In the Ancient Greek language, Philae means “The End”. This is because Philae marked the southernmost limit of Egypt. But the history of Philae is older than the Greeks themselves. The importance of Philae dates back to the New Kingdom, around the 11th Century BC when the nearby Bigeh Island was identified as one of the burial places of the god Osiris. According to Ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris’s dead body had been cut into pieces by his brother, the evil god Seth, and scattered all over Egypt, and Bigeh Island was one of the places in which a piece of Osiris was laid to rest, immediately making it a place of great importance to the Ancient Egyptians.
Philae was always famed for its beauty. In 1874, Amelia Edwards, who later became the chair of Egyptology at University College London commented: “As seen from the level of a small boat, the island with its palms, the colonnades, its pylons, seems to rise out of the river like a mirage”.
Excluding a few remains from the Late Period, the existing Temple of Isis was constructed over some eight hundred years by Ptolemaic and Roman rulers who sought to identify themselves with the Osirian myth and the cult of Isis. The Temple of Hathor, the last Ptolemaic monument, was completed before 116 BC. With the death of Cleopatra, Egypt became a province of Rome. The Romans accepted the pantheon of Egyptian gods, and in particular, they embraced the cult of Isis, which, as mentioned before, was based here, in Philae. More endowments were made, and more temples and shrines were built by emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Trajan, Hadrian, and Diocletian.