Deir el-Shelwit Temple of Isis

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Deir el-Shelwit (دير الشلويط) temple is an ancient Egyptian temple from the Greco-Roman period dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. It stands on the West bank of the Nile at Luxor, 1 kilometer from Malkata and about 4 km south of Medinet Habu.

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The importance of the Isis temple of Deir el-Shelwit is because Graeco-Roman era religious buildings are rare in this area, and this is the only one not associated with the Theban Triad but with Isis.

No earlier building is known to have stood on this site. According to one theory the temple's construction started under the reign of Nectanebo II and reached its finished form during the Greek-Roman era.

The temple was first examined by Karl Richard Lepsius in the mid-19th century, but he did not make a detailed description of it. A French expedition led by Christiane Zivie studied the inscriptions on the propylon and published their studies in 1992. Between 1971 and 1979 archaeologists from the Waseda University of Japan worked on the site, they cleared the enclosure wall and the enclosed precinct from debris and excavated the temple's well which was filled with pottery shreds. Thirty-two strata of fillings were detected in the well, up to the point of 4 meters under ground level, where water made further excavation impossible. Remains found in the well prove that the well (and the temple itself) was already abandoned and used as a trash deposit by the Coptic era.

Archaeological Remains

circa 100 CE

Temple Precinct
Today all that remains of the temple is its small main building and ruins of the propylon, along with its brick enclosure wall and the well. The temple precinct had an area of 78×58 metres; the temple/sanctuary itself is much smaller, with an area of 13×16 meters. Its entrance faces south. The outer walls do not have much decoration but on the inside the reliefs are well preserved.

circa 100 CE

The sanctuary, constructed out of sandstone, is located on the western end of the complex. It is a small temple-shrine, composed of a central chamber, or naos, with surrounding corridor, four side chapels and a roof terrace. The façade and interior walls of the naos are decorated with intricately painted high-relief with inscriptions and scenes of Roman emperors making offerings to Egyptian gods.

circa 100 CE

The propylon is located 60 meters east from the temple, and is lavishly decorated on all sides. According to inscriptions on the propylon, construction of the Isis temple started around the beginning of 1st century CE.

circa 100 CE

Relief Decorations
The reliefs of the temple are dated to the Greek-Roman era and are similar to the ones in Dendera Temple and Philae. On the walls of the temple and the pylon the cartouches of Hadrianus, Antoninus Pius, Galba, Otho, Vespasianus and Julius Caesar can be seen. On the reused blocks (inspect) built into the outer walls of the temple, reliefs stylistically dated to the New Kingdom can be seen.


circa 2012 CE

The project to conserve Deir el Shelwit was initiated in 2012 as a collaboration between the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, with the aim of opening it to public visitation.

The initial phase was led by Katey Corda and Jennifer Porter and focused on preventive conservation measures necessary prior to remedial work. Measures included roof repairs to prevent water infiltration and the exclusion of a large colony of resident bats. Bats have the potential to severely damage both the historic fabric and the decorative surfaces of a building. Additionally, their guano can carry or host a variety of fungal and bacterial growths that are harmful to human health.

A significant amount of time was dedicated to developing a compassionate and permanent removal strategy and its account was published upon completion of the 2012 campaign. Additional project components included background research, preliminary documentation, site set-up, and treatment trials for the cleaning of the wall paintings.


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