Aswan, Egypt's sunniest southern city and ancient
frontier town located about 81 miles south of Luxor, has a distinctively African atmosphere. Its ancient Egyptian name was Syene. Small enough to walk
around and graced with the most beautiful setting on the Nile, the
pace of life is slow and relaxing. Days can be spent strolling up and down the
broad Corniche watching the sailboats etch the sky with their tall masts or
sitting in floating restaurants listening to Nubian music and eating freshly
The city proper lies on the east bank of the Nile. Relax here, visit a few
mosques, but then prepare for an adventure. The bazaar runs along the Corniche,
which continues past the Ferial Gardens and the Nubian Museum, and continues on
to the Cemetery, with its forest of cupolas surmounted tombs from the Fatimid
period. Just east of the cemetery in the famous area quarries is the gigantic Unfinished Obelisk. Just to the south of this, two Graeco-Roman
sarcophagi and an unfinished colossus remain half buried in the sand.
The most obvious is Elephantine Island, which is timeless with artifacts dating from
pre-Dynastic times onward. It is the largest island in the area. Just beyond
Elephantine is Kitchener's
el-Nabatat). It was named for the British general Haratio Kitchener (185--1916)
and was sent to Egypt in 1883 to reorganize the Egyptian army, which he then
led against the Sudanese Mahdi. But the island is known for its garden and the
exotic plants the Kitchener planted there, and which continue to flourish today.
On the opposite shore (west bank), the cliffs
are surmounted by the tomb of a marabut, Qubbet el-Hawwa, who was a local
saint. Below are tombs of the local (pharaonic) nobles and dignitaries.
Upriver a bit is the tomb of Mohammed Shah Aga
Khan who died in 1957. Known as the Tomb of the
Aga Khan, it is beautiful
in its simplicity. A road from there leads back to the Coptic Monastery of St Simeon, which was built in the sixth century in honor
of Amba Hadra, a local saint.
Just up river a bit, there is also the old Aswan
dam, built by the British, which was enlarged, expanded, but unable to control
the Nile for irrigation.