May 15, 2012

The Cataract Bars the Way, 1777 | Walking Through Egypt

The Cataract Bars the Way, 1777
Claude Etienne Savary

The cataract is still in our days what is described by Strabo: the rock which bars the middle of the river is bare for six months of the year. Then boats mount and descend by the sides. During the inundation, the waters heaped up between the mountains form one great sheet, and, breaking down every obstacle, . . . The boats can no longer ascend the stream, and merchandize must be conveyed two leagues over land, above the cataract; they descend, however, as usual, and suffer themselves to be plunged in the gulph. They precipitate themselves into it with the rapidity of an arrow and in an instant are out of sight. It is necessary for the Frontier of Egypt and Nubia boats to be moderately laden, and for the boatmen who hold by the stern, to be in exact equilibrium, otherwise they would infallibly be swallowed up in the abyss.

Nubia

Geographical Outline of Nubia, 1833 
Reverend Michael Russell

No sooner does the traveller pass the cataract of Es Souan, than he finds himself in Nubia, a country of which it is now impossible to fix the precise extent. Indeed we cannot otherwise define it than by saying, that it occupies the valley of the Nile from Philae to Dongola, and is bounded on either side by formidable deserts, which can only be crossed by large bodies of men assisted by that useful animal the camel. The first section which terminates at Ibrim, has been so long subject to Egypt that it is usually known as Turkish Nubia; but we are told that the natives of the upper country, who roam in comparative independence as far as the second cataract, restrict the proud name to their own land, which, till lately, spurned the dominion of every foreign sword.

For a considerable distance above Syene, the mountains press so closely on the hanks of the river that there is little land on either side for the purposes of agriculture; and the small portion that is suitable for raising a crop is continually threatened by the approach of the sand which the winds of the desert carry towards the stream. From the structure of the valley, through which the Nile here forces a passage, it is obvious that there could not at any time have been an extensive population. The labour of man would have exerted its powers in vain against the sterility of nature, which, amidst rocks and shingle, occupies, by an everlasting tenure, a wide domain in the Lower Nubia. But beyond the parallel of Wady Haifa . . . there is ample space for the great nations which are said to flourish in Ethiopia. At the southern termination of the second cataract immense plains stretch out from the margin of the river, manifesting even in their present neglected state the most unequivocal symptoms of a prolific soil.

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