About six miles south of Aswan, among the rocks of the first cataract, Philae emerges from the water like a mirage. Its monuments and lush landscape distinguish it from the surrounding lunar landscape. The temple was dedicated to Isis, 'sovereign of all gods,' in the Greco-Roman era. Isis the protector, the benevolent magician, the fighter who drives out the demons. Is it any wonder that Philae was the last stronghold of the Egyptian religion? Until the beginning of the 5th century, defying the prohibitions of Emperor Theodosius, pilgrims continued to visit this shining beacon of antiquity. In more recent times, Philae's fate was put at risk by the two Aswan dams.
The first dam, completed in 1902, drowned the 'pearl of Egypt' for a good part of the year and little by little wiped away its magnificent paintings. However, seven decades later, the second dam saved it. All the temple's monuments were dismantled and reconstructed a little farther north, on higher ground. Then, the temple was remodelled, and two of its points extended, giving it – like its ancient predecessor – the shape of a bird, with its beak turned towards Nubia.