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Famous city: Aswan was the first city to be built up in Egypt, named Swenet in ancient times. This was largely due to the site being based around one of the widest stretches of the River Nile. Due to the thousands of years of civilisation here there are many attractions in Aswan of real historical interest. There’s the largest obelisk from antiquity, royal tombs and temples. In the modern age Aswan has still retained its importance, especially as it’s Egypt’s southernmost big city, and a favoured stopping point for Nile cruise holidays. And of course, its name has now become inextricably linked to the huge Aswan Dam, with building completing on the High Dam in 1976.
Relaxed holidays: For those who find the pace of life in Cairo and Luxor too hectic, Aswan holidays are the ideal antidote. It still has a very Egyptian atmosphere, with cultural influences coming from Africa and the Middle East too. However, the locals here are much calmer and you won’t be hassled as much to buy from the market traders. All in all, you’ll enjoy all the sights and sounds of Egypt holidays without the rushing around busy crowds of tourists.
Attractions in Aswan
Unfinished Obelisk: Aswan’s quarries were used extensively in ancient times to build statues and structures, as there were forms of red, grey and black granite which made the ideal carving material! Amazingly, many of the structures were transported over 200km from Aswan to Luxor, or even further than that to Cairo. One of the most famous sights to see on holidays to Aswan, The Unfinished Obelisk is an example of a structure that remains actually still carved into the quarry itself. If it was finished, at 42m high it would have been the largest obelisk in the ancient world. But for unknown reasons, construction was abandoned. It’s still another fantastic example of the sheer scale of ambition during ancient Egypt.
Tombs of the Nobles: Along the west bank, this is the Aswan version of the Valley of the Kings. There’s a fascinating collection of noble people’s tombs here, with the Tombs of Mekhu & Sabni and Kubbet el Hawa being of particular interest. Inside, you’ll see intricate, multi-coloured hieroglyphics and artistic paintings. The Kubbet el Hawa is actually just above the other tombs and offers stunning views across the River Nile. The Tombs of the Nobles’ close proximity to the centre of Aswan makes it essential viewing, even if you’ve only got a day in Aswan as a stopping off point on Nile cruise holidays.
Philae Temple: Around 10km away from the centre of Aswan on its own tiny island named Philae, this huge temple actually isn’t as old as many of the other attractions in Egypt. Built to honour Isis, construction was completed in the 6th century BC. The temple is in remarkably good condition, with most of the thick, solid columns still standing. And as usual with Egyptian structures, almost all stonework is covered in beautifully carved hieroglyphics and images. There’s a well-preserved smaller temple too.
Aswan Dam: Certainly the two dams are much newer structures than almost all other landmarks in Egypt, but their fame makes them vital viewing on holidays to Aswan. Aswan Dam is the general name given to both dams, with the Old Dam completed in 1902 by the British. The High Dam was created in 1976, and took over 3,000 workers 3 years to build. At 111m tall, the High Dam was a monumental effort, but the benefits are enormous. The lower plains of Nubia are no longer flooded so severely, the dam provides electricity and water to the community, and faming has increased tenfold since its creation.
Abu Simbel: Although this site is actually some 280km away from Aswan, we thought we’d mention it here as many people use Aswan as a travel gateway to the attraction. This amazing temple has 4 colossal statues of Rameses II guarding the entrance, inside the temple is equally amazing with huge columns and mummies on display.
Activities in Aswan
Nubian Museum: This UNESCO listed museum contains over 3,000 artefacts focusing on the history of the Nubian people located in the south of Egypt. In ancient Egyptian, Nubia literally translates as ‘Land of Gold’, and you’ll certainly see lots of glistening golden adornments on jugs, jewellery and statues.
Aswan botanical gardens: These lush green gardens are found on Lord Kitchener’s own private island suitably named Kitchener’s Island. He created the gardens in the 1890’s and they are a real oasis of exotic flowers and very tall palm trees. It’s the ideal shady respite from the hot midday sun, which is a common weather feature of holidays in Aswan!
Restaurants in Aswan
Panorama: Located on one of the quieter streets in Aswan, this authentic Egyptian restaurant serves up lots of local delights. The tagines (served in clay pots piping hot) and the meze-style stuffed vine leaves are both highly recommended. Perfect for a sumptuous meal if you fancy a change from the food served on Nile cruise holidays.
Aswan Moon: This charming restaurant is in a wonderful location, right by the River Nile. And the outdoor terrace means you can enjoy pleasant views of the water whilst you dine. Dishes include traditional food like roasted fish, spicy rice and lentil soup.
Emy: Don’t let the rather plain decor of this restaurant put you off – the food here is excellent. It’s in a great location too, being a converted 2-deck boat by the River Nile. It’ll almost be like a home from home if you’re on Nile cruise holidays. There’s no shortage of traditional Egyptian cuisine in Aswan, and Emy is no different. Expect food such as flat breads with an assortment of dips, fresh salads and hearty casseroles.
Nightlife in Aswan
The Terrace: Being a Muslim country there aren’t many bars or clubs in Egypt (except Sharm el Sheikh) as the local people aren’t allowed to drink alcohol. However, Aswan seems to take a slightly more relaxed stance on drinking compared to Cairo and Luxor. One of the best places to stop for a tipple or two is The Terrace. It’s actually part of the Old Cataract Hotel but the bar is open to everyone, even if you aren’t a guest and just stopping off for a break on Nile cruise holidays. The decor of the bar is beautiful, with low wooden beams, ornamental rugs on the wall and elegant simple furniture. It actually recalls the colonial style of Egypt from the 1920’s which is so often recreated in films.
Shopping in Aswan
Sharia as-Souq: This wonderful market (souq is the word for market in Arabic) has a distinctly vintage style about it, with canvas and wood stalls and a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than the chaotic selling at Cairo and Luxor. Bartering is still expected, but you certainly won’t be hassled as much into buying things on Aswan holidays. The items sold here are slightly different to their northern counterparts too, with oddities such as African masks and ornaments, as well as Nubian trinkets and Sudanese swords.
Om Elnor: This is the place to go to for an enchanting range of gorgeous jewellery. A fascinating store filled with many original designs, some of the glistening gold and silver found here has been created with Aswan’s long history in mind. Some of them have the intricate patterns of the hieroglyphs etched into them.
Hubia Craft Centre: The Hubia Craft Centre is like two places of interest rolled into one. This exhibition centre was created to try to retain the culture of the Nubian people, especially their arts and crafts, which have a long and impressive history. Not only can you view the beautiful carved statues and bronze ornaments, you can actually buy them to bring back from your holidays in Aswan!