You always remember your first kiss, as the saying goes. I would add to that statement, “You always remember your first Egyptian Temple.”
With all respect to the majestic temples in Luxor, my favorite temple along the Nile in Egypt is the unassuming Philae Temple in Aswan. It’s got an interesting back story, too. Currently residing on an island near the Aswan dam, Philae was built by an Egyptian Pharaoh in the 4th century B.C. His successor, however, was Macedonian, part of the Ptolemaic dynasty that began with the death of Alexander the Great. In other words, the chief denizens of this temple were essentially Greek. In order to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic leaders realized they would have to dress like Egyptians, worship the Egyptian gods, and build their monuments in the Egyptian style. Upon close examination of Philae Temple, you slowly realize that, although it looks Egyptian enough, it was clearly built by Greeks trying to impersonate Egyptians.
Also of note: the original temple complex was located on Philae Island. Due to fear of flooding, the complex was dismantled and moved south to Agilkia Island as part of a UNESCO project, protecting it before the 1970 completion of the Aswan High Dam.
As I walk around Philae, I’m struck by how new it looks. How can this place be 2,500 years old?!! Particularly impressive is the wall of the main building, decorated with monumental engravings of Egyptian figures, many wearing impressive headdresses. Inside, the omnipresent hieroglyphics look they were carved yesterday. It’s very easy to imagine yourself transported back to ancient times, walking like an Egyptian (shout out to the Bangles), listening to gossip about that troublemaker in the north, Moses, and his mysterious burning bush. Wow.
Traveling is often an act of imagination, an act of thinking beyond your own lens and stepping into the shoes of others, past or present. When was the last time you projected your imagination and contemplated what it might be like to view the world through someone else’s lens? How did that change your perception of the world?