Tormented by a bad reputation because of terrorist attacks, Egypt’s tourism industry has seen a severe decline over the last couple of years. But, as things calm (relatively) down, and since Lonely Planet rated Egypt as the most value destination for 2019, things are starting to look for the better in this sun-overfilled country. We decided to go check out what Egypt is all about and followed the Nile river from the middle of the country to the South.
The history of the Nile
Let’s start with a little bit of history, especially regarding the relationship Egyptians have with water, more specifically, the Nile.
With more than 6,000 kilometres, this is the longest river in the world which runs through eleven countries. Ever since the Stone Age, The Nile has been the primary water source For Egypt. Hence you will find most of the life and all the ancient sites along the river banks (see image on the left).
The Nile overflowed its banks annually, leaving the surrounding land fertilized with silt from the river. This allowed ancient Egyptians to cultivate the land, start trading their crops, and develop strong diplomatic relationships with neighbouring countries which contributed to economic stability.
It wasn’t all great though, as this natural flooding of the river varied year by year. High-water years could destroy the whole crop, while low-water years lead to drought and famine.
This created the need for a dam that would give the Egyptians more control over the river. More on that later…
We started our journey in Hurghada, as the airport here offered the best flight-tickets for us. Located next to the Red Sea, Hurghada is famous for its all-inclusive resorts and diving. And that’s about it. We spent a couple of relaxing days here, exploring the underwater world of the Red Sea, but if you really want to experience Egypt, Hurghada is not the place to be.
So, we booked a bus ticket for 110 EGP and set off to Luxor. You can easily book your tickets online at Go Bus or at local transport offices, which was about 35x cheaper than the price our hotel offered us (not exaggerated).
A 5-hour bus ride from the coast to the Nile, brought us to Luxor – or as some call it “world’s greatest open-air museum”. It earned this name thanks to the thousands’ years old temple complexes of Karnak and the Luxor Temple.
These temples lie on the East Bank of the river, on the West Bank, you can find the “Valley of the Kings” and the “Valley of the Queens”. These valleys cover a vast area in excavated rock formations, where pharaohs and powerful nobles were buried, starting 1600 BC. Even though the majority of the 63 tombs and chambers were opened and robbed in antiquity, the site is still well preserved and gives a great glance into the wealthy life of these pharaohs and noble men.
Starting our trip in Hurghada, we felt that Luxor was already a lot calmer in terms of “hassling”. But a new world opened for us when we arrived in Aswan. The people here are a lot more relaxed and are more considerate to the fact that not all tourists are walking cash machines.
Aswan is just stunning. We spent a couple of days on the Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile, which offered a magnificent view when the sun was setting over the botanical gardens across from the river before finally disappearing in the yellow desert lands. The island itself is super calm and mostly inhabited by Nubians, early inhabitants of the central Nile valley, who are believed to be one of the earliest cradles of civilization.
Aswan Dam and its effect on ancient Temples
Let’s get back to our main topic: Egypt’s history with water. The unexpected flooding of the Nile was giving the Egyptians too much uncertainty, so they decided to build a dam to control the flooding. It started with the Aswan Low Dam in 1902, but after 50 years they concluded that this small dam could not hold enough water to control the flooding.
Although the low dam was an impressive structure, a much larger project was needed. And this created the idea of the “Aswan High Dam”. This enormous project, set out as back then the biggest dam in the world, would give the Egyptians better control of the flooding of the Nile, increased water storage for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity. A side-effect of the building of this dam, was that if flooded much of lower Nubia, forcing 100,000 people to move away from their homes.
But it wasn’t just the people who had to move, it was also something a little bit more difficult: 2000+ years old temples. Abu Simbel, Kalabsha and the Amada temple were all taken apart and moved to higher grounds.
On the left you can see how the statue of Ramses the Great at the Great Temple of Abu Simbel is reassembled after having been moved in 1967 to save it from being flooded. Source: Wikipedia
Why you should visit Egypt
It took a couple of days to get used to the “hassle” by locals who want to sell you something (which is basically everyone, all the time). But once you are past that point, you can fully start to enjoy this beautiful country with probably one of the richest histories in the world.
- Swimming in the Nile River
- Learning some Arabic numbers to prevent getting overcharged 25x
- Sunset from Elephantine Island
- The unfinished Obelisk in Aswan – the fact that it’s unfinished tells us a lot about how the ancient Egyptians worked back then
- Diving in the Red Sea and snorkelling with dolphins
- Karnak & Philae Temple
I would highly recommend reading a book or watching a documentary about the ancient times of Egypt, this helps you to appreciate the majesty of the temples and the reign of the pharaohs a lot more. Also book a guide every now and then, as they are always filled with fun facts and usually the best source to answer your questions on the spot!
Any questions? Drop them in the comments!