The last full day of our Nile cruise was spent in and around the city of Aswan, in the deep south of Egypt.
Our first visit was to the Aswan High Dam. This was an interesting contrast to all of the ancient monuments we’ve seen the last few days and just as impressive. The first dam was built at Aswan at the turn of the 20th century. Prior to that, for millennia, Egypt’s economy was at the mercy of the Nile’s annual flood. When there was too much rain up river, Egyptian crops were drowned; when there was too little rain, crops died of thirst. With the dams, the amount of water released into the Nile Valley and Nile Delta can be controlled.
The High Dam was built in the 1960s, creating the massive (over 2,000 square miles)Lake Nasser to the south. A number of villages and ancient ruins were doomed to a watery grave but some, like the temples at Abu Simbel and the Philae Temple, were saved by moving them to higher ground. Read about the incomparable Abu Simbel here.
Next, we visited a granite quarry which supplied (among other things) many of the stone fittings of the pyramids at Giza, over 500 miles downriver. The Unfinished Obelisk in the quarry was abandoned, still fixed to the bedrock, presumably due to a large crack. If finished, it would have been nearly 1/3 larger than any other known obelisk – 137 feet tall!
The temple of the day was Philae Temple, dedicated to Isis. It’s commonly called Philae temple because it was originally located on Philae Island in the Nile. In the 1960s, Philae was largely submerged in the new Lake Nasser reservoir, so the temple was dismantled and moved to higher ground on Agilka Island. Nevertheless, the temple is still known as Philae. We took a small motor boat out to the island.
To be honest, while communing with the remains of one of the world’s most complex, enduring civilizations never gets boring, temples begin to look alike after seeing four or five in as many days. When seen from some distance, they’re quite distinct, but standing, dwarfed in the shadow of a great pylon (gateway), I would be hard-pressed to identify the temple.
Back on the mainland, we boarded yet another boat, a felucca, for a quiet, gentle sail around a few Nile islands. This was a whole new perspective on the river. I could hear it for the first time, lapping the shore and opening and closing around our boat. With the addition of that sensory dimension, I became aware of the river as a physical, day-to-day force in the life and times of Egypt. The mythic Nile of my imagination was reconciled with the every-day working river, a fitting full-circle sort of insight for the last day of this cruise.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll disembark and fly from Aswan down to Abu Simbel for a tour, then turn around and fly to Cairo.
Click to see Egypt tours than include a Nile cruise.