

Tomb of Seti I – Extra ticket costs a whopping 1000 EGP ($64 USD) per person. Photos and everything I’ve seen of this tomb don’t really seem worth the high price to me but if you’re looking for a tomb with multiple rooms, this one has a more adventurous feeling to it.

Tomb of Tutankhamun (famous King Tut) (KV62) – Extra ticket costs 300 EGP ($18 USD) per person. Not the fanciest of tombs but you can see his mummy still in his tomb. If you visit the Egyptian museum, you’ll see better preserved mummies and most of King Tut’s tomb collection. So may or may not be worth it.

Photography:

When we went, taking pictures and videos with your phone is free. Taking pictures or videos with anything other than a phone requires a photography ticket. This includes DSLRs, small handheld point and shoot cameras, and even gopros. (we saw someone get caught with a gopro and seemed like they were in for it) It’s most important to note that the photography ticket ONLY COVERS 3 TOMBS. So if like us you bought a ticket for an extra tombs, bring a bag to put your camera in for one of them. They punch a hole in your ticket to keep track.

The photography ticket is pricey and cost 300 EGP (about $19 USD) per camera. Luckily Braden doesn’t really care so we just bought one ticket to cover my camera.

The facilities

There is an electric train that will take you from the visitor center to the beginning of the tombs avoiding a very hot uphill walk. The cost of this train was included in our tour but if you are visiting on your own, it was only 4 EGP. ($0.25)

There’s also an airconditioned visitor center with a cool 3D model of the valley of the kings and bathrooms at the beginning but if you need facilities once you’ve already reached the tombs, there are also decent bathrooms up there. (Both require a tip so make sure you have small change on you)

If you get hungry or thirsty when exploring the tombs, there is a café centrally located to them all but I recommend bringing at least one bottle of water with you.

How long to plan for your visit:

Between the 6 minute round trip train ride and learning about each tomb from our guide before going in, we probably spent about 45 minutes. Then another 10 or so minutes in each tomb. I’d expect a tour including 4 tombs to take somewhere from 1.5 hours – 2 hours. 

The tombs we visited:

Tomb of Merenptah (KV8) –

This was the first tomb we visited and while it wasn’t the most spectacular, it was somewhat unique. It was in the highest state of disrepair with much of the decorated plaster missing. Where the plaster remained however there were brilliantly colored drawings and the final burial chamber is an impressive size (maybe second to only Ramesses VI that we visited) It’s all a downhill walk and was the deepest tomb we visited.

Tomb of Ramesses I (KV16)

This was the 2nd tomb we visited and was a nice lead up to Ramesses III. It’s a short and sweet tomb that drops quickly with a smaller burial chamber that was likely meant more to be part of the corridor but had to be finished quickly due to the early death of the king. The depictions in this tomb are very vibrant and if you’re a fan of the god Anubis, this tomb features a lot of him well.

Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11)

This tomb was our favorite of the “included” tombs we saw. The colors and depictions were the most vibrant and it was one of the larger tombs we visited taking the most time to take it all in. Ramesses III is also one of the more interesting kings to learn about as he had a long reign that ended with a murderous plot and likely his murder (though that is still being proven). This tomb is actually unfinished as well because at the time of his demise, the workers who were building his tomb went on strike for missing wages.  If this tomb is open on your visit I definitely recommend it over the other 2 we saw.

Tomb of Ramesses V and VI (KV9)

This was definitely our favorite of all the tombs. It features a very long hallway, series of staircases, and massive burial chamber featuring the sarcophagus in an interesting position that appears as if it was just discovered. The depictions in this tomb are also pretty clear in containing the book of the Heavens (the regeneration of the sun god with each new day) and the book of the dead. The ceiling in the burial chamber has a beautiful depiction of the sky and stars goddess Nut wrapping around the beautiful night sky.

Our overall experience:

Visiting the valley of the kings took much less time that I expected as most of the tombs are straightforward and quick to visit. We took the train which avoided most of the very hot uphill walking and enjoyed most of the tombs completely to ourselves. While I may enjoy the soaring temples in memory the most, the original colors in these tombs are not to be missed. We also largely had the tombs to ourselves thanks to visiting during the heat of the summer and Covid putting a damper on travel.

As a final note, beware the locals in the tombs acting as “tour guides.” This includes even the ticket guy. Since your guide won’t be allowed in the tombs with you, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be approached by these guys. If anyone starts to point things out and follow you, say you don’t need a guide and avoid encouraging them unless of course, you find them interesting and want to tip them on your way out.

Exploring Philae Temple

One of my favorite archeological sites in Egypt both for its beauty and its relative peace was Philae Temple. It also made for an amazing introductory temple before visiting the others down river as it introduced us to the key gods we’d be coming to know through their worship sites. Before I get into that though let’s go over the basics.

How to visit Philae Temple

This temple is located on an island… That’s right completely surrounded by water and only accessible by boat. (magic right?) Although it’s one of the key sites to see in Aswan, on a hot summer day we shared it with only one other group. Following our tour of the unfinished Obelisk and the Aswan high dam, we hopped in a boat from the visitor center and had magnificent views of the temple on the approach. The boat man waits for you while you visit the temple and you return with the same boat. (Don’t forget to tip your boatman!)

About Philae Temple:

Religious importance

First stop on your tour will be in the forecourt of the temple with 2 sets of columns on either side and the second pylon (or entryway) appearing magnificently in front of you. Here is where we stopped to discuss the story of Isis, to whom this temple was originally built and dedicated too. Isis was considered the “divine mother” of the pharaoh and major player in helping guide souls to the afterlife as she helped guide her husband Osiris. Our guide told a long story of how Osiris (the husband of Isis) was brothers with the evil god, Set, who was jealous and slayed Osiris 2 times. Each time Isis recovered the body of Osiris and resurrected him and the 2 of them eventually begat their son god- Horus (who is one of the more recognizable gods as he is usually represented with a hawk head).

Isis was around for a long time as she transformed just from the wife of Osiris and absorbed traits of other goddesses to become one of the major goddesses worshipped not just by Egyptians but by Nubians and Greeks. Under Greek influence she encompassed all feminine divine powers in the world. In total she was a worshipped goddess from at least 2686 BCE when she is first mentioned in the old kingdom, up until the rise of Christianity in Egypt in the fourth-sixth centuries AD.

Buildings and structures

There’s 2 impressive, main gates or pylons when entering the temple. The second is the more photo-worthy of the 2 as it leads from the main courtyard into the vestibule of the inner temple. On it are depictions of the king presenting garland to the gods Horus and Nephthys on the right and incense to Osiris, Isis, and Horus on the left.

The left side of the pylon. Notice the bodies are all etched out- this damage was done during the Coptic (Christian) ruling of Egypt during the Byzantine Empire.

Once in inside the inner temple, you enter the vestibule which is supported by 8, impressively tall columns. This rooms was actually unfinished in its reliefs but there are still some interesting depictions of the god of the Nile and the soul of Osiris.

Continuing straight into the temple, there’s a number of antechambers flanked by dark side chambers that you pass through before reaching the Holy of Holies: the sanctuary of Isis.

Outside of the inner temple there’s a few structures completed during the Roman timeline of ruling Greece that include a gateway for Hadrian (Emperor Hadrian seemed to enjoy having his own special gateways if you’ve been to other Roman sites), a small temple to the goddess Hathor (or Aphrodite is the Greek goddess equivalent), and another small temple (referred to as Trajan’s kiosk) that would’ve served as the main entrance to the Philae Temple complex when it was an active religious site.

About the location of Philae Temple

One of my absolute favorite things about this temple was that it sits on an island completely surrounded by the beautiful clear water of the Nile river. Interestingly, the entire temple complex used to reside on a different island. The original island was covered and half submerged the temple most of the year once the first low dam of Aswan was built turn of the 1900s. When the high dam was built, the entire structure was threatened to be submerged completely. Since the temple became a UNESCO heritage site, each stone was painstakingly moved block by block and rebuilt as it was on a neighboring island.

About our experience

We were there around 3 PM on a Thursday and enjoyed the site mostly to ourselves and consequently had the most peaceful experience we’d have on our whole trip.

After walking through all of the buildings with our guide, he set us loose for about 30 minutes to wander and take it in ourselves. We loved experiencing the empty dark antechambers around the inner sanctum and wandering amidst the towering columns in the vestibule. Since it was so hot, even the inside of the temple in the shade was toasty. After wandering the temple, it felt amazing sitting in the shade of the palm trees with the cool breeze coming off the Nile while we absorbed the ancient spirit of this place.