The grandeur and beauty of ancient Egyptian temples was not simply a matter of aesthetic expression -- these majestic buildings venerated rulers and gods. Highly revered among these deities, Isis was the daughter of the earth god Geb and sky goddess Nut, and wife to her brother Osiris. As a powerful magician and mother of one of the most significant deities -- Horus -- Isis had many temples built in her honor throughout ancient Egypt.
Prominence in Philae
The Temple of Isis at Philae stands as the most prominent temple built in honor of the goddess. Featuring an open courtyard, it was built on the island of Philae in Lake Nasser during the Ptolemaic period. Each year, this temple hosted a celebration symbolizing the annual reawakening or rebirth of the Nile River. The temple was the last of the ancient Egyptian temples to close, when it was shut down by the Roman Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565 A.D. Although it has since been relocated due to rising waters, the Temple of Isis at Philae remains a perennial tourist attraction in modern Egypt.
The Deity in Dendur
Originally located about 50 miles south of the Temple of Isis at Philae, the Temple of Dendur was constructed at the request of Caesar Augustus of Rome on the west bank of the Nile river sometime around 15 B.C. Made of Aeolian sandstone, this columned temple features numerous carved scenes that honor the goddess Isis and those central to her story, including Osiris and Horus. Egypt gave this small temple to the United States in 1965, and it currently stands in the Sackler Wing of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Isis in Busiris
Although the small town no longer exists, Busiris once housed a temple built to honor Isis. The temple served as the town center and hosted an annual festival to pay the goddess tribute. This structure may have been regarded as one of the birthplaces of Isis's husband and brother, Osiris. Today, the ruins of the temple and the surrounding hamlet of Busiris remain in Abu Sir, on the outskirts of Cairo.
In 30 B.C, Egypt became a Roman province, and many ancient Romans also deified Isis, dedicating numerous temples to the Egyptian goddess. Among them, the Temple of Isis in Pompeii fused Egyptian and Roman aesthetics, though it was largely inspired by the temple at Philae. The Temple of Isis in Delos, more traditionally Roman in appearance, honored Isis alongside the ancient Egyptian underworld god Anubis and the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis.
- The University of Texas at Austin: The Story of Osiris, Isis and Horus: The Egyptian Myth of Creation
- Rosicrucian Digest: An Isis Timeline
- The University of Memphis Institute of Egyptian Art and Archeology: Aswan -- Temple of Isis
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Temple of Dendur
- Tufts University Perseus Digital Library: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography: Busi'Ris
- Tufts University Perseus Digital Library: Delos, Temple of Isis (Building)
- University of Iowa: Montage: Seeing Egypt in Italy: The Temple of Isis in Pompeii as Architectural Aegyptiaca
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images