Egypt: History -Elephantine, Aswan

Elephantine, Town of All Ages

On a 12-meter high granite rock standing out of the Nile River in the southern part of Aswan lies the lofty ancient town of Elephantine. Excavation of the site, which has been on stream for 30 years now, was finally crowned with success. Work is now in full swing under the supervision of Gaballah Ali Gaballah, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, so as to put the final touches before the town be opened for the public.

Elephantine, which is a resounding architectural triumph, is the only historic town of its kind since the temples, housing and industrial estates built on its land illustrate the progress of the ancient Egyptian civilization as of prehistoric ages (3500 BC) to the Islamic era.

Elephantine enjoys a very safe position at the top of a 12-meter rock - hence invulnerability to high subterranean water levels. It is because Elephantine has a relatively small area, extensive excavations throughout the town have been carried out. In Pharaonic times, Elephantine had a strategic position being the southern frontier town.

The gate of the town lies south-west of the garden of Aswan Museum. It leads to the last temple built under the Ptolemic reign (2300 BC) for the worship of goddess Satit (Elephantine Mistress). Like other temples built during that period, Satit temple was later used as a quarry. It had an air of abandonment and neglect to such an extent that only the foundations remained after everything else has disappeared.

Excavation has proved that Satit temple underwent frequent processes of restoration but it remained a small simple hut built of unbaked bricks nevertheless. A large amount of offerings to Satit made by royalty and the populace was also unearthed. About 1.3Km from the temples gate there is evidence of prehistoric settlements.

In addition to Satit temple, Elephantine hosts Khnum temple, a stairway built by the Romans, the sacred harbour which Amenhotep III built in the 18th Dynasty and two other temples which date back to the Roman-Ptolemic era and of which nothing remained except for loose huge stones beyond number.

The north side of the stairway bears inscriptions suggesting that the stairway was erected in 139 AD. The stairway was only used during festivals to link the harbor and the temples area.

The island where Elephantine is located was thousands of years BC divided into two parts. East of Elephantine lie the tombs of the rulers of Elephantine in the Old Kingdom and Dynasty XII, the ruins of the monastery of ecclesiastic Samman and the mausoleum of Agha Khan which was erected in the 50s in the 20th c. North of Elephantine lies a basilica dating back to the 6th c BC. To the north-east lie the temples of Satit and Khnum rebuilt under the reign of Mentuhotep II and Sesostris I.

Little pieces of furniture were unearthed since furniture made of wood and straw was used to operate stoves. A treasure of coins dating back to the early Ptolemic era, a marriage contract concluded under the reign of Nectanebo II and some utensils made of metal such as stoves grinders and vessels were unearthed as well. All are exhibited alongside other antiquities unearthed by fresh excavations in the Excavation Museum.

"A lot of concerted efforts exerted by the Egyptian Higher Institute of Antiquities together with the Swiss Archaeological and Architectural Research Institute has been put to render success this event," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni said.