Aswan, the ancient Syene, is located on the Eastern Nile bank below the 1st Nile cataract. It has today about 220.000 inhabitants and is the southernmost city in Egypt.
Many travelers also describe it as the most beautiful (and cleanest) city of the country. Its looks are marked by the contrasting images of river landscape and desert as well as by the huge sails of the many felukas which glide on the Nile.
Anyway you will find in Aswan the atmosphere of a city which kept its structure and a rather unhurried rhythm of life despite the touristic and industrial boost of the last decades.
In and around Aswan exists a multitude of historically and archeologically relevant landmarks:
The two islands Elephantine and Botanical Island are located in the midst of the city.
At Elephantine exist extended temple and settlement areas which origins go back to the times of the 1st dynasty (3100 – 2686 B.C.). Since 1969 the complex is systematically excavated by a Swiss-German archeological team but is also open for visitors.
Directly beside the landing place of the public ferry boat you will find one of the oldest nilometers in Egypt which was by the way used until the end of the 19th century to measure the water level of the Nile.
The Aswan museum presents a small collection of archeological finds of the region and a documentation of the excavation process on the island itself.
Aside from the archeological sites Elephantine harbors 2 Nubian villages and the extended area of the Moevenpick hotel.
The much smaller Botanical Island was in the colonial period the private estate of Sir Herbert Kitchener, who was 1892 – 1899 the supreme commander of the Egyptian army and received it as a reward for his services in the British Sudan campaign (1896-1898).
Today it is a well-kept botanical garden which is favored by tourists as well as by local people.
Of course you also will explore the bazaar area, testing your bargaining skills while shopping traditional handicraft or spices.
Very recommended is a visit of the 1997 opened Nubian museum which presents (based on contemporary standards) an excellent exhibition of Nubian history from prehistoric times until the present.
If you proceed on the road where the museum is located, you will arrive to the “Nubian House” – from this café you may enjoy an unique view over Aswan and the Cataract islands. The best time to do so is the late afternoon briefly before sunset.
Also on the eastern side of the Nile you may visit the “unfinished obelisk” in an ancient stone pit slightly south of Aswan.
On the west bank you will find some other historical landmarks: the tombs of princes dating back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the mausoleum of Aga Khan, which is – unfortunately closed for visitors – a impressive monument at the border of the desert, and the well worth seeing Coptic monastery of St. Simeon with its origin in the 7th century.
About 5 km south of Aswan you arrive to the old British high dam (from 1902) and after another 7 km distance the modern Aswan high dam (finished in 1971) and the shores of Lake Nasser.
Within the Nile area between the two high dams you will find Philae island with the very lovely Isis temple. In the evenings are here offered Sound & Light Shows in different languages.
Philae belongs to the saved and relocated Nubian temples, as well as Kalabsha and Beit Wali on the water side of Lake Nasser (both are also easily accessible from Aswan).
You may also plan day trips from Aswan to the respective temple areas of Abu Simbel, Komombo and Edfu as well as to the weekly cattle market in Darau.
(However we recommend an overnight-stay in Abu Simbel to visit the temple out of the convoy times and in quietness.)