A Day on the Nile

Today was a very busy day. I had breakfast on my guest house’s roof terrace just as the sun was rising.

The view at breakfast

Then I crossed over the mainland with the public ferry and made a short drive by taxi to the banks of Lake Nasser (formed by the Aswan Dam) to visit the Temple of Isis at Philae. It was the last day of Egyptian school holidays, and the temple was a popular destination for local tour groups and families with children. At the lake’s edge, many boats jostled to take visitors over to the island where the temple was located. I negotiated a rate for a private boat. The boatman seemed very happy to take an exotic passenger rather than yet another group of locals – not many bears visit Egypt.

Boats jostling to get to Philae Island

The Temple of Isis is relatively modern by Egyptian standards. It was started around 690BC, though most of it was built around the third century BC by the Ptolemaic pharaohs (Egypt’s last dynasty of pharaohs before Roman rule). The Romans added some sections of their own – the Egyptian goddess Isis had become popular throughout their empire. After the Romans adopted Christianity, the temple was used as a Christian shrine, and most of the images of Egyptian gods were defaced. After the first Aswan dam was built in 1902, the temple was regularly flooded. The second Aswan dam in 1970 threatened to totally submerge the temple forever, but it was moved piece by piece to a new island with higher ground as part of the international effort to save the antiquities threatened by the new dam.

The Temple of Isis

I spent an hour and half admiring the different buildings making up the complex – including the courtyard of the main Temple of Isis….

…….its interior…….

……and the kiosk of Trajan, named after the Roman emperor.

The site was busy, and I found I could take some of the best pictures – without anyone getting in the way – from the boat on the way back.

The Temple of Isis seen from Lake Nasser

Next my taxi dropped me off at the Nubian Museum in Aswan. This catalogues the history of the state of Nubia, that spent most of its existence being occupied by, or having to pay tribute to, its more powerful Egyptian neighbour to the south.  The history was interesting, but the items on display suffered from comparison with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which I had visited only two days earlier.

In the Aswan museum

After visiting the museum, I had lunch and a coffee in a café overlooking the Nile and then I set off on a trip on a “felucca” – a traditional Egyptian sailing boat..

Starting my Felucca trip

The weather was warm and sunny, and my trip offered great views of the mountains on the west bank of the Nile – every hill seemed to have some ancient ruin built on it.

The West Bank of the Nile at Aswan

I asked the boatman to drop me briefly at Aswan’s botanical gardens, located on one of the many islands in this part of the river. In Victorian times, the island was given to the British general Lord Kitchener, who was passionate about exotic plants and turned the area into gardens. The story about their foundation was more interesting than the gardens themselves, and I was soon back on my boat enjoying the early evening sun.

Kitchener’s Island, home to the Botanic Gardens
The Mausoleum of the late Aga Khan – head of the Ismaili Muslims

The boat dropped me off back at my guest house on Elephantine Island and I set off immediately to the northern tip of the island to enjoy the sunset from the ruins of Abu. This area contained ruins of many different ages – some as old as 3000BC and some as recent as the 14th century AD – all jumbled together and most in an extreme state of dilapidation. One of the most interesting ruins was a “nilometer” – a set of steps going down to the river, flanked with stones with measuring markings that showed the height of the Nile. This was a very important instrument, because in ancient times, the pharaoh set taxes based on the maximum height of the river during its annual flood. A higher flood meant more water and more rich sediment washed down from central Africa, and so better crops for the kingdom’s farmers.Getting in was a typical Egyptian experience – the security guard said the site was closed for the evening but I could get in if I paid him the normal entrance fee. The ruins were just that – ruins – but the site was a great place from which to enjoy the setting sun.

Sunset at the northern tip of Elephantine Island

The final part of the day was enjoying an early dinner and a fiery red sunset from a restaurant in Aswan city.

A Nile sunset

It had been a very busy day, but I got home early enough to write a bit of my blog and make my first post before collapsing into bed. My guesthouse had basic furnishings, but its internet worked a lot better than that of the modern hotel I stayed at in Cairo.

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