The Government of Aswan, with its capital Aswan, is located on the eastern bank of the Nile River. With Aswan, you will visit the fourth largest city in Upper Egypt after Luxor, Assiut, and Fayoum. At the same time, it’s the southernmost city in Egypt.
The Aswan governorate extends beyond Abu Simbel and there to the border with Sudan. The city first got its name from the ancient Egyptian Swnw (trade), which was derived from the Greeks to the Romans in Syene, up to the Coptic Swan. From this, the Arabic word Aswan emerged.
Traces of settlement could be found in Aswan, which could be led back to 3500 BC. On the southern part of today’s Elephantine Island, the city of Aswan emerged with the construction of a fortress and a neighboring settlement. Aswan formed the gateway to Africa. Via Nubia, gold, ivory, precious woods, and also slave trade took place here.
The SOUK of Aswan
Over a length of more than 700 meters, the souk of Aswan offers spices, perfumes, fruits, scented oils, cloths, clothing, and Nubian handicrafts.
Three cross streets to the Nile River offer enough space to browse and trade in the Sharia as-Souq.
Aswan Quarry – unfinished obelisk
Each of you is probably familiar with the name “unfinished obelisk” and has perhaps already seen an obelisk in Luxor or Paris without knowing its origin.
With its rose granite and plutonic rock, Aswan became one of the main suppliers for stones. The material was used at the construction sites of some of the most famous monuments in Egypt, such as temples, pyramids, and impressive statues. From the quarries, the stones were shipped to the north across the Nile River.
The quarries that still exist today are under monument protection. One of the most impressive sights is the quarry with the “Unfinished Obelisk“. Since 1979 it´s been one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With a height of 41.75 meters, the Obelisk would have become the tallest one of its time. Because of a crack in the rock, it was impossible to finish it.
In the vicinity:
The quarries reached south to the Island of Philae. By the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the island was flooded.
The Philae Temple was originally located on Philae Island. During the construction of Aswan Dam, the island was flooded and became a reservoir of the Aswan Dam. Before the flood could reach the temple, it was dismantled by the UNESCO organization and moved to Agilkia Island, 12 kilometers from Aswan between the old and the new Aswan Dam. Its name comes from the ancient Egyptian name pilak. The Philae Temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis (but also to Osiris, Nephthys, Hathor, and the cataract gods Khnum and Satet) and tells wonderful stories in the form of reliefs.
The first Pylon leads you to the main area of the temple complex. A door in the west tower will take you to the birth house (Mammisi) that Hathor Isis built for the birth of their son Horus. In the last chamber of the Mammisi are reliefs which, among other things, show Isis feeding Horus in the delta swamps.
Take a look at the front of the east tower, decorated with beautiful reliefs. Further in the forecourt are traces of Napoleon’s campaign and the persecution of the Moluccas, in the form of an inscription “an 7 de la Republique”. On both sides of the courtyard, you can see rooms that were used by the priests for scientific purposes.
As you continue through the second Pylon, you will reach the inside of the temple through an entrance that is 32 m wide and 12 m high. There are still some faded Christian paintings on the main entrance door. Take your time to study the entrance with its reliefs! The first room of the temple interior is an 8-column vestibule. Crosses and Greek inscriptions testify to the transformation in a Christian place of worship during the Byzantine period.
Some of the reliefs are already ruined but still tell fascinating stories. They show for example how a crocodile is carrying the corpse of Osiris. There is also a representation of the god Nile as he (representing the source of the Nile), with snakes twisting around his body, pours water from two glasses from a ledge.
You can reach the sanctuary after a series of dark antechambers where the image of Isis was placed on a granite pedestal. Through a door, you cross a room to a gate in the fortress wall, the gate of Hadrian. The gate probably originally led to the neighboring island of Bigga (to the grave of Osiris).
In the temple complex:
The Hathor Temple
In the temple complex, right outside Isis Temple, is another small temple dedicated to Hathor Aphrodite. Take some time to admire the beautiful reliefs.
The kiosk of Trajan
is located on the banks of the Nile River and dates back to Roman times. It was a popular topic among English artists but never completed.
The Byzantine remains
In the northern part, you will still come across the remains of two Coptic churches and a monastery.
You will notice that a visit to the Philae Temple is like a stroll through time. From 370 BC to goddess Isis to pilgrims that visited the temple during Greek and Roman times. The Nubians remained loyal to the cult of the Isis long after the introduction of Christianity. It was not until 527-565 AD that the temple chambers were rebuilt for Christian purposes. A Coptic city emerged on the island until the introduction of Islam.
Until Aswan Dam, Philae Island was one of the most beautiful places in Egypt. With the construction of the dam, the temple complex threatened to sink forever in the water. UNESCO supported the rescue operation just in time. From 1971 to 1980, the temple was relocated from the island of Philae to Agilkia Island.
To this day, the discoloration on the walls shows the damage that the temple suffered from constant flooding before it was relocated. But these marks do not detract from the temple’s imposing character.
In the vicinity:
The Aswan High Dam is one of the attractions you should not miss on a visit to Aswan. The new dam replaced the old Aswan High Dam in 1971.
The new Aswan High Dam was opened south of the city of Aswan in 1971. It replaced the old Aswan Dam from 1902. The old dam was built to regulate the frequent flooding of the Nile River.
The High Dam was built in a way that the fertile Nile mud, which was important for the farmers along the Nile River, could pass through. Despite raising the dam several times, it was no longer sufficient to regulate the capacity of the water. Water reservoirs were urgently needed to bridge the dry periods! In 1960 the construction of the new Aswan High Dam began. The dam, located around 13 kilometers from Aswan city, extends over a length of 3.6 km and has a height of 111 meters. The new Aswan Dam dams the water of the 400 km long Lake Nasser, which extends to the border of Sudan and is called “Nubia Lake” there. Incidentally, the “filling” of Lake Nasser took five years!
During construction, UNESCO began relocating the Abu Simbel Temples. Besides that also many villages and approximately 150,000 people were relocated. It was one of the biggest rescue operations in archaeological history. Most of the residents moved to Kom Ombo, 60 km away, or El Halfa in the Sudanese region.
The Aswan Dam is of great importance for Egypt:
- Regulation of the flood and low water of the Nile River and protection of the agriculture from excessive flooding and drought. With this, it is now possible to harvest 2-3 times a year.
- Targeted expansion of the fertile land (to avoid imports to feed the population)
- In addition to securing the drinking water supply
- For power supply
- For the settlement of industry
Of course, there were also disadvantages: the fish population in the Nile River sank significantly, but a new fish population has developed in Lake Nasser over the decades. The missing Nile mud due to the new dam causes erosion on the banks of the Nile Delta, which has to be constantly repaired.
What many do not know:
In addition to the famous temples that are still in Egypt like the Abu Simbel Temples, Philae, Kalabsha, and Amada temples, many temples have been relocated abroad.
To Madrid: The Temple of Debod
New York: The Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Leiden NL: The Temple de Taphis in the Rijksmuseum
Turin: The Temple of Ellesija in the Museo Egizio
Others were moved to the National Museum of Sudan in Khartoum:
The Temple of Ramses II from Akasha, from Buhen from the Hatshepsut Temple, from Kumma the Khnum temple, from Dibeira the burial chamber Djehuti-Hotep (a Nubian prince), from Semna the temple of Sesostris III and Dedun, as well as the granite pillars of Faras Cathedral.
However, it was not possible to save all the monuments. Much was swallowed up by the water. The dismantling, transport, and rebuilding of the temples took 20 years!
In addition, 50 countries contributed financially to save these monuments for the next generations. One of the most active main initiators of the rescue operation was the French woman Noblecourt. In 2008 she was awarded the Grand Cross Legion of Honor for her work.
In the vicinity:
With its water content Lake Nasser, created by the new construction of the Aswan High Dam, is the third-largest water reservoir worldwide. Other sights in the Nile River are the Elephantine and Kitchener`s Island, which can be reached by motorboat or felucca from Aswan.
On the left side of the Nile River is the Simeon Monastery from the 6th – 7th century, located on the mountainside of Elephantine Island and to be reached from the west side by boat. The ancient tombs of Elephantine are at the level of the northern tip of the island.
There is now a small museum in the former villa of William Willcocks, the designer of the first dam, built in 1902. After opening in 1912, it shows cultural assets rescued from the rising floods during the construction of the old dam. In the 1990s, some find from Elephantine Island were added to the collection of the museum.
One of the sights is the gilded sarcophagus with the mummy of a ram, whose grave was found behind the museum. If you walk down 90 steps below the museum building, you come across a Nilometer discovered in 1870. The Nilometer was already mentioned 63 BC. by Abu. You can continue to the archaeological excavation sites through a garden next to the museum.
In the vicinity:
Another island in the Nile River is Kitchener’s Island, which has a beautiful botanical garden. On the west bank of the mountain Qubbet el-Hawa, are about 80 graves carved deep into the rock. Most of them of high officials like Mechu or Sabri I, and Gau princes like Sarenput I and Sarenput II. These graves formed the necropolis of Elephantine. The sarcophagi were pulled up ramps to the grave openings.
Relax on a felucca ride to Aswan Botanical Garden on Kitchener’s Island! The botanical garden is a tropical plant paradise (Geziret El Nabatat “island of plants”) in the middle of the Nile River! It got its name from an Egyptian General Kitchener who owned the island until his death.
He brought cuttings from all over the world, which he planted on the island. The tourist attraction awaits you with a sea of colorful flowers between the waters of the Nile River and the desert. The island’s abundance of plants surprises with the most exotic tree species such as figs, mulberry, breadfruit, trumpet, mango, nutmeg, and mahogany trees. Also, bushes such as mallow, oleander, hibiscus, clematis, and bougainvillea come in the most beautiful colors.
In addition, one encounters a variety of different birds that find ideal nesting sites here.
In the vicinity:
To the west of Kitchener’s Island are the ruins of the Simeon Monastery on a hill.
St Simeon Monastery Aswan (Deir Anba Simaan)
West of Kitchener’s Island, the ruins of the St Simeon Monastery Aswan are located on a hill in the Libyan desert. Despite its partial decay, this monastery is still one of the best-preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt.
The monastery was built in the time of Christianization of Egypt in 571 and named after a hermit named Anba Hadra, who was consecrated Bishop of Syene. Later it was dedicated to Abna Simaan after the local saint. The monastery has a long history. It offered living space on two levels for 300 monks living there and additional rooms for hundreds of pilgrims. In the absence of a well, there were significant problems with the water supply. During the 750 years of existence of the monastery, nomads attacked again and again. When the monastery was partially destroyed in an attack by the Arabs in 1321, the monks abandoned it.
On both sides of the monastery, there are caves carved into the rock, which probably served as living space for the first monks. In one of them, you can still see paintings with holy images.
In the vicinity:
Not far from the St Simeon Monastery Aswan is the Aga Khan Mausoleum.
Aga Khan Mausoleum
The Aga Khan Mausoleum is considered the landmark of Aswan. The construction was built in the Fatimid style, similar to the Al-Juyushi mosque in Cairo. The Mausoleum is located about 800 m from the St Simeon Monastery Aswan on the west side of the Nile River. In the Mausoleum is the tomb of Aga Khan III, who died in 1957, a well-known Indian Muslim Sultan Muhammad Shah. He was the spiritual leader, the imam of the Ismailis, a Shiite community of faith.
The Begum Aga Khan (Yvette Labrousse), the widow of Aga Khan, lived until her death below the tomb in a white villa, the Nur-el-Salam. She was also buried in the mausoleum in 2000. Unfortunately, the tomb made of white marble with engraved verses from the Koran inside the mausoleum, can no longer be visited today. The tomb is now no longer accessible to the public.
In the vicinity:
The Aga Khan Mausoleum overlooks the Cataract Hotel, a former palace of King Farouk. On the other side, you look at the temple built by Queen Hatshepsut in honor of the goddess Satet.
Museum Aswan – Nubian Museum
To the south, on the outskirts of Aswan, is the Nubian Museum which opened in 1997. Here, on a detailed model, visitors can see the exact locations of the former temple constructions. In a rescue mission of UNESCO, these temples were relocated. Otherwise, the temples would have fallen victim to the masses of water from Lake Nasser.
There are around 1.200 exhibits in the museum. All of them witness different epochs in Nubian history. Here you will find 6000-year-old ceramic bowls and finds from different periods of rule in the area. Most of these pieces come from places like Qasr Ibrim, Faras, Ballana, and Qustul. In a separate ethnic section of the museum, visitors get some more information about today’s culture of the resettled Nubians.
In the vicinity:
Southeast of the Nubian Museum is an antique rose granite quarry. Between the quarry and the museum is the Fatimid cemetery. Here are still some small, well-preserved mud buildings. The cemetery is still used for burials today.
Archangel Michael Cathedral
Aswan’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral is located at the south end of the waterfront near the Ferial Gardens, across Elephantine Island, and dedicated to Archangel Michael.
The new main church of Aswan, built in the traditional style, was consecrated on March 19, 2006, by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.
In the vicinity:
After a visit to the Archangel Michael Cathedral, a beautiful park on the banks of the Nile River invites you to take a stroll.
Temple of Kalabsha
The Greco-Roman Temple of Kalabsha got its name from the place Bab-al Kalabsha, 56 km south of Aswan. Like the Philae Temple, it was dedicated to the goddess Isis, Osiris, and the Roman view of the Nubian sun god in the form of Mandulis, which is why it is also known as the Mandulis Temple.
With the Kalabsha Temple, you will visit one of the most beautiful free-standing temples in Nubia, next to the Abu Simbel Temples.
The temple complex, formerly built on the west bank above the Amenhotep Sanctuary, was built by the Romans under Augustus in 30 BC., but never completed.
Like many others, this temple had to be moved because of the Nasser Dam. South of today’s Aswan Dam, it was rebuilt in Kalabsha el-Gedida, also called New Kalabsha. 13.000 individual stone blocks had to be dismantled and moved. After 2 years of hard work, the temple complex was reconstructed in 1970. The island, which is 9 km away from the Aswan High Dam, can be reached by motorboat.
In the vicinity:
From the Aswan Dam, you can already spot the Mandulis Temple.
Among the largest reservoirs in the world in terms of area, Lake Nasser is in 7th place with around 5500 km². The 180-meter deep lake got its name from President Abdel Nasser, who was in power during the construction period.
The southern third of the lake (150 km) is part of Sudan and is called Nubia; the remaining 324 km are in Egypt. During the construction of the Aswan Dam, a big Nubian cultural area was flooded by the flooding Lake Nasser. Many well-known and famous monuments were saved, but just as many cultural assets disappeared forever in the floods.
Lake Nasser, however, provides the people with a massive stock of fish. Every year around 80,000 tons of fish are caught from Lake Nasser. And: Here you can find the famous Nile crocodiles!
In the vicinity:
Find out more about the lesser-known Lake Nasser cruise! From Aswan, you can cruise across Lake Nasser to the famous Abu Simbel temples.
For friends of astrology:
Sirius – the heliacal rising of Sirius in Aswan
In Egypt, Sirius has been known since 2850 BC at the latest as the producer of the Nile flood. This event was celebrated with the Sothis Festival based on the Sothis calendar.
The preparation for the festival began similarly to our New Year celebrations today. On the eve of the New Year, it was a ritual to dance the heliacal rising of Sirius (a bright star seen under “Dogon”) to greet the New Year after sunrise. It has long been discussed in Egypt whether the island of Elephantine was the original place of observation of this sky spectacle according to records in the ancient Egyptian calendar.
The heliacal rising of Sirius in Aswan from June 15th to the beginning of the 3rd century BC slowly shifted. Also due to the changing year of the Egyptian calendar, the time has shifted until today to July 29th or 30th, about 35 minutes before sunrise.
Kom Ombo is about 150 kilometers north of Luxor and 40 kilometers from Aswan. Here, about 3.5 kilometers from the center of town, is one of the most special sights on the East Bank of the Nile River. At the shipping route from Luxor to Aswan, a so-called double sanctuary awaits you, the doppel temple Kom Ombo.
The construction time of one of the most beautiful sacred buildings in Egypt lasts from 332 BC. until 30 BC. At that time, Kom Ombo (“Omboi”) was an administrative center of Upper Egypt next to Elephantine. It was not until 1893 that the temple complex was freed from the masses of sand that buried it, and restored piece by piece. However, the building fabric suffered greatly from recurring floods.
In the 19th century, an extremely high water level of the Nile River tore away the birth house (Mammisi) of Ptolemaios III and Euergetes II in front of the temple complex. Also, parts of the protective wall of the temple complex were torn away by the water. The complex was built 20 meters above the regular water level, so one can imagine the extent of the flood.
What makes the temple complex so special is, that it consist of two parts and was dedicated to two deities, god Sobek in form of a crocodile (god of fertility and ruler of water) and the falcon headed god Haroeris (the god of light and war).
The temple got two names at the same time: “Temple of the Crocodile” and “Falcon Castle”. Its architecturally interesting construction consists of two symmetrically parts. Each of them has a core structure, a corridor, and a fountain to worship one of the gods.
From the entrance, which used to consist of 2 portals, you get into the courtyard with the altar, and through a vestibule, you reach a columned hall with papyrus columns. The shafts of the columns are covered with wonderful reliefs and hieroglyphs that represent ceremonies. Take a look at the ceiling! Here you can spot wonderful astronomic paintings, as well as representations of the landmarks of Upper Egypt (with a crowned vulture head) and Lower Egypt (with a crowned snakehead). In the pillared hall, you will also notice the division of the temple complex. The passages do not run through the middle of the structure but symmetrically next to the axis.
From here, you can enter another room, the room of offerings, and three further auditions until you reach the two sanctuaries of Sobek and Haroeris on black granite. During the tour, you will come across a pool, where crocodiles were kept, most likely in honor of Sobek. In the unfinished Hathor Chapel outside the temple, you will also find crocodile mummies, from which one can judge the respect that was shown to the animals in “pharaonic Egypt“.
Kom Ombo has several relics that amaze the visitor. For example the “instrument cabinet”. This relief shows illustrations of instruments in a doctor’s cabinet. Including instruments that indicate that skull operations were already been carried out at that time.
Another relict is the “Nilometer”. A measuring stick, located in a well, was used to determine and control the level of the Nile River. And now it comes! In this way, the pharaohs were also able to control the taxes at an early stage. The higher the water level, the more fertile the land and the higher the income. Taxes were then set higher.
Both deities formed their own economic area, Haroeris with Ta-senet-nofret and Pa-neb-taui, with Sobek joining forces with Hathor and Chons.
During the entire journey through the “History of Egypt” you will come across the impressive ability to achieve amazing results with little means!
In the vicinity:
Are you on a Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise? From Kom Ombo it is not far to Aswan. About 60 km separate these two places from the famous Aswan Dam and the quarries with the unfinished obelisk.
Temple of Horus at Edfu
The small town of Edfu on the west bank of the Nile River is about 85 kilometers south of Luxor. Here stands the temple of Horus, known as the best-preserved temple in Egypt. Built between 237 to 57 BC and named after the god Hor-Behdeti (from his name the whole area around Edfu got the name “southern Behet”); the Horus of Edfu.
According to the stories, Horus won the battle against Sethi here.
In addition to the temple, you will find remains of an ancient city here. For a long time, the Edfu Temple, like the Hathor temple, was buried under masses of sand, which explains its good condition. Houses of farmers who lived here stood on the sand and were only demolished in the 19th century when the temple was uncovered.
The temple was used for temple festivals such as the annual celebration on the date of the marriage of Horus (Hor-Behdeti) with Hathor of Dendera (Hut-Hor-Lunet). In the temple, falcons were bred in a specially built falcon temple. Today this special temple is no longer preserved. Each year one of the falcons was “crowned” in honor of Horus as his symbol.
Two falcon statues made of black granite still adorn the entrance of the pylon today. Replicas of the black falcon statue, a symbol of Horus, are still very popular souvenirs. The temple complex is over 137 meters in length has pylons (temple facade) with a width of 79 meters. The pylons at the entrance in the south consist of towers with different levels and are accessible. The original protective wall of the temple is only partially preserved.
When visiting the temple, you can see the biggest connected hieroglyphic inscriptions. In 1896 the inscription was even translated into german.
Through the portal, which is decorated with the reliefs of Horus Edfu and Hathor Dendera, you enter the forecourt. Here 32 columns are arranged in collonades. There are also 2 rooms, the one on the left (“House of the Morning”) was used for ritual ablutions and the utensils of the Priest. The one on the right is the “library” with the engraving of old papyrus rolls on the walls. Here is the entrance to the vestibule, the actual entrance to the temple.
Here you will meet again a black granite statue of the falcon. The only one that has been preserved from the former two ones. On the floor, you can see the remains of the destroyed one. The “double crown” is a symbol for the reign over Upper and Lower Egypt.
When entering the lobby of the actual “sanctuary” you will discover three more rooms. One is for the “liquid sacrifices”, one for the “solid sacrifices”, and one for preparing the ceremonies (Some of the sacrifices are shown on the walls). From there the sacrifices were brought to the “room of sacrifices”. There is a separate building in the middle of the religious part of the temple complex. This building is the “Holy of Holies” with the Sancta Sanctorum. Here the god was presented in a shrine.
In the vicinity:
There is a small building, the Mammisi, only 60 meters from the Temple of Horus. It is the sanctuary of the wife of Horus, the goddess Hathor of Dendera. The small temple is surrounded by columns and was part of the main temple complex during the reign. Over time it developed into a separate standing building.
Mammisi (Coptic, “place of birth”), or referred to as “the nurse’s house” was the place of birth. Here expectant mothers were isolated from the community a few weeks before and after the birth.