Thursday, March 18, 2010


The last full day of our Nile cruise started with an excursion to a couple of sites in Aswan. It was a beautiful day in Aswan, sunny, cool, and windy. Like every other day on the cruise, the absence of air pollution was divine--we breathed deeply and admired the bright blue sky.

Our first stop was the Unfinished Obelisk--an obelisk (the same shape as the Washington Monument) still lying uncompleted in the granite quarry. It originally was supposed to be 42 meters (almost 138 feet by my calculations, although Wikipedia says 120 feet) tall and would have been the tallest obelisk had it been completed. It was abandoned when the granite cracked. Its presence in the quarry apparently has helped egyptologists figure out how obelisks were made and transported in ancient Egyptian times. This website has a nice description of how the obelisks--which each were made from a single huge piece of granite--were removed from the ground. It concurs nicely with what I remember being told by Hesham: A harder stone was used to dig a row of holes around the intended obelisk, and wood was placed into those holes. Then water was poured over it, causing the wood to expand and split the rock. Heated bricks and cold water were used to smooth the sides. I'm not sure how they actually raised the obelisk from the quarry, but it was transported to a boat and from there to whatever site it was intended for. Once at the site, a hole was dug at the intended location for the obelisk's base to sit down into. Then sand was removed from beneath the bottom of the obelisk so that it slid into the hole and ended up standing upright--as a precaution, a hill of sand had been built on the other side, so that the obelisk wouldn't tip over too far as it fell. Once the obelisk was securely in its location, the hill was removed.

After visiting the Unfinished Obelisk, we traveled by boat to Agilika Island to see the Temple of Philae, a temple to Isis. It was a beautiful trip that didn't last long enough! We walked from the bus to the docking area, which was crowded with a dozen or so small motorboats. The motor
boat drivers all tried to fit their boats into the area right beside the dock--an area large enough for only a few of them. Boats that were dropping off passengers gently nosed empty boats out of their way as they slowly edged toward the dock; empty boats did the same, as the drivers hoped to pick up passengers; and full boats pushed their way through the throng trying to get away from shore. It was classical Egyptian transportation, except that in the boats, it was perfectly okay to make contact with the other vehicles--a practice that is frowned upon when the vehicles in question are cars! Once our group was settled in a boat and clear of the throng, we enjoyed a short ride to the island. We passed other islands on the way and enjoyed the lush greenery and stark rock formations.

The spectacular views continued once we were on Agilika Island. Hesham led us to a side area where we sat while he explained the history of the temple we were to see. The Temple of Philae got its name from its original home--the island of Philae, located about 550 meters (1800 feet) from Agilika. It was built there because
Philae was believed to be where one of the pieces of Osiris was buried, and where his wife Isis found it in order to reconstruct his body and bring him back to life. Apparently temples to Isis were built in each of the traditional locations where Osiris's pieces were hidden. Philae actually was a little too small to hold the temple that the builders wanted to create, so modifications had to be made to the traditional design. The modification that I remember is that, whereas most temples were built with the halls and sanctuary in a straight line, at Philae there was a slight offset, because the temple would not have fit on the island had it been built in a straight line.

So if the temple was built on Philae, why did we go to Agilika to see it? Because it was moved. Philae, already a small island, was partially submerged when the first Aswan dam--the Aswan Low Dam--was completed in 1902, jeopardizing the temple. When the construction of the Aswan High Dam was begun in 1960, it was obvious that the island would be flooded even more, making it even less likely that the temple would survive and cutting off access to the soon-to-be submerged temple whether it survived or not. So UNESCO started a project to save the temple, as well as other sites located on what was to become the floor of Lake Nasser. Dams were built around the island to relieve the flooding. The temple was recorded and measured carefully to ensure that it could be reconstructed accurately in its new home. Finally, the buildings were dismantled--creating around 40,000 pieces--and moved to Agilika, a larger and higher island where the reassembled temple would remain above the waterline. Below is a picture of what's left of Phileo from Agilika.

The information I couldn't remember about Philae and the temple was found at: Wikipedia and  Egypt Travel.

After our tour of the temple and its outbuildings on Agilika island, we returned to the ship for lunch. Then we enjoyed a felucca ride on the Nile that afternoon. The ride was nice, as we passed by several beautiful sites, but it definitely was odd. We wore life jackets. In Cairo, I'm not sure the felucca guys would recognize a life jacket if someone smacked them upside the head with it--they're just not used. In Aswan, we were required to wear them. Of course, that was an Abercrombie & Kent requirement--we were told to bring the life jackets from our cabins--not a felucca guy requirement. But it still made it feel less like an authentic Egyptian experience. It quickly became more authentic, however, when the two felucca guys brought out their satchels of souvenirs for sale before we went back to the dock.

That evening, we had our "farewell banquet." The next morning after breakfast, we checked out of our cabin. Several passengers headed straight for the airport, some to go home and others to fly to Abu Simbel to see the temple there. Jeff and I relaxed in the public areas of the ship until noon, when we were picked up to go to the airport. Our original itinerary had shown the cruise not ending until lunch, so our flight to Cairo left in early afternoon. Had we been notified of the change in itinerary, we may have booked a morning trip to Abu Simbel, but it also was nice just to spend some more time relaxing on the ship. I was a little templed out at that point. I hear that Abu Simbel is amazing, so I'd hate to see it in a less-than-eager state of mind--hopefully we'll be able to get down that way again before we leave Egypt.

Maybe a Lake Nasser cruise early next spring?

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the entire travelogue - perhaps the Lake Nasser cruise can occur during my planned visit next Spring. "She" can stay with me. :) Jeff told me I have to get my passport and visit while you are still there.


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