Things To Do In Aswan
Aswan is a beautiful, quiet, small, yet pretty city located in Southern Egypt and acts as an awesome place to just relax. Situated at the foot of Nile Valley, it provides a much needed break from the chaos of Cairo City. The name Aswan is derived from the Ancient Egyptian word ‘Swun’ which means Trade/Market. Considered as the favorite winter destination, this city has got a number of sites to please the tourists. Being the home to world famous Nile Cruises, this city is a genuine place to experience the real culture of Egypt. Two high-altitude dams serve as one of the best sights in this city. The city offers a rich cultural experience also. Tourists get to know about the Nubian culture along with shopping for spices and henna tattoos.
Majority of the hotels here are located along the Nile riverfront, hence it presents an awesome view outside and the interesting fact is that the three main attractions are just a good 30-40 minutes’ walk away from the riverfront. Most of the sites in River Island can be covered by public boats. Aswan is considered more relaxed than the rest of Egypt, so the laid-back and calm environment of this city refreshes the tourists to recover from the hassles of travelling. Some of the tourists come back to this place every year just to enjoy the view of sunset at Nile River and they agree that the climate of this town has rejuvenating properties. The temples over here are well-known and are listed among the most visited ancient places after enjoying the Pyramids of Giza.
When To Go:
Aswan is considered as the favorite winter destination, because it is one of the driest, hottest and sunniest cities in the world. In summer, the temperature can reach up to 42 degrees, which is way too hot to do any activities except drinking tons of water and flopping into a swimming pool. Thus, the best time to visit Aswan can be from November to February. These months are considered ideal for visiting this city as the temperature remains up to 23 degrees at day and nights can be quite cold. This temperature makes the sightseeing, especially in desert area, comfortable.
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As the city is one of the driest cities in the world, the average humidity is also very less. Rainfall doesn’t occur every year, which makes the climate extremely dry the whole year. Winters are short and extremely warm as the city has hot desert climate. Due to its vast desert area, summer time is quite unbearable but winters are quite pleasant and enjoyable. The spring and autumn season go unnoticed due to its geographical position. Despite the sunny climate, one can’t deny the fact that the beauty of River Nile is at its best as seen from the Aswan City. It is considered as the perfect place to sit back and relax from long hours of travelling and adventure around the River Nile.
Here is a sneak peek of the top things to do in Aswan – a city full of history:
The Temple of Philae
The Temple of Philae was built by the ancient Egyptians as their dedication to Goddess Isis (the Mother of God, Protector of Kings and Giver of Life). Philae was actually considered as a holy island in the River Nile, but the temple threatened with the production of two dams as the island became submerged. The island was itself dammed, as a part of UNESCO’s project to rescue ancient monuments. The project took nearly ten years to complete and the temple is now surrounded by a higher wall. Tourists need to hire a boat in order to reach the temple.
The temple is an excellent piece of architecture and the carvings on wall are just awe-inspiring. The light and sound system is also very nice. Hiring a guide will be good because there is a lot of information to get, either you will only click a lot of pictures without getting to know the history behind it. There is a coffee shop, which serves delicious coffee but the prices are a little higher than usual.
Tombs of The Nobles
Tombs of The Nobles, located on the West Bank of River Nile, dates back to The Old and Middle Kingdom. Basically, these are the tombs of Egyptian Princes and about six are open to public. Various pictures and paintings on the wall offer a glimpse of the journey and daily life of the nobles of the African Kingdom. Many of these tombs are closed due to renovation.
You might find some tombs locked/blocked by the local stuffs just to get tips from tourists. Some local people can offer you a key in order to enter the tomb, politely decline their offer and just enjoy the opened towers. Usually, it takes approximately 2 hours to get around these tombs while taking photographs. Make sure to bring a bottle of water with you.
There are two colorful Nubian Villages; Siou and Koti. What can be more fascinating than getting a chance to wear traditional clothes? Most of the tourists enjoy the traditional set up of homes over here by staying in rented houses. Make sure to visit the Nubian House and drink hot local karkada. Most of the goods are offered at a cheaper price. Most of the local people are friendly and make you feel welcomed at their place. You will be amazed to see very little changes in their traditional lifestyle even after so many years.
The market looks beautiful at the time of sunset due to various colorful Nubian handicrafts. Some of the home owners even gave henna tattoos to the interested tourists. You might even get lucky and enjoy the live music and dance of local women arranged by the owners of Nubian House. Colorful, sleepy, and beautiful Nubian Villages run down up to the water. There is plenty to see in Aswan, but somehow the tourists end up spending most of the time of their trip soaking in the magical view of sunset at River Nile appreciating the kindness of Nubians and participating in their daily chores along with strolling in the exotic souqs (shops).
Elephantine Island, known by the name Sunt in old times, can be accessed by a sailing boat from East Bank. This is the largest island in this area. It is a site of Ancient Abu and played a very important part in the ivory trade. The archeological treasures of this town are quite famous despite their poor condition. This island is home to the Nilometer, Aswan Museum and Temple of Khnum. This island is the perfect destination to experience the peaceful environment of Nubian houses. A small village full of banana trees, mud huts, and friendly people makes the journey even more exciting.
You will be amazed to see crocodiles in small tanks inside the homes. What makes the visit more fascinating is the absence of any modernization symbol in the village; there are no bars, restaurants, and they have managed to maintain the originality of their culture. The rarely visited ruins of Ancient Abu and the small Aswan Museum on this island mostly go unnoticed but if you are spending a spending a day at this island, make sure to explore these fascinating ruins.
The Unfinished Obelisk
The Unfinished Obelisk is half-finished because it cracked before the shaping and polishing was completed, but still it holds the title of the largest obelisk of Ancient Egypt. The curator carved it out directly from the bedrock, but abandoned it once the cracks started appearing. Aswan was the main source of Egypt’s finest granite and ancient people used it to make statues and pyramids.
Tourists are often surprised to see the obelisk on the ground in same position along with the visible cracks (still attached to the parent rock). An archeology lover must grab the opportunity to explore the stone-craving techniques opted by Ancient Egyptians, as there are various visible marking of tools. Into the pit of the obelisk, there are ancient pictographs of ostriches and dolphins. If completed, it would have weighed around 1200 tons and register as being the single heaviest stone ever fashioned by the Egyptians.
Monastery of St Simeon
The Monastery of St Simeon was first dedicated to the local saint Anba Hedra and was later built in the 10th century to be dedicated to St Simeon. Situated in the middle of desert about three kilometers away from the Tomb of the Nobles and is now a beautiful piece of architecture. It was built on two levels, upper being mud-brick and lower being the stone. Take a ferry to The Tomb of Nobles and then ride a camel or donkey to reach here, don’t forget to bring water as it is a desert area.
At first look, this appears to be ruins of a mud building but you will be able to get a glimpse of the age-old grandeur after getting inside the monastery premises. This destination serves as an ideal place to capture the beauty of the deserted area in your camera. The best time to visit here is either early in the morning or late in the evening to enjoy sunset, otherwise it might get really difficult to walk through the heated sand. If you are interested in Coptic religion, then it will be easy to imagine the life style of the early Christian Monks in Egypt.
One just can’t miss visiting Nubia Museum while travelling to Aswan. This museum is an ultimate treasure containing the history, culture and art of Nubia. Considered as one of the most important museums of Egyptian History, it was preserved as part of UNESO’s project to save the Egyptian Civilization that remains from the rising water of Nile River. Most of the items displayed in this well-organized museum are the remains from Roman, Coptic, Geological and Islamic era. One can even click photographs, but the use of cameras with flash is forbidden.
Just walking from one corner to another, a visitor can actually travel from ancient to medieval times. The exhibits are beautifully presented in the halls with crystal clear and written information. One can relax in the air conditioned atmosphere, taking a much required break from the sun outside, while taking in interesting facts about the lifestyle of the Nubian people from a guide.
Aswan Botanical Gardens
The Aswan Botanical Gardens is an absolute heaven for a nature enthusiast as it lies to the west of Elephantine Island. It is accessible by a felucca and needs at least 2 hours to enjoy the real beauty of this garden. An awesome place to walk, bird watching, sit, read and relax in a shady region acts as a refreshment. Tourists are often unable to stop themselves from clicking pictures of some flowers dating back to the Othman Empire.
Beware, some workers might even ask you for money just for clicking pictures. This place is home to hundreds of plants as well as animal species. The garden might have lost its original glory, as most of the people see it as a picnic spot (especially on Fridays), but the majestic palm trees provide a stunning view. The best time to visit this place is just before the sunset. This place in the middle of Nile provides a break from the temples, sand, heat and crowded markets.
Qubbet el-Hawa, also known as ‘the dome of the wind’, is situated on the top of the sand hill that houses the Tomb of the Nobles on the western bank of River Nile. This dome like structure basically was the tomb of a holy man, Qubbet el-Hawa – a local saint, but today all you can see is the ruins. Hiking this dome is worth a visit because once you reach the top of the hill, you will be mesmerized by the excellent view of River Nile, Aswan City, nearby Nubian Villages, various island and the desert.
Explore the tombs and you will be able to check out some amazing painting and hieroglyphs in a burial chamber. You need not hire a guide as there is not much information to get and no chances of getting lost too. However, it might be even more fascinating to explore if you do some research on these tombs before actually visiting the city. Make sure to bring water and wear shoes as it can be a bit hard to climb the sand covered steps to reach the top.
Feryl Garden lies near the city center on the river side. Including the sunset on the opposite side of River Nile, it is considered as one of the best places to admire some fascinating scenes in Aswan. This is a moment to be captured because the reflection of sun in the water and over the western mountains makes a spectacular view. The garden is considered as one of the quiet and most relaxing gardens and there is a small coffee shop also.
This park separates the city from the desert. After a busy day, this place becomes a haven for couples who want to spend some time alone while admiring the view in front of their eyes. There is a nice cathedral, named as Archangel Michael’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, at the beginning of the road towards the Nubian Museum from this garden. After enjoying the sunset, pay a visit to this cathedral as it turns out to be the most happening place in city where you will find yourself chatting with young boys and girls.
The New Kalabsha
The New Kalabsha is an incomplete yet wonderful temple that is not to be missed while visiting Aswan. Make sure to hire a guide and you will be impressed to get to know the reasons why this temple is still incomplete in terms of decoration. This largest freestanding temple was built by Augustus Caeser as a dedication to Osiris, Mandulis and Isis. The temple complex includes a birth house and a small chapel dating back to the Ptolemaic Period. The surroundings are beautiful and will remind you a little of the Temple of Philae. The best time to visit this temple is early in the morning. This exceptional temple displays rock art and stela with a rock cut tomb. Moreover, it is quite close to the High dam, so if you are not a dam lover then you can spend some time exploring this temple. There are beautiful status of Horus, Isis and Khnum. There is a wall with images of Madulis with his vulture feathered cloak. Tourists even enjoy the beauty of Nile River as it presents a beautiful view flowing through amber deserts and granite rocks while covered in tropical plants.
A trip to Aswan ends up leaving a great impression on the mind and the wish to explore Egypt more. Hiring a traditional wooden felucca and exploring the ruins takes the visitors to a whole new world of Egypt’s history. The city of Aswan houses the Temple of Philae, Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan High Dam, Animalia, Various Islands, Temple of Kom Ombo, Lake Nessar, Mausoleum of Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, El Corniche Nile and many such sights. There is a temple named as Abu Simble Temple just outside the Aswan city, which adds to the beauty of this place. Don’t forget to visit the old Aswan Dam built by the British. It will be right to call this city a treasure containing the real Nubian culture of Egypt.
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