July 29, 2013


The present town of Aswan is built on the site of the old market of the city of Abu, which the Greeks called Elefantina, and which means «elephant island». Capital of the 1st nome or province of Upper Egypt its former name was Syene. The red granite, syenite, which was used in religious building, for obelises, for colossi, for the temples themselves, was extracted from its numerous wealthy quarries. The quarries were still being used in Roman times when the poet Juvenal was exiled to Syene by Tiberius. Another curiosity of the area is a well whose vertical sides are only illuminated by the rays of the sun on the day of the summer solstice because of its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer. Eratostenes, the writer, took it as the point of departure for the measurement of the circumference of the earth.
On the west bank of the Nile cut into the hill called Tabet el-Haua (the «windy peak») can be found a necropolis containing about fourty tombs going back to the Illrd millenium N.C. By means of steep narrow stairways one can climb up to the various hypogea, small funerary chapels many of which still have their terraces, colonnades, doors and windows. The tombs then, situated one above the other, give the impression of a rocky city. Many of the hypogea were destroyed and burnt during the Christian era by the Copts. They erected a fortified monastery on the top of the hill and this in its turn was destroyed during an incursion by Saladin’s army. Also to be found in this area is the famous mausoleum of the Aga.

Aswan before High Dam


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