May 13, 2012

500 Miles up the Nile River - Denderah | Aswan

Nearly Five Hundred Miles up the Nile, 1843 
Countess Hahn-Hahn

We arrived here yesterday afternoon, having left Fostat on 19th December, and spent 24 hours at Denderah. This is no inconsiderable time for a distance of 480 miles. Such dilatoriness would drive one to despair in Europe but here the journey is considered a very fair one; and had the wind been contrary we should have been a week or fortnight longer.

The wind was favourable nearly the whole time, and but rarely fails altogether, and then the excessively tedious process of pulling the vessel along the shore, or pushing it with poles among the innumerable sandbanks, did not advance us much.

We reached Assuan in full sail, with a favourable wind and the jubilant cries of our crew. Assuan presents a highly picturesque appearance, rising upon the eastern bank; it consists of the modem town, which is advantageously concealed behind a grove of palms, and the old Arab town, which is built upon the ruins of the Roman, as that probably was erected on the yet more ancient Egyptian. It is situated upon a high, rugged hill, close to the river, and is now a complete ruin. The unburnt bricks used by the ancient Arabs, and still employed by their descendants, form very remarkable ruins, and heaps of rubbish as those of burnt bricks, or of stones; but they are more jagged and stand out in rising, isolated, perpendicular masses of cliffs, which look as if they had been dashed to pieces by some giant’s hand. They have a very good effect at a distance, with the transparent background of the beautifully tinted sky; but, on a nearer approach, the materials are too mean for effect; in this respect we are spoiled in Egypt, not indeed by the present, but by the past.

Not far from Assuan are the granite quarries, which produce the magnificent red granite, so admired by the ancients, and called syenite after its locale; the small island of Bidsha, opposite to Philae, produces the infinitely more beautiful rose granite, of which a gateway still continues to adorn Elephantina, as a remnant of its former magnificence. This latter island lies opposite Assuan, on this side of the cataracts; the two other cataracts are about a league beyond it, and the Nile whirling and foaming, rushes between them.

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