The Black Land - The Gift of the Nile

"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
- Mark Twain

ancient egypt nile riverEgypt is the Gift of the Nile, the only place in the world where a river dares to cut across a thousand miles of desert to reach the sea, creating a civilization along its course.

The Nile river is literally the lifeline of Egypt. The largest cities and towns are located along its banks. Roads follow its course. This particularity makes it very easy for the traveler to see the wonders of ancient Egyptian civilization. On a Nile cruise, the beautiful landscape passes along like a time still scenario. To both sides, you see stretches of agricultural land where the people work and live. This is the Black Land, cultivated soil jutted here and there by fig palms and other various trees. The ancient Egyptians called it Kmt (you might pronounce it Kemet). Since ancient times, this soil was made fertile by the yearly overflow of the river, the gift of the Nile, as Herodotus once said. Yes, Egypt would be nonexistent without the Nile river.

nile riverFurther across the horizon you contemplate the immense desert, the Red Land. A vast sea of sand stretching to the horizon. Picture the calm flowing waters, the Black Land spotted with bright green cultivation, the reddish ochre sand stretching to infinity. If you contemplate this scene at dawn, then you'll feel to your bones why the ancient Egyptians worshipped the Sun as the loftiest manifestation of their mightiest and most benevolent God Re.

blue-lotusRe was born out the primeval waters, according to Egyptian mythology. In the beginning, a blue lotus emerged from the dark waters of chaos. The Nile Sun God emanated from the center of this beautiful flower, and creation began. The blue lotus (nymphaea cerulae) is the symbol of Upper Egypt, and a motif widely used in architecture, paintings and jewelry. It is also mentioned in poetry and songs.

papyrusPapyrus is the symbol of Lower Egypt. In ancient days, its reeds and flowers grew everywhere along the banks of the Nile. Papyrus is where the word "paper" comes from. As with the lotus, papyrus motifs appear prominently in ancient Egyptian art. The hypostile halls of many temples symbolize the Nile river with rows of papyrus columns to each side.

Ancient Egyptians recognized the importance of the Nile river for their well being and acknowledged a divine dimension to its life-giving waters. They counted on the god Hapi to bring in the river's yearly flood, the reason of which no one could explain. And all Egyptians had to traverse the Nile on their last journey to the realm of Osiris.

Ancient egyptians were acquainted with various species of fish and other animals that lived in the Nile river, such as the hippo and the crocodile. They also knew many species of birds, and payed a particular attention to one of these; the ibis.

Some animals were associated with royalty, notably the falcon, the lion, the vulture and the cobra. These last two appear together in the headresses of the kings. Another royal animal is the horse. It was introduced into ancient Egypt during the Hyksos invasion. The horse is nobly represented with the victorious pharaoh on the pylons or facades of many temples.

Camels and pyramids have this instant connection, but did you know that the ancient Egyptians knew nothing about camels? Camels are not indigenous to Ancient Egypt, they were actually introduced later on by the Persians. So camels have really nothing to do with the pyramids, although this anachronism makes for great tourist snapshots.

Many animals in Egypt have religious associations. These include the cat, the ibis, the falcon, the vulture, the crocodile, the hippo, the ram, the lion, the cobra and of course, the scarab. The scarab is mostly associated with the sun god Re. Many amulets found in mummies have the shape of the scarab, with inscriptions underside.

Not only was the Nile river the perfect habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna, but a convenient and efficient way of transportation. Egyptians are credited for inventing the sail, which they raised everytime they would voyage from Upper to Lower Egypt. All kinds of goods were transported in these boats, including heavy stones for the construction of monuments.

Today, the Nile between Luxor and Aswan is a regular tourist route, with modern floating hotels and traditional wooden sailing boats known as feluccas.


The Nile Cruise
As many travelers will testify, the best way to experience classical Egypt is by taking a Nile cruise. The cruise is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get close to the attractions of antiquity, most of which are not far off from the banks of the river. You also get a glimpse of rural Egypt where many...

Ancient Animals from Egypt - Ancient Egyptians not only used animals as sources of food and for labor, but also for cult purposes.

Egyptian Symbols - Egyptian symbols and their associated myths arose from human observation of natural cycles and other natural phenomena.

Egypt Geography Facts

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The River Nile Valley and Delta, the most extensive oasis on earth, was created by the world's longest river and its seemingly inexhaustible sources.

The Nile River traverses about 1,600 kilometers through Egypt and flows northward to the Mediterranean Sea. Without the topographic channel that permits the Nile to flow across the Sahara, Egypt would be entirely desert.

The Nile in Egypt is a combination of three long rivers whose sources are in central Africa.

The White Nile, which begins at Lake Victoria in Uganda, supplies about 28% of the Nile's waters in Egypt.

The Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, provides an average of 58% of the Nile's waters in Egypt. It has a steeper gradient and flows more swiftly than the White Nile, which it joins at Khartoum. Unlike the White Nile, the Blue Nile carries a considerable amount of sediment.

The much shorter Atbara River, which also originates in Ethiopia, joins the main Nile north of Khartoum between the fifth and sixth cataracts (areas of steep rapids) and provides about 14% of the Nile's waters in Egypt.

Before the Aswan High Dam was completed in 1971, the White Nile watered the Egyptian stretch of the river throughout the year, whereas the Blue Nile, carrying seasonal rain from Ethiopia, caused the Nile to overflow its banks and deposit a layer of fertile mud over adjacent fields, the Gift of the Nile. The great flood of the main Nile usually occurred in Egypt during August, September, and October.

As a result of the dam's construction, the Nile actually begins its flow into Egypt as Lake Nasser (Lake Nubia), which extends south from the dam 320 kilometers to the border and an additional 158 kilometers into Sudan.

Below Aswan, the cultivated floodplain strip widens to as much as twenty kilometers. North of Isna (160 kilometers north of Aswan), the plateau on both sides of the valley rises as high as 550 meters above sea level, At Qina (about 90 kilometers north of Isna), the 300-meter limestone cliffs force the Nile to change course to the southwest for about 60 kilometers before turning northwest for about 160 kilometers to Asyut. Northward from Asyut, the escarpments on both sides diminish, and the valley widens to a maximum of twenty-two kilometers. The Nile river reaches the Delta at Cairo.

At Cairo, the Nile spreads out to form a fertile, fan-shape delta about 250 kilometers wide at the seaward base and about 160 kilometers from north to south. The Nile Delta extends over approximately 22,000 square kilometers. Seven branches of the Nile once ran through the Delta. Nature and man have closed all but two main outlets: the east branch, Damietta and the west branch, Rosetta.

The fertility and productivity of the land adjacent to the Nile depends largely on the silt deposited by floodwaters. The construction of dams, particularly the Aswan High Dam, transformed the mighty river into a large and predictable irrigation ditch. Lake Nasser, the world's largest artificial lake, has enabled planned use of the Nile regardless of the amount of rainfall in Central Africa and East Africa. The dams have also affected the Nile Valley's fertility, which was dependent for centuries not only on the water brought to the arable land but also on the materials left by the water. Today the Aswan High Dam obstructs most of this sediment, which is now retained in Lake Nasser. The reduction in annual silt deposits has contributed to rising water tables and increasing soil salinity in the Delta, the erosion of the river's banks in Upper Egypt, and the erosion of the alluvial fan along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.