Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Wonders of Egypt and Jordan - Day 7: A Lovely Day in Aswan

February 16, 2023 

The Cataracts of the Nile River, a Nubian Village, the Unfinished Obelisk, and the Temple of Philae

Today was a nice change of pace.  We woke up in the final destination of our Nile River Cruise, the busy city of Aswan.  After breakfast, Deda escorted us along the waterfront to our waiting boat, and we boarded for a lovely, relaxing float through the “cataracts,” where the Nile flows past a series of small rock islands, creating gentle rapids.  

One of the islands in the part of the Nile called "The Cataracts"

Rob enjoying a peaceful float down the Nile River

The day could not have been more beautiful, with sunny skies and mild temperatures.  High on a ridge above us was the mausoleum of Aga Khan III, a well-loved figure who worked for a more liberal view within Islam, advocating for equal rights and education for women and for eradicating poverty.  He and his wife lived the latter part of their lives in a villa that still sits on the hillside below the mausoleum.  We also passed by the Aswan Botanical Gardens on one island, and Nubian villages on Elephantine Island, the largest island here. 

The Mausoleum of Aga Khan III above his villa

The Dome of Abu Al-Haba above the Tombs of the Nobles in the hillside.

The Aswan Botanical Gardens

Cows graze on some of the islands

These red brick houses were constructed here illegally and are going to be demolished

A water wheel along the Nile

Aswan is predominantly Nubian in population, and our guide, Deda, grew up in a Nubian village.  After our delightful cruise down the river, we docked at Elephantine Island, the largest of the islands in this region.  In ancient Egypt, this island was the border between Egypt and Nubia, the ancient kingdom just south of Egypt.  In the ancient religion, the island was the home of Khnum, the ram-headed god who controlled the waters of the Nile.

There are two Nubian villages on the island and we got to visit one of them.  As we walked into the village, we could see children out in their schoolyard listening to their principal read some announcements, and some of them waved excitedly to us as they spotted us peeking at them over the wall.  We walked around the village, stopping to watch a farmer working in his fields, accompanied by egrets who follow him to peck at the bugs he turned up from the dirt.  

Deda and Rob walk into the village.

The principal of the School reads morning announcements to the children.

Several of the homes were brightly decorated with scenes from Egyptian life.

A farmer tills the soil while an egret waits for a snack.

One of the local men had turned his home into a museum to share the daily life of the Nubians with visitors.  His daughter, a medical doctor, gave us a tour of the home, demonstrated the household tools, and explained the significance of the artwork decorating the walls.  She also showed us a room filled with taxidermy animals of the area and a display of many insects that live here, including the sacred scarab beetle. 

Fish of the Nile

The Scarab Beetle was the symbolic representation the sun god, Ra.

We returned to Aswan on a felucca, the traditional boat of the Nile.  Dozens of them dotted the river, filled with tourists enjoying the day. 

After lunch back on our cruise ship, we went out again for two more interesting stops.  A limestone quarry sits right in the middle of the city and is famous for its “unfinished obelisk,” a long hunk of carved limestone partially chiseled out of the mountain.  Imagine the dismay of the workers when, after months of hard labor, the partially finished obelisk cracked down the middle! We learned that the obelisks we had seen miles away at the temple of Karnak had come from this quarry.

The limestone quarry where many of the obelisks of ancient Egypt were made.

The long straight stone slanting down like a ramp is the "Unfinished Obelisk"

Our last stop of the day took us through the crazy traffic of Aswan, (where, as in Cairo, traffic lanes are just a suggestion,) to another boat that took us to the gorgeous Temple of Philae.  This temple is one of nine that had to be moved from their original locations to save them from being covered by the rising of Lake Nasser after the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.

Every tourist site had souvenirs on sale.

Approaching the Temple of Philae

The Temple of Philae was built during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (the last dynasty of ancient Egypt) and is dedicated to Isis, the goddess of healing, birth, and magic, her husband, Osirus, god of the underworld, and their son, Horus.

Like the other temples we had visited, the walls of the temple were covered with engravings of the Egyptian gods. Some of the engravings were visibly defaced, their forms hacked with chisel marks by early Christians who were trying to erase the old religion.  Inside the temple, there was a Christian altar and marks of the cross on the wall, along with the older figures of the Egyptian gods. 

Faces of the gods chipped away by early Christians

Earlier engravings on a column replaced by a cross

Interior of the Temple

A pharaoh brings offerings to the winged goddess Isis

The goddess is either Isis or Hathor.  They were both portrayed with the horns.

I loved the row of faces carved into the tops of columns on one side of the temple courtyard.  This was the Mamezi, the Royal Birth chamber, and the seven faces depict a mother on each of the seven days following birth.  The first face grimaces in pain, but each day becomes a little more cheerful, until the seventh day shows a laughing mother enjoying her new little one. 

A pained face on the first day after giving birth

And a much happier face on the sixth day!

Our visit to Philae ended at the café near the docks where we were enchanted by the many temple cats that hang out here begging for treats.  The café actually sells little cups of catfood, and Rob was happy as a kid at the petting zoo, handing out treats to the cats gathered around his feet.

One of the temple cats greeted us inside the temple...

...but most of them were in the cafe waiting for handouts

It was late afternoon by the time we returned to our cruise ship to pack our bags for the next part of our journey.  In honor of our visit to Elephantine Island, our final gift from Mahmoud was an elephant!


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