Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Cruising Lake Nasser Volume 50 Number 5, September/October 1997
by Robert S. Bianchi

[image] Map of Lake Nasser showing the original and present-day locations of the monuments (Lynda D'Amico) [LARGER IMAGE]

Sailing gently southward...we feel that we are now fairly over the border; and that if Egypt was strange and far from home, Nubia is stranger and farther still.

So wrote Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Society) in 1877 as she sailed the Nile south of the Isis Temples of Philae. I reread her account as I cruised the 317-mile-long Lake Nasser, one of the world's largest manmade reservoirs, on the MSS Nubian Sea. The landscape surrounding the lake is now a vast and desolate waste, but in antiquity there were narrow ribbons of green along the Nile dotted with temples that were focal points for festivals throughout the year.

Cruising Lake Nasser today, a three-day trip from Abu Simbel to Aswan or a four-day voyage in the opposite direction, one sees only fleeting images of this remarkable past. Innumerable archaeological sites and monuments were flooded by the creation of Lake Nasser behind the Aswan High Dam in 1971. Many were investigated by international teams of Egyptologists, and about a dozen temples were dismantled so that they could be moved to higher ground and reassembled. In daylight, these temples are not nearly as picturesque as they were before they were moved. Joints between stone blocks now form a clearly discernible pattern across the facades. At night, however, artificial lights bring out architectural details that are difficult to appreciate in daylight. Interior lighting enables one to see the best-preserved depiction of Rameses II's inconclusive battle with the Hittites at Kadesh (1285 B.C.).

Robert S. Bianchi is a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America