Monday, April 11, 2016

Aswan Travel Guide

Aswan formerly spelled Assuan, is a city in the south of Egypt, the capital of the Aswan Governorate.Aswan is a busy market and tourist centre located just north of the Aswan Dams on the east bank of the Nile at the first cataract. The modern city has expanded and includes the formerly separate community on the island of Elephantine.

Aswan is the smallest of the three major tourist cities on the Nile. Being the furthest south of the three, it has a large population of Nubian people, mostly resettled from their homeland in the area flooded by Lake Nasser. Aswan is the home of many granite quarries from which most of the Obelisks seen in Luxor were sourced. Aswan was the ancient Egyptians' gateway to Africa.

Aswan Town and the East Bank
Nubian Museum, (opposite the Basma Hotel, south of the Old Cataract Hotel, at the southern edge of Aswan town on Sharia Abtal al-Tahrir - approximately a half hour walk from the city centre.), . daily 9AM-1PM, 4PM-9PM. Very well organized, features Nubian treasures recovered before the flooding of Nubia. [Egypt is constantly pegging their tourist attractions prices according to the rate of Euro or Dollar, therefore the entrance fee has recently been raised to 60 and 30 LE respectively. For an 8 Euros ticket, which ain't cheap, the museum is staffed by 'guards' who are chatting or listening to music inside the museum. There is not a single guide and nobody to answer you anything. Instead of, they try to put you out at 20:30 even if the museum closes at 21:00. Not a pleasant experience. (April 2015)] Adult: 50LE; Student: 25 0LE.

Unfinished Obelisk, (South of Aswan). The largest known ancient obelisk, carved directly out of bedrock. If finished it would have measured around 42m (120 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,200 tons. 30LE 15 LE student.

Fatimid Cemetery, (Southern end of Aswan). The faded former glory of the Fatimid empire can be seen on the crumbling graveyard. Across the street from unfinished Obelisk, and across the street from Nubian Museum on the other side. There may be some aggressive children on the cemetery. free.

Ferial Garden, (Southern end of Corniche). When you're in Aswan you'll have to walk along the Kornish Al Nile (Corniche) at least once. It is a pleasant stroll, made even more pleasant by the fact that you can walk right into the Ferial Gardens at its Southern End. They are a park that is as relaxing as it is beautiful. 5LE

Saint Michael Cathedral, Aswan, (Southern end of Corniche in front of Ferial Garden). When you're in Aswan you'll have to walk to see the Coptic Cathedral with a breathtaking painting Coptic art . free.

The River and Islands
Elephantine Island: Nubian Villages & Aswan Museum. Nubian villages of Siou and Koti occupy this island. Also home to the famous Nilometers and the Temples of Sati, Khnum (ancient rams-head god) and Pepinakht-Heqaib. Movenpick resort is on the island. The Aswan Museum (Adult: 25LE, Student 15LE) at the southern end of the island houses items found during excavations on Elephantine Island. Also, be careful of unsolicited tours from locals, which will result in a request for baksheesh. There is regular boat taxi to Elephantine Island run by the locals for only 2LE for one crossing but they will charge more for tourists. Put the money in the box instead of the ticket agent to avoid overpaying.

Aswan Botanical Gardens, (On the entirety of Kitcheners Island to the west of Elephantine Island). Lord Kitchener, who owned the 6.8 hectare island in the 1890's converted it to a botanical garden. Filled with birds and hundreds of plant species and palm trees. Accessible via a Felucca tour.The entrance fee is 10LE.

Seheyl Island, (Just north of the old Aswan Dam). 7AM to 4:00PM. Friendly Nubian villages. Well known for its excellent beaded jewelry. Also the location of the Famine Stela. Cliff with more than 200 inscriptions from the 18th dynasty,

West Bank
Tombs of the Nobles. 8AM to 4:00PM. The northern hills of the west bank are filled with the rock-hewn tombs of princes from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. The 6th Dynasty tombs, some of which form linked family complexes, contain important biographical texts. Inside, the tombs are decorated with vivid wall paintings showing scenes of everyday life, hieroglyphic biographies and inscriptions telling of the noblemen's journeys into Africa. Most of the tombs are locked or blocked off, probably by staff looking for tips. **Note that some locals will hang around the entrance as you climb the hill, and tell you that it's closed and you need a key. They will show you a key, implying that they can help you gain access...for a small fee. Just tell them, "no thanks....just looking", and they should leave you alone. Adult: 30LE, Student: 10LE.
Tombs of Mekhu & Sabni - Reliefs show invasion of Nubia
Tomb of Sarenput II - One of the most beautiful and preserved tombs
Tomb of Harkhuf - Hieroglyphics
Tomb of Hekaib - Reliefs show fighting and hunting scenes
Tomb of Sarenput II - Six pillars decorated with reliefs
Kubbet al Hawa - Located on the hilltop above the other tombs. Stunning views of the Nile
Kubbet el-Hawa, (on top of the hill above the Tombs of the Nobles). Small shrine / tomb of a local sheikh and holy man. The climb is rewarded with amazing views of Aswan, the Nile river and the surrounding landscape, richly evoked in the translation from the Arabic of the place name, "the dome of the wind".

Mausoleum of Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, (High up in the west bank). Tomb of the 48th iman of the Ismaili sect and his wife. Visible from the outside, although closed to the public.

Monastery of St Simeon. Oct to May: 8AM-4:00PM; Jun-Sep:7:00AM-5:00PM. The history of the monastery of St. Simeon dates back to the 7th century, and survived long as a Christian stronghold of southern Egypt until destroyed by Saladin in 1173. While still in use it housed 300 monks, and could in addition receive up to 100 pilgrims at a time. The monastery was surrounded by a 10 metre high wall, and doubled as a fortress. Apparently, the monastery did not return to its original use after Saladin's destruction. To get here, ride a camel or walk from the Tombs of the Nobles. Adult: 25LE, Student: 15LE.

Around Aswan
The High Dam. Despite being a highly important piece of infrastructure, the Aswan High Dam is (to put it delicately) a bit of a letdown even for dam lovers. This is a typical stop among a 4-hr tour that goes to Philae and the Obelisk, which you can ask for your driver to skip. 30LE.

Philae Temple, (Agilkia Island). Built to honor Isis, this was the last ancient temple built in the the classical Egyptian architectural style. Construction began in approx 690 BC. It was moved from its original location on Philae Island, to its new location on Agilkia Island, after the flooding of Lake Nasser. A major multinational UNESCO team relocated Philae, and a number of other temples that now dot the shores of Lake Nasser. You can see the submerged original island a short distance away, punctuated by the steel columns used in the moving process. Don't miss the Sound and Light show at night, see picture to the right, the least cheesy of the Sound and Light "extravaganzas". On your feet, look out for the extremely creative guards who will do all in their power to get in your photos, or to point out the hieroglpyhs that you can quite clearly see yourself, all for some baksheesh(tip)! Note also the re-use of the temple as a Christian church, with crosses carved into the older hieroglyph reliefs, and images of the Egyptian gods carefully defaced. There are grafitti dating from the 1800s. Entrance fee 50LE. Driver from town 40LE to 50LE with wait and return. 5LE for parking the car. Locals are charged 10LE for the boat ride to the island, but the boatmen will attempt to charge you 50LE per person. A reasonable price should be 40-50LE per person, with wait and return included. The ticket booth is located at the entrance to the pier, which means you will have to buy your non-refundable ticket for the temple and have it torn by the ticket attendant before you can even begin haggling over the price of the boat ride. It may help to wait for other travellers to show up so you can split the boat fee. Bargain hard. The temple is beautiful and very much worth seeing.
Kalabsha Temple. Like Philae, this temple and its surrounding ruins were moved by UNESCO to save them from the floodwaters of Lake Nasser. The main temple was built to the Nubian fertility and sun god Marul during the rule of Emperor Augustus. Don't miss the Kiosk of Qirtasi and the amazing Temple of Beit al-Wali built by Ramesses II.

Abu Simbel. Most people use Aswan as a base to see this fantastic temple. There is a convoy that departs at 4AM, and is usually arranged by your tour agent. See Abu Simbel article for more detail. Most hotels will arrange group transport for 60 to 70 LE per person  

Aswan International Sculpture Park. Sculptors from around the world exhibit their pieces here every spring for the International Sculpture Symposium. The works are all created in Aswan (on the terrace of the Basma Hotel) and when finished brought to this site and exhibited next to each other within view of the ancient quarry. 

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