The City of Aswan, Egypt
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 caught fish.
In Aswan the Nile is at its most beautiful, flowing through amber desert and granite rocks,
round emerald islands covered in palm groves and tropical plants. Explore the souk, full of the
scent and color of spices, perfumes, scarves and baskets. View the spectacular sunsets while
having tea on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel (Named due to the location of the Nile's
first cataract located here). Aswan has been a favorite winter resort since the beginning of the
nineteenth century, and it's still a perfect place to get away from it all.
Every night Nubian dancers and musicians perform in the Cultural Center, just off the
Corniche. Folklore troupes recreate scenes from village life and perform the famous Nubian mock stick-fight dances.
Aswan is a strategic location which currently houses a garrison of the Egyptian army, but which has also seen ancient Egyptian garrisons, as well as that of General Kitchener, Turkish troops of the Ottoman empire and the Romans.
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 Island (Geziret 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
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.