When I visited the sanctuary of the Temple of Isis from Philae, I was struck by the maze of cramped corridors with walls covered with hieroglyphics. While I have photographs, they would be difficult if not impossible to understand. In this post I thought I would explore some of the sacred ancient Egyptian symbols that appear in this sanctuary. To do this, I am going to interpret the symbols surrounding Ptolemy II (the Egyptian Pharoah from 283-246 BC) depicted above. I have decided to take this approach as an introduction to the symbols of ancient Egypt instead of making a list with descriptions because the symbols themselves were rarely used in isolation in actual practice. I hope this approach will be more informative and less confusing but you will have to let me know.
During my visit to the Temple of Isis I was struck by the architectural sophistication and I thought I would delve deeper. Egyptian temple designs emphasized order, symmetry, monumentality, and combined geometric shapes with stylized organic motifs. Elements of temple design also alluded to the form of the earliest Egyptian buildings. It wasn’t until the New Kingdom that temples were built entirely of stone. Our knowledge of what preceded them or how the design came about is necessarily slim as their predecessors did not survive, since they were mostly constructed of mudbrick. It is probable that the layout was similar to earlier temples; there must have always been a special sacred area where the statue of the god resided. This was at a higher level than the rest of the area and the later design of slightly ascending floor level copies this. Since the early structures were mostly mudbrick, it is unlikely that the finer details which we will discuss here were present, hard to carve mudbrick. The influence of materials on architecture is worth notice. Where granite, which is worked with difficulty, is the material obtainable, architecture has invariably been severe and simple; where soft stone is obtainable, an abundance of ornamention makes its appearance. Where marble is abundant and good, refinement is to be met with, for no other building material exists in which very delicate mouldings or very slight or slender projections may be employed with the certainty that they will be effective.