A Drowned Nation

Aswan, Upper Egypt/Lower Nubia

From Aswan

As we drove up to the High Dam in Aswan, Dr. Shahinda explained to us the advantages and disadvantages of the High Dam, Lake Nasser, and the transformation of the whole Nile Valley.  She started with the advantages:

  • Egyptian agriculture is no longer ruled by the flood, which means that the agricultural sector has gone from one crop a year to three. Pres. Gamal Abd-l-Nasser saw Egypt’s population explosion coming, and knew they would have to be fed, and this was his best option.
  • The High Dam generates enough electricity that every villager in Egypt can have electric lighting and hot showers at a not-too-exorbitant subsidized cost.
  • There’s now enough water in Lake Nasser to support the agricultural sector of Egypt through several years of drought upstream in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, and this has been necessary from time to time.
From Aswan

But it’s not all rosy. There are problems aplenty, and Dr. Shahinda listed those, too:

  • There was a German design that would have provided channels for the collection of the silt that washes down the Nile and traditionally fertilized the lands of Egypt all the way down to the Delta, at no cost to the farmers. Unfortunately, the Egyptian government couldn’t afford to build it. They went with a Russian plan that ignored the silt altogether. Consequently, farmers downstream are now dependent on expensive manufactured, chemical fertilizer. 
  • Meanwhile, that silt is building up behind the Aswan High Dam, and over time it has created an unanticipated weight on the dam that now threatens its integrity.
  • Silt from the Nile also provided the stuff to make mud bricks from, and they were much cooler in the unbearable heat of summer than the current cinderblock construction in Upper Egypt.
  • The floods not only brought fertilizing silt, but they washed away the impurities of the year before. Now, those impurities build up in the soil, including increasing levels of salt left behind by that chemical fertilizer.
From Aswan

But these are the economic costs. There were also great human and cultural costs. The land of Nubia, both Lower Nubia in Egypt and Upper Nubia in Sudan, is a civilization nearly as old as Egyptian civilization, which was concentrated along the banks of the Nile River that nurtured and supported it. Their entire civilization is now under water. The entire population was displaced: Lower Nubians were resettled in Upper Egypt, and Upper Nubians were displaced all over Sudan. UNESCO provided funds to move some of the most prominent ancient ruins to higher ground, but no one thought of the Coptic churches until it was too late, and they are all now gone, except for a few wall paintings grabbed for museum display.

From Aswan

The Temple at Philae
One of the ancient sites rescued by UNESCO was this Ptolemaic temple, dedicated to Osiris. In ancient mythology, Osiris was killed by his evil brother Set and chopped into 14 pieces that were scattered all over Egypt and are the font of her fertility. Philae was one of those resting places. Later, Isis collected all her brother Osiris’s parts, mummified them, and resurrected him. He became the god of the afterlife and patron of the pharaohs who ruled in the afterlife after their death.

From Aswan

The temple was later rededicated as a Coptic basilica, housing the bishop of Upper Egypt. Again, this temple has three inner sanctums, like the tripartite altars of modern Coptic churches.

From Aswan

The Unfinished Obelisk
The woman pharaoh Hatshepsut intended to carve the largest obelisk ever attempted, float it down the Nile to Luxor, and install it in the Karnak Temple. Unfortunately, the obelisk cracked during the quarrying process and was abandoned. Unfortunately for Hatshepsut, but fortunately for us, because we have been left with an example of ancient Egyptian stonecarving. Remember that these carvings are from the Stone Age. They were accomplished without the benefit of stone tools! Some of the round black rocks used in the quarrying process are still lying around. So are the marks of the wooden wedges that were shoved in around a desire piece of stone, and then wetted so they would expand and crack the stone.

From Aswan

We also took a falucca ride on the Nile to see at a distance the mausoleum of an Agha Khan, the tombs of Egyptian nobles, the ruins of other temples under excavation, and lots of boats and wildlife. It wasn’t a sailboat, but it was still a great finale to a wonderful trip!

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