Things to Do in Aswan
Built as royal tombs, the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor are some of Egypt’s best known archeological sites. Step past the enormous sandstone statues carved into the temple facades, and explore the interiors, which are decorated with art and hieroglyphics.
Measuring a mighty 4,150 miles (6,680 kilometers) from end to end, the Nile is the world’s longest river. It’s also the lifeblood of Egypt, flowing through the heart of the Sahara desert, and passing through cities, including Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor, and Cairo, before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.
The Philae Temple (Temple of Isis) was once set on a holy island in the Nile River, the site of many pilgrimages. Although projects to dam the Nile once threatened the existence of both the island and the temple, UNESCO worked to rescue and preserve the ancient monument, damming the island itself with a high surrounding wall until the Philae Temple could be moved in sections to a new location: the higher, nearby Agilka Island.
Visit the temple to learn about the temple's history, as well as Isis, who was a very important goddess in ancient times. She was known as the Mother of God, giver of life, and protector and healer of kings.
Built to control the Nile River’s annual floods, the Aswan High Dam transformed Egypt’s Nile Valley and created the vast Lake Nasser. The sheer scale of the dam is impressive, and at the top, you’ll find sweeping views of the lake and surrounding desert.
The Temple of Horus (at Edfu), built as homage to the falcon-headed god Horus, was erected between 237 and 57 BC, during the reign of six different Ptolemies. It’s the second-largest temple in Egypt, only after Karnak, and its main building includes a number of marginally preserved reliefs.
The temple pylons stretch an impressive 118 feet into the sky and visitors can still see where guards once stood, keeping watch over the pharaoh’s enemies. Visitors to this ancient site can trace history through age-old etchings that record years of land donations and even depict the annual Triumph of Horus—a yearly ritual that uses 10 harpoons to kill a ceremonial hippopotamus.
Dating from 180BC, Kom Ombo Temple is unusual because it is duplicated, mirroring itself on either side of a central axis. This is because it was dedicated to two gods: Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world along with Hathor and Khonsu, and also Horus, and each needed their own set of rooms. Sobek was the crocodile god so, of course, crocodiles were mummified for him. Some of the hundreds that have been discovered nearby are now on display in the temple.
Time, the Nile River, earthquakes and later builders taking the stone for other buildings, have all taken a toll on this building. The surrounding town of Kom Ombo is now home to many of the Nubians displaced by the flooding to make Lake Nasser.
Sandwiched between the ruins of Abu and the Mövenpick resort hotel are two colorful Nubian Villages, Siou and Koti. Strolling through their shady alleys and gardens is a wonderful way to experience life on modern Elephantines. A north-south path across the middle of Elephantine Island links the two villages and about halfway along is the Nubian Café, with a shady garden beside a traditional Nubian house.
Close to the wall separating the Mövenpick from Siou village is Nubian House, where the owner serves tea, sells Nubian handicrafts, and can arrange live music and dancing or henna 'tattoos' with local women. Western women should be respectful of local tradition and wear modest clothes.
The Unfinished Obelisk is a huge discarded granite obelisk. Three sides of the shaft, which is nearly 138 feet (42m) long, were completed except for the inscriptions. At 1,168 tonnes, the completed obelisk would have been the single heaviest piece of stone the Egyptians ever fashioned. However, a crack appeared in the rock at a late stage in the process. So it lies where the disappointed stonemasons abandoned it, still partly attached to the parent rock, with no indication of what it was intended for. It does give us an excellent insight into how these massive stone sculptures were made however.
Upon entering the quarry, steps lead down from the surrounding ramp into the pit of the obelisk where there are ancient pictographs of dolphins and ostriches or flamingos, thought to have been painted by workers at the quarry.
One of the world’s largest artificial lakes, Lake Nasser was formed when the Aswan High Dam successfully controlled the Nile, flooding around 2,027 square miles (5,250 square kilometers) of desert. The majority of Lake Nasser is in Egypt; the rest extends across the border into Sudan, where it’s commonly known as Lake Nubia.
Set in the middle of the Nile River at Aswan, Elephantine Island is home to Nubian villages, a handful of tourist sites, and a landmark hotel. Gorgeous views across the water make this a favorite destination for both sunset sails and strolls, while other visitors make laid-back Elephantine Island a home base for exploring Aswan.
More Things to Do in Aswan
Established in association with UNESCO to preserve the ancient Nubian culture, which was devastated when the Nile was dammed in 1970, the Nubia Museum is one of Aswan’s most fascinating and least-visited attractions. Exhibits run from 6,500 years ago to the present day, from the Kingdom of Kush to contemporary folk culture.
Designed by Lord Kitchener, the 16-acre Aswan Botanical Garden is home to trees, flowers and plants from India, Africa and even the world beyond. Travelers can relax in the wide-open spaces of this garden’s breathtaking natural beauty or wind through the extensive exhibit hall of towering palm trees. More than 400 species of subtropical vegetation exist in this urban oasis that’s just a Nile cruise away.
Built as a tribute to the Lower Nubian sun god, Mandulis, Temple of Kalabsha is one of Egypt’s numerous ancient and historic structures and a prime destination for travelers looking to step back into the country’s incredible past. Built during the rule of Augustus around 30 BC, Kalabsh is known for its ornate stone carvings and ancient records inscribed on the temple walls. The temple was moved to its current location at New Kalabsha in 1970 and is in close proximity to the Kiosk of Qertassi and Beit al-Wali.
A simple, austere structure with a dome topping crenellated walls, the Aga Khan Mausoleum (Tomb of Muhammad Shah Aga Khan) sits atop a hill on the outskirts of Aswan, overlooking the Nile. Built in rose granite, with the tomb itself in white Carrara marble, the mausoleum is a fitting monument to the man who was once supreme leader of the Shia Muslim Ismaili sect.
On the west bank of the Nile, facing Aswan, 7th-century St. Simeon Monastery looks more like a fortress than a place of worship. Also known as Anba Hatre, the brick-and-stone structure has been abandoned since the 13th century. From the church to the monks’ cells, it paints an atmospheric picture of monastic life in the ancient world.
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