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A Report on the Island and Temples of Philæ


THE proposal to build a dam at Philæ, which was brought before the Egyptian Government a few years ago, at the instance of Mr. Willcocks, of the Irrigation Department of Egypt, will be fresh in the memory of many of our readers, even though the details of the somewhat acrimonious discussion upon it which followed in the papers have been forgotten. Briefly, the Egyptian Government had been informed by its English advisers that a better regulated and larger supply of water was needed for agricultural purposes in that part of the valley of the Nile which lies between Aswân and the Mediterranean Sea, and steps were at once taken to find out how that supply could be secured. Mr. Willcocks was ordered to seek out a site where a huge dam could be built for the purpose of holding back the water behind it; and after much thought and careful examination of the various possible sites, he decided that the best place was at Aswân, a few miles to the north of the beautiful little island of Philæ. The announcement of this decision was received with astonishment and outcries, for it needed no expert knowledge to see that the carrying out of the scheme meant, practically, the destruction of the monuments upon the island, and the submerging of both it and the greater part of the buildings upon it for a considerable number of weeks each year. When Mr. Willcocks' scheme was put before the public in its entirety, it was seen that he had indeed contemplated this disastrous result with calmness, and that if his superior officers accepted his report, one of the most picturesque spots in Egypt would be turned into a huge reservoir. Thereupon followed vigorous protests in England and other civilised countries, and at length the characteristic English compromise was proposed. As was to be expected, the usual nonsense was talked and written by the irresponsible person and faddist, and even archæologists signed their names cheerfully at the foot of columns of vehement protests filled with loose statements and inaccuracies. There is no blinking the fact that an attempt was being made to destroy a unique and very lovely bit of scenery, but it must at the same time be remembered that the actual needs of an agricultural population of a country have to be considered, even at the expense of the gratification of the æsthetic sentiments of visitors from other countries. Fortunately, when the dispute was hottest, certain irrigation experts discovered that all practical advantages necessary would be secured to the Egyptian farmer if the height of the water in the proposed reservoir was less than that suggested by Mr. Willcocks, and Mr. Garstin was able to modify the scheme in such a way as to reduce it by about twenty-seven feet. So that if the reservoir is ever built, Mr. Garstin promises us that “the greater portion of the ruins on the island will remain permanently above the submerged level.”

A Report on the Island and Temples of Philæ.

By Captain H. G. Lyons; with an Introductory Note by W. E. Garstin, C.M.G. (Printed by order of H.E. Hussein Fakhri Pasha, Minister of Public Works in Egypt, 1897.)

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A Report on the Island and Temples of Philæ. Nature 56, 122–124 (1897).

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