Deir el-Shelwit was built when Egypt was ruled by the Romans and is thus one of the last temples of the Egyptian religion. It was discovered in the 19th century but has only recently been fully renovated and opened to the public. It is in a remote region just south of Luxor.
With Luxor itself being such a treasure house of high Egyptian culture, it is easy to ignore these later monuments, but they are well worth adding to your itinerary. Deir el-Shelwit is similar to several other local and related temples, such as that of Hathor at Deir el Medina. Deir el-Shelwit is dedicated to the goddess Isis, and is thus a very rare exception in this region where the god Amun is king.
It’s helpful to have a basic knowledge and understanding of such ancient deities and the treasures, iconography, history, and beliefs that accompany them. Since this temple is a relatively new discovery that’s now available to the public, literature about the temple itself can be sparse and hard to come by. But you can certainly learn a lot about Isis and Monthu before you experience the temple firsthand in Luxor.
A taxi ride for two will cost you around LE100 (i.e. 100 Egyptian pounds), although this is subject to change. Find your taxi at either the ferry port or your hotel. Any stops along the way should be included in the price. If you need water or a sandwich, ask your driver to stop for some. If shy ask him to get it for you and give him the money. When you arrive at the Memnon ticket office (just past the Colossus of Memnon), buy the tickets you need.
The taxi should then take you through Habu village (full of interesting sights) and along the desert track to Deir el-Shelwit. Your driver will then wait (about an hour) for you to visit, and he may come in with you if he’s curious. After that, he will drive you back to wherever you want—either back to the ferry port or perhaps another temple.
One might assume that they can’t take pictures in an ancient temple-turned-museum, but picture-taking is allowed in Deir el-Shelwit. Take as many as you want and capture the ancient grandeur of a temple that was lost for a millennia. The only restriction on photography there is you cannot set up a tripod.
Because this is basically a holy of holies, and the imagery is obscure, you may have a quick look then think you’ve seen it all. Deir el-Shelwit gets so very few visitors, you can ask the guard to leave you for some quiet meditation if you wish. Explore the propylon and sacred lake, wander around and see the desert setting and mudbrick temenos. See how these bricks looked when newly laid to get a sense of the shrine start with the western wall, which has four main iconographic scenes, sandwiched between a strip of hieroglyphs showing a ceremonial dedication, and a bottom iconographic scene of Nile gods bringing their riches. In another scene, the emperor Hadrian offers the Maat (truth) to Isis.
Visit the related temple of Hathor at Deir el-Medina. Why not combine your trip with a stop at the ancient workmen's village at Deir el Medina or mortuary temples of Ramses III at Medinet Habu. Fascinating in their own right they have some connections with Deir el-Shelwit. At Medina you can see a Ptolemaic/Roman period temple but this time for Hathor. The decoration is similar in style. Search for other similarities of layout and how this molds one’s the religious experience.
The road is basically a bumpy dirt track across rough desert for 4km, and far too hot for walking. Because this is the edge of the desert, and you may run into unfriendly feral dogs or even wolves. As a precaution, have a walking stick to shake at them, or a rolled umbrella (useful as sunshade), or a monopod.
There isn’t much around there—no gift shops, markets, or cafés. There are a few simple houses, but there isn’t anything that will help you if you’re hungry or thirsty.
Tantalizing mounds and bumps in the desert are really a lost city and royal colony that once stood here in reclaimed land in what is now desert at the edge of the cultivated strip. The long ridge was called the hippodrome, and is the remains of a long dike that held a vast artificial lake.
While Egypt and surrounding countries are full of beautiful sites and ancient history within arm’s reach, political and social unrest is, unfortunately, all too common there. Be sure to include in your research of Isis and Monthu lots of reputable and current travel reports for the area before you embark on your Egyptian travels.
A little gem at the edge of the desert, the Deir el-Shelwit temple is a mini version of the precinct of Isis at Philae, and a once-lost piece of Ancient Egyptian history that you can now easily visit just outside of Luxor, Egypt.
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