Nile Cruise - Day 5 – May 10
Sight-seeing day: mini bus to the High Aswan Dam – very impressive, past the much smaller one built by the Brits variously between 1900 and the 1920s; not high enough to stop a 40 meter flood, so a larger one had to be built. Big Egyptian-Soviet monument; the most military we’ve seen – the High Dam is regarded as a military installation and appropriately guarded (tanks, Hummers, AKs). Then we took a small motor boat to the island of Agilika, where the lovely Temple of Philae was moved to. This whole area (Nubia) was vastly affected by the creation of Lake Nasser and by the movement of the Egyptian temples to higher ground in advance of the waters. Dozens of temples were saved by the joint efforts of UNESCO and many (40?) countries who worked from the early 1960s to 1971 when the lake reached full depth. The temples were cut onto blocks, each block numbered, a new higher place was found for them – preferably in a comparable location, then they were moved block by block until they look like they had been built there – remarkable!
The Temple of Philae is maybe smaller than many, but in very good condition and quite lovely. Although it’s late period (mostly Roman), during the move they found remains of much earlier temples underneath, showing it had been an important place for worship for many thousands of years. Also interesting, there is a smallish side temple built by Hadrian, completely in the Egyptian style – as opposed to all the many triumphal arches built across the empire by other Emperors – Libya etc. – which are all entirely Roman. Presumably this appreciation of the local architecture shows that the Romans held the Egyptian traditions in some esteem.
Then back to the boat for lunch and a rest. We five decided we wanted to see the “unfinished obelisk” in situ in the red marble quarry, where a fault was noticed before it was completed. Then on to the wonderful Nubian Museum, recipient of the Aga Khan’s architecture award: a museum which tells the story of Nubian culture using photos from late 19th century/early 20th century excavations as well as from the 1960s when archeologists struggled to document village life and lesser temples before they were lost to Lake Nasser. 100,000 Nubians were displaced by the waters. In addition to this more contemporary history, Nubians figured prominently in Egyptian history – both as foes (and salves), as a source of gold and ivory, and briefly as pharaohs (for 100 years). You can plainly differentiate between various vanquished foes on the walls of the temples, through hair, nose size and other details.
Back to the boat and we walked along the cornice for a bit: saw a group of very proud, giggly young women celebrating their university graduation (grad caps on top of burqas!)
Our last dinner culminated with the crew presenting us with a huge pink cake and music and dancing again – very nice!