Elephantine Island & the Nilometer, Aswan
The verdant island of Elephantine (1,650yd/1,500m long, 550yd/500m wide), with its luxuriant growth of palms, known in Arabic as Geziret Aswan or El-Gesira ("the Island") for short, can be reached by boat (preferably a felucca) in a few minutes. It is one of Aswan's principal tourist attractions, and accordingly is in danger of losing its quiet idyllic charm. On the island are two picturesque Nubian villages, the inhabitants of which still speak Nubian and preserve their national traditions.
Entrance fee in EGP: Adult £10.00
To the north of the town rises the Alabaster Hill, an ancient quarry of quartz from which the Egyptians obtained the material required for the polishing of hard stones.
The description of the Nilometer by the Greek geographer Strabo (ca. 63 B.C.-A.D. 20) is still accurate:"The Nilometer is a well built of regular hewn stone on the bank of the Nile, in which is recorded the rise of the stream: not only the highest and the lowest rises but also those in between, for the water in the well rises and falls with the stream. On the side of the well are marks, measuring the height sufficient for irrigation and other water levels. These are observed and made known to all.... This is of importance to the peasants for the management of the water, the embankments, the canals and so on, and also to the officials for the purpose of taxation; for the higher the rise of the water the higher are the taxes."Near the primitive landing stage on the east side of the island, facing Aswan, is a flight of steps leading to the Nilometer, of which Strabo gives a precise description. After more than 1,000 years of neglect it was restored to use by Mahmud Bey in 1870 during the reign of Viceroy Ismail, as is recorded in French and Arabic inscriptions; since the construction of the High Dam, however, it no longer functions. The scales date from the Late Empire, the heights (in cubits) being given in both Greek and demotic characters. The new scale is inscribed on marble tablets.
South of the Nilometer, opposite the Cataract Hotel, is a massive ancient embankment, many of the stones in which were taken from older buildings and bear inscriptions. There are also many inscriptions on the rocks along the water's edge, including some large inscriptions in the name of Psammetichus.
Located above the city and offering a fine view, the Aswan Museum is a popular tourist attraction known for its fine collection of antiquities from Aswan and Nubia.
Villa Nur el-Salam
On the west bank of the Nile, opposite the south end of Elephantine, is the Villa Nur el-Salam, set in carefully tended gardens, which belonged to Aga Khan III (Sultan Mohammed Shah, b. 1887 in Karachi, d. 1957 at Versoix in Switzerland), spiritual head of the Khojas, a branch of the Ismaili sect. The Khojas, who revere him as the 48th Imam, live mainly in India and East Africa. For many years the Aga Khan spent the winter months at Aswan, seeking relief from a rheumatic complaint.
Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
Commandingly situated on a hill above the villa, with magnificent views, is the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, built here, in accordance with his wishes, by the Begum, his French born wife and former beauty queen Yvette Labrousse (1906-2000). A stiff climb on a stepped path brings the visitor to a spacious esplanade from which a broad flight of steps leads up to the entrance. The mausoleum is built of ochre colored calcareous sandstone in a severely restrained style; the interior (in which absolute silence must be observed) is finished in light colors, floored with red carpets and immaculately maintained. On the Begum's instructions a fresh red rose is laid on the sarcophagus (of white marble, with Koranic texts carved in relief) every day.
Between Elephantine and the left bank is the island of El-Atrun or Kitchener's Island, more recently known as Botanical Island. Once the property of Lord Kitchener, it now belongs to the State, and with its luxuriant abundance of plants and flowers is one of the great attractions of Aswan.
Map of Aswan Attractions