About Isiopolis

The arrow points to the location of Isiopolis

The arrow points to the location of Isiopolis

Isiopolis is the Greek name of the ancient Egyptian city in which the greatest Lower Egyptian temple of the Goddess Isis once stood. It means simply, City of Isis. Ancient Roman visitors called the temple there the Iseum (from Greek, Iseion), meaning the Sanctuary of Isis. The modern Egyptian town, in Arabic, is Behbeit el-Hagar, which comes from the ancient Egyptian Per-Hebitet, meaning the House (that is, Temple) of the Festive Goddess, which is an epithet of Isis.  A papyrus from the Third Intermediate Period also calls Isiopolis “the place where offerings are set down.”

In addition to Isis, Her Beloved Osiris and Their Holy Child were honored at Isiopolis. According to Christine Favard-Meeks, an archeologist who has studied the site extensively, the temple complex seems to have been an important center for the rebirth of Osiris (and thus the pharaoh), renewed and protected by Isis.

Isiopolis was one of the most important Egyptian temples of the Goddess, probably serving as a northern counterpart to the southern Isis temple on the island of Philae in the Nile. The northern Isiopolis temple is located in the middle of the Delta on the Damietta branch of the Nile. If we may imagine the lush, green, and fertile delta as the pubic triangle of the Goddess, Isiopolis could be Her holy clitoris.

Today, the once-beautiful temple is in ruins. We know it was indeed once beautiful for the carving on the remaining red-granite blocks is much finer than that on any of the surviving Ptolemaic temples in Upper Egypt. The visible remains are late—from the 30th Dynasty—which included pharaohs who were particularly devoted to Isis. Yet there is textual evidence for an Isis temple having been at that location from at least the New Kingdom, and possibly from the earlier 26th Dynasty (664-525 BCE).

The finely-carved ruins of Isiopolis

The finely-carved ruins of Isiopolis

In 1743, early anthropologist Richard Pococke (A Description of the East and Some other Countries, Vol. 1) described the site as he saw it like this:

…A large temple dedicated to Isis, there being great remains of a temple here, the most costly in its materials of any in Egypt: it is built of granite, and appears by the hieroglyphics and capitals of the pillars to have been a temple of Isis….it seem’d to have been about two hundred feet long, and hundred feet broad, for it is all a confused heap of reuins. At about one hundred feet distance is a mound raised round it, as to keep out the Nile, with an entrance on each side; the walls of the temple seem to have been ten feet thick, and to be built on the outside with grey granite….the Inside was built of fine red granite…what commanded our attention still more, was the exquisite sculpture of the hieroglyphics; and tho’ the figures, about four feet high, was the exquisite Egyptian taste, yet there is something so fine, so divine, in a manner, in the mein of the deities and priests, that it far exceeds any thing I ever saw in this way.

Archeologists think that the sanctuary may have collapsed prematurely in antiquity, perhaps due to an earthquake. Once collapsed, blocks from the temple were scavenged by the locals and became parts of other buildings. One block from this temple was taken to the important Isis sanctuary in Rome, the Iseum Campense.

Among the inscriptions and carvings that have been found on the site is a particularly beautiful carving—probably Ptolemaic—that showed Isis kneeling on a lotus flower between the outspread wings of two other Goddesses, Who protect Her. Above what would have been the entrance to the sanctuary, an inscription dedicated the place to Isis: “the Queen of the Gods, the Venerable Djerit-Sanctuary of the Lady of Inheritance, the Heret-Sky of the Divine Female Falcon.” In yet another inscription, Isis is described as “shining like Re, the Divine Falcon illuminating…” while a carving from the sanctuary’s Wabet, or Pure Place, also showed Isis in Her bird form.

The plan of the temple as reconstructed by Favard-Meeks

The plan of the temple as reconstructed by Favard-Meeks

This seems to speak to the ancient nature of this site. Winged Isis is the ancient Bird Goddess and Her avatars include the falcon, the kestrel, as well as Her most common sacred bird, the black kite; called, in Egyptian, djeret (or djerit). In fact, I believe that the Bird of Prey, the Djeret, is the oldest form of the Goddess Isis. That this Delta temple was called the Djerit-Sanctuary connects these relatively recent remains with Isis’ most ancient roots.

In fact, some Egyptologists believe that the site at Isiopolis may be the location of the oldest Temple of Isis in Egypt and that, buried beneath the top layer of ruins, they will someday find evidence that Isis was worshipped there from the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BCE). Other researchers believe that if it can be established that the area was able to be cultivated (rather than being a Delta swamp), we may discover that Isiopolis was inhabited from prehistoric times. And if so, I am quite certain we will find the worship of Isis—or perhaps, proto-Isis—in evidence from that time as well.

I am happy to say that, at present, Egyptological interest in the site is growing. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities recently decided to try to reconstruct the temple using computer models. Someday we may have some answers. In the meantime, you are most welcomed to visit my own little City of Isis, here at Isiopolis.

Responses

  1. Will you be attending the Goddess Festival in Chicago in September?

    • Unfortunately, not. I’ve got a trip planned in Oct and can only get so much time off work. Sigh. Wishing I could live the magical life all the time!

      Is

  2. […] About Isiopolis […]

  3. Isidora what a beautiful votive work for us all to enjoy! Congratulations on your amazing website.
    I have a question for you about Ra. In meditation I am given to believe that Ra is the true father of Isis. I would love to know your thoughts on this idea!
    Many thanks – blessings and love.

    • Isis and Re are intimately connected, of course…She knows His true name. And Isis is sometimes seen as a Sun Goddess Herself; She is even called Re-et, or ‘the Female Re.’ In times and places where Re was the highest Deity, it would have been natural for all the Deities to be considered as His children. For instance, in the story of Isis and Re, when poisoned Re calls all of His Divine children to aid Him…among them, Isis.

      • Lovely! The Female Re? I did not know that – thank you so much for replying.

  4. Hey! I’m just starting out learning about Isis and the religion and everything, but I am have some trouble figuring out where to start. I was just wondering if you had any suggestions on where to start?

  5. Hi, Shelby! I’ll be republishing Isis Magic soon and it has just about everything you’d ever want to know about Isis. Watch this blog for news about when it will be out. In the meantime, have a look at the past posts on this blog. There’s lots of information right here.

    Under Her Wings,
    Isidora

  6. […] About Isiopolis […]

    • I am very pleased and happy to see all of yr work. I make Tyets of Glass to honour Isis. And i make Tree of Life out of glass. Isis guides me on magical journeys. I am Asje, Soul of Life.

  7. HI Isadora,
    Wondered if you’d like to come on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, my long-running radio show, and discuss Isis or what ever other topic might be siwrling ’round in your magical cauldron these days? If so, contact me at karentate108@ca.rr.com

    • Hi, Karen!

      I would love to! Of course, there’s the new edition of Isis Magic…we might also talk about sacred spaces. I had huge response to a recent blog post on the Isis temple in my backyard. Maybe there’s something to chat about there…

      Great to hear from you. Let’s touch base next week sometime and see what might work.

      Under Her Wings, Isidora

  8. […] About Isiopolis […]

  9. Good afternoon Isadora,

    I was wandering if you could help me, I recently went to a healing and was informed to research into an ancient Egyptian cult that consisted of 11 woman, that somewhere are still around today. The cult was occult, mystic and used magic rituals as well as being spiritual. They practiced in a cave like temple but my healer was not allowed to enter the premises. By the description of the makeup and what to look for, I believe we are looking at the cult of Isis. Also when searching for a tarot deck for me, I chose the Aleister Crowley Thoth deck, which also seems to be relevant to this cult.

    This might be a totally bizarre thing to do but I believe that when we are told from above to look into these things, one should at least try and my search on the net led me to you.

    Have you ever heard of this cult in today’s age??

    Thanks for your help,

    Kind regards,

    Emma.

  10. Hi, Emma! I have not heard of such a group…but I can certainly imagine such a thing. Let me know if you find anything. Sounds fascinating.

  11. beautiful work

  12. I am wanting to ask if I may use your image of Goddess Isis / Cleopatra statue outside the Cairo museum, for use in a very special book on Isis, if I attribute your site….I will be releasing something very special soon, you may find interesting and this image would be ideal….

  13. I found this blog because I had a whisper in my ear recently – “Isis of the Star”, they said. I already owned a copy of your first book, but I didn’t know you had a website. I am grateful to you for your service to Isis. I now also own your second book, and I am considering securing a copy of the 2nd edition of Isis Magic. I am called, and I have agreed to be of service. I don’t know how yet, but I am hers.

    • She will definitely let you know 😉 This warms my heart.


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