La Description de l'Égypte: Antiquités, Volume I

La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume I
Commission des sciences et arts d’
24°01′18″N 32°53′20″E

La Description de l’Egypte (The Description of Egypt), or Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française, publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l’Empereur Napoléon le Grand is the first encyclopedia devoted exclusively to Egypt. It is a work from Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, recounting the discoveries made during this scientific voyage.

The first book of plates is La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume I. It is the first of 5 volumes describing ancient Egypt. Either the major part of the final work. The plates of the first book present the island of Philae, the islands of Elephantine and Syene, Kom Ombo, Silsileh, Edfu, El Kab, Esné, and Erment.

Read the other volumes here.



Map of the archeological sites

The map shows the different places mentioned in this article, going from South to North. Click on the markers to get an overview of the archaeological sites.


Philae Plan Egypt Isis Description Antiquité
Pl.1 - General plan of the island and its surroundings, plan of the Isis Temple

Philae 24° 01′ 18″ N, 32° 53′ 20″ E is an island located at the level of the first cataract of the Nile 24° 04′ 41″ N, 32° 52′ 41″ E . During the Antiquity, it was considered as the southern border of Egypt but also the site of an Egyptian temple complex. The members of the commission made a rigorous report on the state of the island and its constructions.

The island was mainly known to be one of the burial places of Osiris. It was thus held in high reverence by the Egyptians in the North and the Nubians in the South. However, it has a small surface area, measuring 380m long and 120m wide.

The remarkable part is that the island contains monuments built at different times. One of the oldest is the most famous: the temple of Isis. Located in the southwestern quarter of the island, it is its main construction, erected under Nectanebo I in 380-362 BC.
The south-western part of the esplanade was enlarged during the Ptolemaic period. Walls are built on the rocks of the shoreline of this part of the island, forming rooms that are filled with earth and blocks, all covered with slabs. This esplanade is enclosed by a portico built under Emperor Augustus, in the Roman era.

Philae is located south of Aswan, and has experienced many floods, gradually degrading the temples. It is submerged 10 months out of 12  because of the first Aswan Dam, built in 1894 by the British. In the 1970s, following the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the island was submerged under water. Fortunately, its temples were moved to Aguilkia Island 24° 01′ 31″ N, 32° 53′ 03″ E in 1974. As a result, this island is sometimes called Philae because of their proximity and resemblance. Thanks to a great archaeological work the layout of the temples on the new island respects the original orientation.

view of philae description egypte antiquités antiquity egypt
Pl.2 - General view taken from the northwest coast
Plates and graphic documents of the Great Temple
Temple Philae island
Pl.18 - Interior perspective view, taken under the portico of the Grand Temple
Plates and graphic documents of the Western Temple
Western temple philae island
Pl. 24 - Perspective view of the western temple and several other buildings

Read more about the temple inscriptions from Philae here


elephantine description de l'egypte
Pl. 30 - 1-3. View and maps of the Syene cataract (Aswan) and the surrounding area 4. View of the Elephantine ruins

Elephantine 24°05′20″N 32°53′20″E is an island located at the level of the first cataract of the Nile, opposite Aswan. In ancient Egypt, the island was a city, capital of the first nome of Upper Egypt, that of « the Land of the Arch ». The island was known to be the dwelling place of the god Khnum. He is the god of the cataracts, who controlled the waters of the Nile kept under the island. He was worshipped there with Satis (who has a temple there) and Anuket, forming a triad. The island is of a modest size, measuring 1200m long and 400m wide.

The commission noted several observations concerning the southern temple and granite quarries. But the most striking survey concerns the main nilometer. A nilometer was a structure to measure the clarity and water level of the Nile during the annual flood season. The best known of the two on the island is the one associated with the Satis Temple. It is connected to it by a stone staircase descending a long corridor.

elephantine description egypte antiquitésantiquity egypt island nilometer
Pl.33 - Plan, elevation, section and details of a nilometer

Kom Ombo and Silsileh

Kom Ombou plan
Pl.39 - General plan of the ruins and surroundings

Kom Ombo 24° 29′ 00″ N, 32° 57′ 00″ E was a garrison town in ancient Egypt. It is located 40km north of Aswan and is home to two temples. The most remarkable one is the temple of Sobek and Haroeris. Although it is partially ruined. In fact, part of the temple collapsed because of the Nile and its stones were later reused for other temples. The unique aspect of this temple is the worship of two gods on the same level. As a result, the temple is divided into two parts. The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world (with Hathor and Khonsu). Meanwhile, the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder). The temple is atypical because everything is perfectly symmetrical along the main axis. Courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms are duplicated for the two gods. The unrepresented feature of this temple is that it contains the first representation of medical surgical tools. Indeed an engraving on the surrounding wall includes scalpel, forceps, dilator, scissors, curettes.

The stones come from the nearby sandstone quarry of Silsileh 24° 38′ 34″ N, 32° 56′ 02″ E. It is the most important quarry in Egypt. Apart from the Temple of Isis of Philae (shown above) all building materials for the temples of Upper Egypt come from this quarry. The quarry is present on both banks of the Nile. It also hosted some monuments and chapels dedicated to the gods of the Nile.


Temple Egypt Edfu Description de l'Egypte Antiquités
Pl. 61 - Perspective view of the pylon and the courtyard of the Grand Temple

Edfu 24° 58′ 41″N, 32° 52′ 44″E is a city located in upper Egypt. It’s the site of the Ptolemaic Temple of Horus. Of all the temple remaining in Egypt, the Temple of Horus at Edfu is the most completely preserved. It was built between 237 BC and 57 BC uilt on the site of an earlier, smaller temple also dedicated to Horus. It is considered to be the classical Egyptian temple, with an open courtyard surrounded by porticoes. It is the second most important temple in size after Karnak: 137 meters long, 79 meters wide, 36 meters high for the pylons.


description egypte antiquités egypt antiquity
Pl. 72 - 1.2. Map of the surroundings of Esné and part of the city 3. Plan of the temple; 4. Portico section

Esna 25°18′N 32°33′E is a city in Upper Egypt. Its redstone temple is dedicated to the god Khnum (see Elephantine above), his consorts Menhit and Nebtu, their son, Heka, and the goddess Neith. Its portico consisted of six rows of four columns each. they are the center of the drawings of the commission scientists. The particularity of this temple is that it contains very late hieroglyphic inscription, dating from the reign of Decius (249–251) AD).

Esna perspective view portico temple egypt
Pl. 83 - Perspective view of the interior of the portico
Elevation and details of the temple's portico

One thought on “La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume I

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top