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Aswan, the Land of the rainbow

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Aswan_River_NileAswan, or Syene (Egyptian Arabic: أسوان ) is a city in Egypt located about 843 km south of Cairo, on the right bank of the Nile, near the first cataract.

Formerly part by Upper Egypt, in the first nome, the “Land of the rainbow” (or the “Land of Nubia”), its name in ancient Egyptian was Souenet (or Swenet or Souentet) which means “Trade”.

She is currently the capital of the Aswan Governorate and has nearly 250,000 inhabitants.


At the time of the Ptolemies, it was divided into very different areas, Elephantine benefiting from a residential character and the eastern shore constituting an agglomeration of workers and artisans.

This city, the southernmost of Egypt, has long been one of the main inputs and outputs of black Africa, giving rise to a flourishing trade on the caravan route. Border town, Copts called it Souan word for “trading”.

This city is also known as Syene, which in the Christian era, was the seat of a bishopric.

It was made famous by the experiment of Eratosthenes to determine the circumference of the earth, because the scientist had chosen it because of its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, the Sun being then to the vertical in the city the summer solstice.


Aswan’s climate is specific to hyper-arid with annual rainfall zero areas, temperatures experiencing significant diurnal and seasonal variations. In winter the nights are cool while in summer the heat is scorching in the day.


A wealth came from Aswan Nile which provided, in addition to sediment, the fish, before the Aswan dam will disrupt the ecology of the river.

Another wealth since ancient Aswan was the quarrying of granite, which could be transported by the Nile. The unfinished obelisk is a relic.

Aswan has an airport (IATA: ASW).



View of from the Tombs of the Nobles on the other side of the Nile

The city derives much of its economic activity of tourism, including river cruises from Luxor and on the Nasser Lake.

It was the favorite city of François Mitterrand who spent Christmas every year. Legend has it that in this city – which he appreciated the “serenity” – he made the decision to represent the 1988 presidential election. The French president was staying at the Old Cataract, royal palace converted into a luxury hotel, located in front of the ruins of the temples of Elephantine Island and near the Nubia Museum. He spent his last New Year’s Eve in 1995.

Winston Churchill also stayed within these walls. The same hotel was visited by Agatha Christie, who wrote part of his novel Death on the Nile, whose film adaptation was filmed on the premises. The writer gives the following description in his novel: “The river provided a wildness. Both sides of the rock masses, bare, down to the water’s edge. Here and there, a few remnants of abandoned homes and undermined by the floods. Panorama melancholy, almost sinister.

The writer Amelia Edwards, in A Thousand Miles Up in the Nile (1877), describes the riverbank where she saw “large packets of skin lion and leopard, cotton balls, bags of henna leaves and elephant tusks.” Gustave Flaubert and his friend Maxime Du Camp will begin their journey to Egypt. The writer and photographer Hervé Guibert devoted to the city part of his travelogue Letters from Egypt: from Cairo to Aswan.


Aswan is also known for its dams, the first built by the British in 1908, and the High Dam inaugurated by President Sadat in 1971, creating a vast reservoir upstream of the city, Lake Nasser. At the time of Nasser was accomplished the old dream of the Pharaohs: control the flow of the Nile god.

There in the middle of the Nile the Elephantine Island and Kitchener Island.

The reach between the two dams, the island of Philae, on which stood a temple of Isis, was submerged during the construction of the High Dam, resulting in the reconstruction of the temple by Unesco on the island of Aguilkia , 300 m to the north.


Aswan Town and the East Bank


Aswan, Nubian Museum: entrance


  • Nubian Museum, (opposite the Basma Hotel, south of the Old Cataract Hotel, at the southern edge of Aswan town on Sharia Abtal al-Tahrir – approximately a half hour walk from the city centre.). Very well organized, features Nubian treasures recovered before the flooding of Nubia.
  • Unfinished Obelisk, (South of Aswan). The largest known ancient obelisk, carved directly out of bedrock. If finished it would have measured around 42m (120 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,200 tons.
  • Fatimid Cemetery, (Southern end of Aswan). The faded former glory of the Fatimid empire can be seen on the crumbling graveyard. free.
  • Ferial Gardens, (Southern end of Corniche). When you’re in Aswan you’ll have to walk along the Kornish Al Nile (Corniche) at least once. It is a pleasant stroll, made even more pleasant by the fact that you can walk right into the Ferial Gardens at its Southern End. They are a park that is as relaxing as it is beautiful. free.

The River and Islands

  • Elephantine Island: Nubian Villages & Aswan Museum. Nubian villages of Siou and Koti occupy this island. Also home to the famous Nilometers and the Temples of Sati, Khnum (ancient rams-head god) and Pepinakht-Heqaib. Movenpick resort is on the island. The Aswan Museum (Adult: 25LE, Student 15LE) at the southern end of the island houses items found during excavations on Elephantine Island. Also, be careful of unsolicited tours from locals, which will result in a request for baksheesh. There is regular boat taxi to Elephantine Island run by the locals for only 2LE for one crossing but they will charge more for tourists.
  • Aswan Botanical Gardens, (On the entirety of Kitcheners Island to the west of Elephantine Island). Lord Kitchener, who owned the 6.8 hectare island in the 1890′s converted it to a botanical garden. Filled with birds and hundreds of plant species and palm trees. Accessible via a Felucca tour.
  • Seheyl Island, (Just north of the old Aswan Dam). 7AM to 4:00PM. Friendly Nubian villages. Well known for its excellent beaded jewelry. Also the location of the Famine Stela. Cliff with more than 200 inscriptions from the 18th dynasty.

West Bank

  • Tombs of the Nobles. The northern hills of the west bank are filled with the rock-hewn tombs of princes from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. The 6th Dynasty tombs, some of which form linked family complexes, contain important biographical texts. Inside, the tombs are decorated with vivid wall paintings showing scenes of everyday life, hieroglyphic biographies and inscriptions telling of the noblemen’s journeys into Africa.
    • Tombs of Mekhu & Sabni – Reliefs show invasion of Nubia
    • Tomb of Sarenput II – One of the most beautiful and preserved tombs
    • Tomb of Harkhuf – Hieroglyphics
    • Tomb of Hekaib – Reliefs show fighting and hunting scenes
    • Tomb of Sarenput II – Six pillars decorated with reliefs
    • Kubbet al Hawa – Located on the hilltop above the other tombs. Stunning views of the Nile
  • Kubbet el-Hawa, (on top of the hill above the Tombs of the Nobles). Small shrine / tomb of a local sheikh and holy man. The climb is rewarded with amazing views of Aswan, the Nile river and the surrounding landscape, richly evoked in the translation from the Arabic of the place name, “the dome of the wind’.
  • Mausoleum of Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, (High up in the west bank). Tomb of the 48th iman of the Ismaili sect and his wife. Visible from the outside, although closed to the public.
  • Monastery of St Simeon. Oct to May: 8AM-4:00PM; Jun-Sep:7:00AM-5:00PM. The history of the monastery of St. Simeon dates back to the 7th century, and survived long as a Christian stronghold of southern Egypt until destroyed by Saladin in 1173. While still in use it housed 300 monks, and could in addition receive up to 100 pilgrims at a time. The monastery was surrounded by a 10 metre high wall, and doubled as a fortress. Apparently, the monastery did not return to its original use after Saladin’s destruction. To get here, ride a camel or walk from the Tombs of the Nobles.

Around Aswan


 Philue Temple
Philue Temple


  • The High Dam. Despite being a highly important piece of infrastructure, the Aswan High Dam is (to put it delicately) a bit of a letdown even for dam lovers.
  • Philae Temple, (Agilkia Island). Built to honor Isis, this was the last ancient temple built in the the classical Egyptian architectural style. Construction began in approx 690 BC. It was moved from its original location on Philae Island, to its new location on Agilkia Island, after the flooding of Lake Nasser. A major multinational UNESCO team relocated Philae, and a number of other temples that now dot the shores of Lake Nasser. You can see the submerged original island a short distance away, punctuated by the steel columns used in the moving process. Don’t miss the Sound and Light show at night, see picture to the right, the least cheesy of the Sound and Light “extravaganzas”. On your feet, look out for the extremely creative guards who will do all in their power to get in your photos, or to point out the hieroglpyhs that you can quite clearly see yourself, all for some baksheesh(tip)! Note also the re-use of the temple as a Christian church, with crosses carved into the older hieroglyph reliefs, and images of the Egyptian gods carefully defaced. There are grafitti dating from the 1800s.
  • Kalabsha Temple. Like Philae, this temple and its surrounding ruins were moved by UNESCO to save them from the floodwaters of Lake Nasser. The main temple was built to the Nubian fertility and sun god Marul during the rule of Emperor Augustus. Don’t miss the Kiosk of Qirtasi and the amazing Temple of Beit al-Wali built by Ramesses II.
  • Abu Simbel. Most people use Aswan as a base to see this fantastic temple. There is a convoy that departs at 4AM, and is usually arranged by your tour agent.
  • Aswan International Sculpture Park. Sculptors from around the world exhibit their pieces here every spring for the International Sculpture Symposium. The works are all created in Aswan (on the terrace of the Basma Hotel) and when finished brought to this site and exhibited next to each other within view of the ancient quarry.



A view along the street connecting railway station and Nile


The city is served by Aswan International Airport.


Gate of the kingdom of Nubia, the ancient Syene revives the past few years with this culture. The Nubia Museum, opened in 1997, hosts the remains of a civilization whose lands were submerged by Lake Nasser. It seeks to present its anthropological and social aspects, while exposing pharaonic statues and objects saved from the waters.


The city has a football team, the Aswan Sporting Club.


Source Wikipedia and Wikitravel, GNU Free Documentation License.

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