An ex-frontier town of Ancient Egypt, Aswan is now a bustling market and thriving tourist centre. Here are some of the best attractions in Aswan, focusing on the historical nature of the town and its beautiful landscapes. Scroll down to learn more about the best things to do in the city and plan your itinerary for the most joyous trip to Aswan!
1. Explore the ancient temple of Philae, where Egyptian god Horus is revered
The Philae Temple has an equally enchanting location–downstream of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, mentioned by multiple ancient writers in their works. The island temple contains multiple ruins and rocks, inscribed with the names and titles of Amenhotep III, Ramesses II, Psamtik II, Apries, and Amasis II, together with memorials of the later Macedonian and Roman rulers of Egypt. It is magnificently a crossroad of the different eras in Egypt’s cultural and religious history.
Upon entrance, the First Pylon leads into the main temple area, where you can admire the huge relief depicting Egyptian king Dionysos grasping a band of enemies by the hair and raising his club to smite them, with gods Isis and Hathor on the left. A grand sight to witness indeed. One more interesting thing to note would be Napoleon’s inscription on the central doorway, commemorating his campaign in 1799. Within the main courtyard, do check out the Birth House, where epic scenes from the childhood of Horus, including Horus as a falcon and Isis suckling Horus in the swamps, are inscribed.
The entire Philae Temple contains endless ancient wonders and sculptures, not only limited to Ancient Egypt but also its Greco, Macedonian and even French links. The temple is an awe-inspiring sight to see, and cannot be missed!
Address: Philae, Egypt
2. Visit a real Nubian village where locals are friendly and houses are painted with bright colors
The indigenous people of modern Egypt, the Nubians, traditionally live in colorfully decorated houses. The floors are made of sand and not all the rooms are roofed as there is no need for protection against rain. Aswan is one of the driest places in the world. Nubians are warm and hospitable, often inviting guests into their homes for a traditional cup of “Karkade”, a hibiscus flowers drink. Traditional crafts are often displayed, such as the unique “Shamsi” bread with a homegrown baking technique. Although a tip for visitors; a reciprocal gesture of generosity will often be appreciated.
A couple of these villages are located nearby the Corniche on Elephantine Island, if you desire to visit. Originally, Nubians used to live in the valley of the Nile south of Aswan. However, the artificial Lake Nasser created by the construction of the high dam flooded many Nubian villages and many had to relocate. Another village, Gharb Aswan is also interestingly located near the Tomb of the Nobles, so check it out if you are in the area.
Website: Nubian Villages
3. With multiple ruins and temples to discover, the Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile is a must-see!
The Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago with many traces of its ancient history. Located opposite the Corniche, the island derived its name from historic ivory trading. In Ancient Egyptian times, the island had a fort that stood at Egypt’s southern border with Nubia, making it an excellent defensive site for a city and a natural cargo transfer point for river trade. Elephantine was also an important stone quarry, providing granite materials that would be transported widely within Egypt for monuments and buildings. With such rich historical significance, the island is a must-visit for Ancient Egypt enthusiasts!
Do visit the museum located on the island, where a mummified ram of Khnum, one of Egypt’s earliest deities, is displayed. Artifacts dating back to pre-dynastic times have also been found on Elephantine and are showcased in the museum. Furthermore, the entire island is like an extended live museum in itself. The oldest ruins still standing on the island are a granite step pyramid from the third dynasty and a small shrine, built for the local sixth-dynasty monarch, Hekayib. A rare calendar, known as the Elephantine Calendar, and one of the oldest nilometers in Egypt, last reconstructed in Roman times, are also located on the island!
Entrance to the island is free, while tickets to the Aswan Museum on the island are a small fee. To reach the island, visitors can take the public ferry (opposite Egypt Air offices - every 15 min) or a private felucca or motorboat.
Address: Elephantine, Sheyakhah Oula, Qism Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
Website: Elephantine Island
4. Learn about Nubian history at one of Egypt's best museums, covering the rich culture washed away by modern developments
The locale of Aswan originally belonged not to Ancient Egypt (before it was conquered), but to a kingdom known as Nubia or the “Land of Gold” in ancient times. A kingdom south of Ancient Egypt, Nubian history was rich as one of the indigenous peoples of the region.
More recently, the controversial construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s threatened the destruction of monuments and villages in the Nile Valley of Nubia, with the rising waters of the man-made Lake Nasser. To preserve this crucial and ancient heritage, the Egyptian government appealed to UNESCO, kick starting an immense international plan to excavate and record hundreds of sites. These precious materials were thereby preserved and showcased in a museum in Aswan to exhibit the unique Nubian heritage. Multiple temples on the island such as the ones at Abu Simbel and Philae were also disassembled and reconstructed on higher grounds.
The museum itself is also a work of art. Its architecture reflects the traditional character of the Nubian architecture, thereby winning the Agha-Khan Award of Architecture in 2001. Do visit the beautiful garden in the museum, where there are waterfalls, palm trees, flowers, and climbing bushes, spread around natural rocks. There is also an amphitheatre for local and international music and dance performances! To enter the museum, take a short 15-20 minute walk from downtown Aswan to reach the museum, or take a rustic horse carriage, which is only 5 minutes from the Corniche!
Address: Assuan, Sheyakhah Oula, Qism Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
Website: Nubian Museum
5. Admire one of the greatest ancient man-made monuments: The Temple of Abu Simbel
The complex of Abu Simbel was originally cut into a solid rock cliff in southern Egypt, demonstrating the artistic skill and effort put into its construction. While it is named the Temple of Abu Simbel, the complex actually has two temples - The Great Temple and The Small Temple, both created during the reign of Ramesses II. Nonetheless, the complex of Abu Simbel was deemed holy to Egyptian goddess Hathor long before the creation of the temples, making its location doubly sacred.
The Great Temple was dedicated to the gods Ra-Horakty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses II while the Small Temple was for the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramesses’ favourite wife. The Great Temple stands a whopping 30 meters high (98 feet) and with four grand colossi flanking the entrance, depicting Ramesses II on his throne. Beneath these giant figures are smaller statues depicting Ramesses’ conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans, and Hittites. It is an architectural wonder to witness indeed.
The interior of the temple is engraved with scenes depicting Ramesses and Nefertari paying homage to the gods as well Ramesses’ great victory at Kadesh. The Small Temple on the other hand, has giant figures of Queen Nefetari and Ramesses II. Interestingly, the prestige of the queen is apparent in that, usually, a female is represented on a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh while, at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramesses.
Address: Abu Simbel, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
Website: Abu Simbel
6. Make a trip to the Aswan High Dam, one of the most controversial projects in recent history
The creation of the Aswan High Dam and its counterpart, the man-made Lake Nasser, was a project that received much debate. Culturally, it destroyed many traditional Nubian villages and temples, while multiple artifacts were disturbed and had to be relocated. The aforementioned Temple of Abu Simbel was one of many. Environmentally, the dam stopped the annual flood of the Nile which provided extremely fertile soil for farmers downstream. This resulted in the need for fertilisers to grow crops, where the expense damaged the livelihoods of farmers. This controversy was intensified with construction of the dam being aided by the Soviets in the Cold War, where Nasser was trying to champion Arab nationalism in opposition to American influence in the region.
Thereby, the Aswan High Dam possesses extremely significant historical, political and environmental connotations, making it a must-visit for those who come to Aswan. It has reshaped the city and up till today, plays an important role in the development of Egypt’s hydro-electricity sector and agriculture. The dam and Lake Nasser also result in gorgeous photos!
Aswan High Dam
Address: Manteqet as Sad Al Aali, Qism Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
Aswan, an amazing tapestry of different histories and cultures!
A beautiful city, Aswan remains as unique and magical as it did in Ancient Egypt or Nubia. It is one of the most iconic cities in Egypt, and simply cannot be skipped over. Do check out these monuments and attractions listed for the most exciting trip to Aswan!
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