Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 3. Aswan

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on March 24, 2011 0 Comments

I’m sitting in seat 27H on EgyptAir as the plane takes off from Cairo heading south for Aswan in Upper Egypt. My daughter Pam, my son Dave, and my son’s girlfriend, and I are on our second day of sightseeing in Egypt. On the previous day, we went to ancient sites and saw architecture constructed by early Egyptians, but today our tour group will visit places created in modern times.

Arriving in Aswan, our tour group boards a coach, which heads for the four-lane road that runs across the top of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. The High in the dam’s name distinguishes it from a previous dam that the British built—the Aswan Low Dam—constructed in 1902 and subsequently widened and heightened in 1907 and 1929. The High Dam was built between 1960 and 1970. (1)

The Egypt we saw the previous day showed us an advanced culture set in a desert landscape. Yet, had the Nile River not annually overflowed its banks to overlay the river’s sandy banks with fertilizing silt and precious water, Egypt could not have produced the crops needed to support a large enough population to develop such a high level of civilization. The rains, which occurred every year between August and October in the mountains of countries south of Egypt where the Nile originates, added water to the Nile and caused the river to overflow its banks yearly. This natural irrigation vitalized the soil and made agriculture possible. Life in Egypt was and is dependent on the Nile River.

In storing water for agriculture, the Aswan dams sought to improve on the services the Nile River had for centuries supplied the residents of Egypt. Since the High Dam was built, the Nile River no longer floods its banks, but the dam’s irrigation capacity now allows harvesting two crops per year. Located 4.5 miles upriver from the Low Dam, the High Dam has 12 turbines that generate over 10 billion kilowatts of electricity every year.

The coach stops and lets us off at a landscaped area that provides panoramic views of the High Dam venture and shows the immense scope of the project.

Before exploring the area, I stop to examine a map of the Nile Basin.

A posted map of the Nile Basin shows the location of the Aswan High Dam north of the Egypt-Sudan border. Note how the Blue Nile and White Nile tributaries flow north and merge near Khartoum, Sudan, to become the Nile River.


In the distance on the west side of the Nile River is a tall structure that commemorates the help that the Soviet Union gave Egypt in building the High Dam, namely providing funding for the project.

The Egyptian-Russian Friendship Monument in Aswan is 230 feet high.Designed by Russian-Jewish sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, the monument, also known as the Lotus Flower Memorial, commemorates the help that the Soviet Union provided Egypt in the building of the Aswan High Dam. Neizvestny has lived and worked in the United States since 1977. (2)


The Nile River, which stretches 4,160 miles, has traditionally been deemed the longest river in the world. But, in 2007 after a 14-day expedition to the source of the Amazon River, Brazilian scientists declared that the Amazon River was longer than previously thought. If their claim that the Amazon River is 4,225 miles long making it 65 miles longer than the Nile River holds up, the Amazon River would become the longest river in the world. The Nile would be the second longest.

The hydroelectric plant looks complicated.

Aswan High Dam hydroelectric plant. Construction of the Aswan High Dam doubled Egypt’s electricity-producing capability.

The immense scope of the High Dam project created the world’s third-largest reservoir of water.

Lake Nasser, the large reservoir of water created by construction of the Aswan High Dam. The lake is named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second president of Egypt. Nasser died in 1970, the year the dam was finished.


Having been wowed by the scope of the Aswan High Dam, it’s time to leave for our next stop—the Hotel Möevenpick where we will stay for two nights. The hotel is located on Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile River off Aswan. The coach drops us off at a dock in Aswan where we board a large motor launch the hotel has sent to pick us up. After a short ride, we arrive at the hotel’s dock and deboard.

The Möevenpick Hotel on Elephantine Island. The island is located on the Nile River, west of downtown Aswan.

After settling in our room at the Möevenpick, I mosey onto the balcony to survey the exterior surroundings. While I’m there, several goats appear in the area below our room and begin browsing the vegetation.

Two goats browse in an unlandscaped area under the balcony of our hotel room.

It’s about five in the afternoon when we meet up again with our tour group at the Möevenpick’s dock and climb aboard a felucca. A felucca is the traditional motorless sailboat common on the Nile. It has triangular sails that the boat staff manipulates to catch the winds and steer the boat. The ride is soft, quiet, extremely relaxing, and over too soon.

Felucca boats gently and quietly transport people on the Nile River in Aswan.

The domed building in the background is the Coptic Christian Monastery of Qubbat el-Hawa.

The felucca drops us off at the Aswan Botanical Garden’s dock. I’ve been to many gardens all over the world, including such places as Singapore, South Africa, and Brazil, but this is the first time I entered one at a dock.

Entrance from the Nile River to the Aswan Botanical Garden on Kitchener’s Island, which is west of Elephantine Island.

The island is named after Lord Kitchener, a British Field Marshall who used the island as a headquarters in the Sudan Campaign in the late 19th century. After Kitchener left, the British Ministry of Agriculture turned the island into a natural park of tropical and subtropical plants.

We climb the stairway at the entrance onto a straight landscaped walkway that leads to the other side of the island and gives more views of water.

Palm trees tower over a walkway at the Aswan Botanical Garden.

As we meander through Aswan’s seemingly weed-deprived botanical garden, we find a path that takes us alongside the water past a number of meticulously maintained gardens.

A garden area at the Aswan Botanical Garden

Back at the dock, we board a felucca to return to our hotel. It’s dusk, and the reflections of a lit-up Aswan shimmer on the Nile.

Aswan as seen from the Nile River at dusk

The Möevenpick welcomes us back with changing colored lights bathing the tower of the hotel. I first notice it when it’s green.

Green light sweeps over the Möevenpick Hotel on Elephant Island at dusk.

Fourteen seconds later, the tower is bathed in red light.

The Möevenpick Hotel lit up by red light

As I walk toward the hotel’s entrance, I muse on how what I’ve seen today is connected. The electricity that powers the lights greeting us at the hotel, the electricity illuminating the shoreline lights of the town of Aswan, and the water that nourishes the plantings at the Botanical Garden, have likely traveled to their destinies via the Aswan High Dam.


Notes and references

Thank you to my daughter Pam for her assistance in clarifying some of my thoughts in this post.

1. Sources give varying dates for construction of both the Low and High Aswan Dams. This may depend on what part of the planning and construction is being emphasized.

2. More on Ernst Neizvestny


Previous posts on Egypt


Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 1. Giza. Twelve photos. Posted January 22, 2011

Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 2. Memphis and Saqqara. Eight photos. Posted February 25, 2011


Future posts on Egypt will cover Abu Simbel, Kom Ombo, cruising the Nile River, Edfu, and Karnak.

About the Author ()

I am a retired environmental, health and safety manager who has done some work in communications. I have a knowledge of and passion for sustainability issues. In temperament I am a peculiar mix of stable soul and free spirit.

Leave a Reply