Aswan stands on the east bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt, a busy market, a major tourist center, and the site of one of Africa’s earliest modern achievements, the great Aswan Dam.

The area is true desert, with rain occurring only once every 6 or 7 years. But despite its climate, the metropolis developed very early, because it was here that the navigable Nile becomes mischievous. This is the first rapids of many that will subsequently be encountered on the river trip down to its source in Lake Victoria.

This natural barrier on the Nile became the obvious demarcation of the great empires of early Egypt. Remembering that the Nile flows north 750 miles to the Mediterranean, and that this is considered Upper Egypt, Aswan was thought by many of the ancients to be the birthplace of Egyptian civilization. The goddess Eileithyia is the area’s great divinity, and she is the goddess of childbirth.

Before its first cataract, the Nile was huge in Aswan, almost two miles wide. In 1902 the British and French colonial powers created the first dam, but the great achievement was in 1970, when the “High Dam” was completed with assistance from the then Soviet Union. Both dams allowed the irascible Nile to be tamed, so that the radical flooding and rescinding of waters was better managed northwards. It also continues to provide almost all of Egypt’s electricity.