Overview of Aswan
Aswan ( Aswan ) lies on the eastern bank of the Nile below the first cataract. It is the capital of the Aswan Governorate named after it and after Luxor, Asyut and Fayyum with about 280,000 inhabitants the fourth largest city in Upper Egypt. Aswan is the southernmost city of Egypt, the administrative area of the governorate extends beyond Abu Simble to the Sudan border.
The city is idyllically situated in the Nile valley and is famous for the beautiful landscape that surrounds it, consisting of green islands in the middle of the Nile and red granite rocks that extend directly to the banks of the Nile.
The city’s name comes from the ancient Egyptian Swnw, which means “trade”. In the Ptolemaic epoch it became the ancient Greek name Syene, under the Roman rule the Latin Syene or Siene. Through the derived Coptic Swan , the city name in the form of the Arabic Aswan has been preserved to this day.
Aswan is on the southeast side of a river bend of the Nile, about 13 kilometres north of the 5250 km² Lake Nasser. The lake was created as a result of the Nile water being dammed up by the Aswan high dam named after the city. The old Aswan dam is located between the Hochdamm and the urban area, six kilometres southwest of the city center. From this to Aswan, the Nile flows around some islands, the northernmost of which, Elephantine and Kitchener Island, now belong to the city. The urban area east of the Nile stretches from east to west for a length of 2.5 kilometres and a length of 5 kilometres along the river from north to south. To the east is the Arabian Desert, to the west of the Nile the Libyan Desert.
The city of Aswan owes its importance to its location below the first cataract of the Nile. From here the river was navigable towards Lower Egypt. The cataracts, rapids divided by blocks and rock blocks, prevented the journey southwards, so that Aswan, as the point of contact for the trade caravans from Nubia, became an important transshipment and trading center. Due to the construction of the dams, the rapids are no longer present in their original appearance. Aswan has meanwhile become a city of administration and tourism, even if trade still plays a role and the granite and ore mining, the chemical industry with the predominant processing of nitrogen salts (fertilizers) and the Hochdamm offer jobs.
Aswan is the terminus of the Qena railway line that runs through Luxor, Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The Aswan High Dam is connected to the rail network. The main train station is about 400 meters from the Nile in the northern part of the city near the market (souk). In addition to the roads along the Nile to the north, there are other, partly unpaved road connections on both sides of Lake Nasser and towards the Red Sea, 225 kilometres away. The city’s airport, Aswan International, is located six kilometres west of the Aswan high dam in the Libyan desert. However, the Nile remains an important artery for Aswan, on which the Luxor river cruisers, which are important for tourism, travel and freight traffic to Lower Egypt is handled.
On the eastern bank of the Nile, opposite the island of Elephantine, runs the Corniche el-Nil, a promenade with tourist restaurants and the landing stages for the cruise and excursion boats. At the south end of the Corniche stands the Old Cataract Hotel , built in 1902 and used by Agatha Christie as a novel location. The business center and pedestrian tourist area of Aswan are located on the parallel streets east of the Corniche. The city extends south through new blocks of flats that expand into satellite settlements in the desert hills in the southeast.
From the medieval Arab old town in the eastern part of the inner city, only a small amount of construction remains can be seen. To the east, an informal settlement with narrow traffic routes that are partly impassable conquers the hills. On theElephantine Island is operated under shady trees on small plots of traditional irrigation farming,
Rain is very rare in Aswan and can be absent for decades. The average annual rainfall is only about one millimetre and mainly falls, as in ancient Egypt, in May.
A short time later, the rainy season begins in Ethiopia, which causes the Nile to swell from the beginning of June; in August the Nile peaked and the Aswan Reservoir was refilled. With the decreasing precipitation, in mid-September in Ethiopia, the Nile will return to its normal level from the end of October. The water level of the Nile was measured in ancient times with Nilometers, as one can be seen near the Chnum temple on Elephantine. Since the construction of the dam, both the Nile floods and the fertile Nile mud that was previously transported and necessary for agriculture have failed to materialize.
The average maximum temperatures of around 34 degrees Celsius are reached in July, but occasionally temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius can also be reached. The average annual temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius. However, the climate is pleasantly bearable due to the dry heat.
The history of Aswan goes back to the pre-dynastic Naqada culture, with traces of settlement around 3500 BC. BC, and the early dynastic period of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. At the time of the 1st dynasty, there was an adobe fortress on the eastern side of the island of Abu or Yebu, the southeastern part of today’s Elephantine Island, with an attached settlement for the garrison. From in Egyptian meant “elephant”, the settlement was called Swnw (Sunu; Swenu) in ancient Egyptian times. For a long time it represented the southern border of Egypt and the gateway to sub-Saharan Africa, through which the trade with Nubia was carried out. Gold, ivory, precious woods, herbs and peacock feathers were mainly imported to Egypt, but also people who were used as slaves or soldiers.
Aswan also played an important role in antiquity as a supplier of granite and rose granite, plutonic rock, which was mined in the nearby quarries and shipped to the north. Obelisks, statues and monolith shrines were carved out of the rock and were delivered ready-made. The remains of the quarries are now under the protection of the Egyptian government as archaeological sites, including the open-air museum with the unfinished obelisk in the southern part of the city of Aswan. The quarries stretched south to the island of Philae, and the quarries have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1979.
Due to its strategic location, Swenu became the capital of the first Upper Egyptian Gau Ta-seti, the “Gau des (Nubischen) Bogenland”. As god godsChnum, Satet, Anuket, Isis, Nephthys, Horus, Osiris and Seth worshiped. Many of the temples in Aswan and the surrounding area were consecrated to them, some of which can still be seen today, such as the temples of Philae. But also in Aswan itself some buildings from ancient Egyptian times have been preserved, including the Nilometer on Elephantine. The first indications of settlement from the east bank of the Nile date from the time of the 20th dynasty. Under the Ptolemies that followed, the island of Elephantine lost its importance as a settlement.
From the time of the Greek Ptolemies, the place was called Syene. The Egyptian border now ran further south behind Philae. Syene is known from this era as a measuring point for determining the circumference of the earth by the head of the library of Alexandria Eratosthenes. In the Greco-Roman period two new temples were built on Elephantine. Likewise, most of the temples on the island of Philae south of the city date from this period. The Isis cult there resided until 535/37 against the Christianization demanded by the Byzantine rulers. Already 200 years earlier, in the early 330s, Syene became a bishopric and as such was the longest in Egypt to resist the Islamization that began with the Muslim conquest of the city in 642 by Abd Allah ibn Said. In the High Middle Ages, ongoing fighting with the Blemmyers (Bedscha) and a plague epidemic led to a decline in the city, which only came to an end with the Ottoman conquest of Egypt.
In 1902, the old two-kilometer-long Aswan Dam, built by the English, went into operation six kilometers south of the city in the area of the 1st cataract. The new Aswan High Dam, 3.6 kilometers long and 111 meters high, was inaugurated 13 kilometers south of the city in 1971; it jams the 400 km long lake of Nasser. In 1964, UNESCO launched the largest rescue campaign in the history of archeology. Temples such as Abu Simbel as well as around 35 villages were moved. Almost 150,000 people were resettled, most on the Egyptian side to Kom Ombo about 60 kilometers north of Aswan, on the Sudanese side to New Halfa in the Butana region.
Only a few monuments of the ancient city have been preserved in the modern cityscape. These include a temple dedicated to Isis from the time of Ptolemy III. Late 3rd century BC BC in the southern part of the city, near the Fatimid cemetery and the remains of a temple from the Domitian period. Since 2001, the Swiss Institute for Egyptian Building Research and Ancient History Cairo and the Supreme Council of Antiquities Egypt have been carrying out systematic rescue excavations in the modern city.
The earliest settlement of Aswan was founded under the name Abu at the beginning of the 3rd millennium at the south end of the island of Elephantine as an adobe fortress. This extensive excavation area also includes the temple of the ram-headed god Chnum, who from here, as the fertility god and patron god of the island, controlled the water masses of the annual Nile floods.
On the left side of the river on Qubbet el-Hawa are the ancient tombs of Elephantine at the northern tip of the island; the Simeons monastery from the 6th to the 7th centuries further up on the mountain slope without vegetation can be reached by boat from the west side of Elephantine Island. The Botanical Garden of the city of Aswan is located on Kitchener Island, which is up to 115 meters wide .
The island of Agilkia, on which the Isis temple of the flooded island of Philae, which was dismantled and rebuilt in 1979 in 44,000 parts, is located south of the Nile, between the old and new Aswan Dam. Not far away, on the western shore of the lake, is the Kalabsha Temple, which has also been relocated.
According to the Egyptology Zahi Hawass at the beginning of July 2011, archaeologists near Aswan discovered an area at 3200 BC. BC estimated rock art depicting a royal ceremony. It is the first completely preserved representation from before the 1st Dynasty. The illustration shows hunting and fighting scenes as well as celebrations on the banks of the Nile.
Visit this unique Nubian city with the famous sights of the ancient Egyptians as part of an exciting Nile cruise and be enchanted by the beauty of the landscape.