Where was your country 3200 years ago? Were loin-clothed warriors chasing wild game with spears? Were people living nomadically or in cities? If they lived in cities, did their world extend beyond the city walls? Odds are you, like I, don’t know much about what happened at our home 3200 years ago. Egypt though is different, not only is their history known, but the temples, tools and writings still exist. There is nowhere that has as much history, as old as Egypt, making the entire country a true World Wonder.
Were your ancestors being subjugated by the powerful Egyptians as these “Asians” and “Africans” are depicted at the Abu Simbel Temple?
Egypt’s major sights are spread conveniently along the Nile as the Ancient Egyptian society was for thousands of years. Where to start though? How about the bottom end of the Empire, visiting sights as the Nile flows to the North? Not only does this make for easy trip planning, but also makes the trip easier to enjoy, beginning in tranquil Aswan, working your way towards the chaos of the 21-million person capital, Cairo.
Abu Simbel’s massive statues have stood along the Nile for over 3200 years to demonstrate Egyptian supremacy. They stand to warn welcome you to the Pharaoh’s territory…
What will you see by starting in Aswan? You’ll start walking like an Egyptian in one of the country’s best sights, the Abu Simbel Temples.
These statues sat beneath sand for thousands of years until their discovery, in-tact, in the late 1800’s.
Starting with the grandiose Abu Simbel Temples will help prepare you for what you are about to see in the rest of Egypt. The Pyramids of Giza get the attention, but the real gems are these well-preserved temples, complete with colored paintings that have maintained their brilliance.
Arriving at the Temple of Isis by boat is one of the most memorable parts of a tour of Ancient Egypt.
The Philae (Temple of Isis) is an afternoon stop on the Abu Simbel “long tour” and isn’t a time filler. Worthy of a tour in itself, the temple is strikingly located on an island in Lake Nasser, the world’s largest man-made lake. More impressively is that this temple sat on Philae island for over two thousand years before modern Egyptians built a hydro-electric dam sinking the temple’s original island. As a testament to how special this temple is, it wasn’t allowed to become an underwater wonder, rather it was moved, block-by-block, to it’s current location on Agilkia Island for future generations to admire.
Unlike many of the Ancient Egyptian sights, the Temple of Isis’s ceiling is in-tact, providing visitors a glimpse into exactly what these temples looked like when constructed.
Sadly, unlike Abu Simbel, the Temple of Isis was left exposed to conquerors who passed through the region. Seeking to leave their mark and remove “pagan” gods, the Temple of Isis was defaced as many of Egypt’s great sights.
The Temple of Isis was used as a Christian temple during Greco-Roman times and also bears inscriptions from later Islamic cultures that dominated the area.
Aswan though is no two-temple pony, it offers much more. Standing as the traditional and current endpoint of Egypt, it is also the gateway to Africa. The five-minute ferry ride from downtown Aswan to Nubian Elephantine Island crosses not only the Nile, but demonstrates the differences of civilizations. Wandering the narrow dirt streets of the “Nubian Village” is more like being in rural Africa than Egypt. Best of all, the town’s mayor will actually give you a tour for a small tip!
Board a ferry at the KFC in Aswan to be transported to the wonderful Nubian Village of Elephantine Island.
Being situated along the Nile provides Aswan another key reason to visit: cruises up the Nile to Luxor originate here. Interested tourists can take a modern riverboat or a traditional felucca (sail-boat) towards Luxor. For most the riverboat will be a better choice than the felucca, but, of course, we chose the felucca, an experience I’ll review in a future post. If a multi-day cruise up the Nile isn’t for you, be sure to take a sunset felucca cruise from Aswan. For less than $10 per boat (not person!) it’s an enjoyable end to any trip to Southern Egypt.
If you choose to start your tour of Ancient Egypt in Aswan you’ll be rewarded with seeing some of Egypt’s best ancient sights, relaxing on a sail-boat, and enjoying a “quiet” Egyptian city.
WHEN YOU GO:
-STARTING IN ASWAN IS EASY. Take a taxi from the airport to the Cairo train station (~$15 fixed fare) where you can take a day train (comfortable second class seats are $10/person), or a night train ($60/person). For those on a tighter schedule, you can fly from Cairo to Aswan as well.
-PLAN TWO DAYS IN ASWAN. Use the first day to arrange your Abu Simbel long tour, visit Elephantine Island, and take a sunset felucca ride. Do the Abu Simbel “long tour” the second day. Make sure your tour includes the Philae Temple of Isis (Agilkia Island). You can leave for Luxor on the second evening or spend the night to take a cruise to Luxor the next day.
-ASWAN IS GREAT ON A BUDGET. Compared to other tourist cities in Egypt lodging, food and transport is very reasonable. For example, the Abu Simbel “long tour” costs 80-100 EGP ($13-17 USD).