Journal: Tuesday 12 November 1996
The storm of the previous night had cleared by morning and we had had a fine day. I went to Philae Temple with my group, my second visit there, and saw much more than I had last year, with a slightly greater knowledge of what I was looking at. The sheer magnificence of the setting still took my breath away.
Having enjoyed the Sound and Light show at Karnak so much last year, I decided to go to Philae again in the evening to see the Sound and Light with a small group from the boat. The motor boat crossing to Agilika Island was quite magical in the darkness with twinkling lanterns bobbing and swinging as the boat rocked towards the jetty. It was difficult to remember that Philae temples were rescued from the rising waters between the Old and New Dams as recently as 1980 and reconstructed on this island. An Egyptian poet, Ahmed Shawki, had called for the rescuing of the temples in the early years of the 20th century and was saddened enough to write a poem about its plight:
O palaces passing away
Tears are shed
As demise is your fate.
You are a line
While Egypt is a book
How could such a book be blurred?
I the spokesman of history,
Safeguards Egypt’s glory.
That is Egypt’s honour.
We climbed up the steps from the jetty and assembled between the columns in the courtyard before the first pylon in the Temple of Isis. The lights dimmed and the voices in the night began, hailing the gods of the Nile, calling on Hapi to ‘Come forth from your cavern…’. Another voice implored ‘O Nile, raise your voice, let it thunder forth!’ Suddenly there was a huge flash of lightning behind the pylon followed quickly by a terrific roll of thunder. We all looked at each other, wondering at the amazing special effects. But this was not part of the show – the storm was for real! It carried on for the next half hour as the dialogue between Isis and the Nile unfolded. A chorus of female voices were almost drowned out by the rumbling of thunder as they hailed Isis, ‘Mistress of Nubia…. reigning over fire, wind and lightning‘. This was becoming spooky and I found it difficult to follow the story as I was so busy watching this incredible impromptu light show. I cannot describe how magical the temple looked lit up by forks of lightning bouncing off its columns and gateways. As we walked through the pylon into the temple the voice of the Nile spoke, ‘And you who hear my voice, you who have come from the four corners of the earth to admire Egypt’s treasure, come, you too may enter the Temple of Isis, the immortal goddess’.
Act two told us the legend of Isis, Osiris and Seth (I had a feeling this was another of Seth’s storms!). As we moved on through the hypostyle hall and past the Temple of Hathor, the storm too gradually moved on and away across the lake. The coloured lights of the show took over and we took our places on seats in front of the Kiosk of Trajan. Luckily we had no rain and the night was still mild as we sat and listened to the final act of the show, describing the original building begun by Nectanebo, the last Egyptian pharaoh and the later re-use by Christians. From early Islamic times we were told the tale of Anas el-Wagud who fell in love with Zahrat, daughter of the Vizier. Her father imprisoned her on Philae Island to keep the lovers apart, but all was well in the end as she escaped and the couple were married. A sheikh’s tomb was constructed in the middle of old Philae Island. We heard of Napoleon, who visited here, of Champollion who played his part in deciphering the history on the temple walls and of the feat of saving the temple from the waters of the Nile. To finish we heard the voice of the poet Shawki:
‘At the edge of the desert, Philae is born again, comes to life in its eternal beauty, like a fabulous mirage…’