Our morning got off to a rough start as we woke to an Adventurer with ‘tummy troubles’. We’ve avoided them so far which is surprising since we haven’t been able to drink the tap water since early December. Some liquids and small nibbles did little to improve the situation so we reluctantly split the group and sent 3 Adventurers to explore Aswan.
Our first stop was to see the granite quarry where the large heavy stones used in the pyramids at Giza where cut. This quarry is also famous for having an unfinished obelisk. This site is the only reason historians know how Obelisks were created.
Using fire to soften the stone, the ancient Egyptians could use basalt rocks (which are harder than granite) to shape and smooth the obelisk from three sides. After these three sides are perfect they dig channels under the bottom of the obelisk. This image shows the site of a previous obelisk which was formed and removed.
These channels are then stuffed with wood. When wood takes on water it swells and this pressure when applied evenly under the length of the obelisk can sever or shear the bottom granite face.
The famous Unfinished Obelisk was going to be a single block of granite 40 meters tall and weighing 100 tons. It is estimated that it had been worked on 8-9 months before being abandoned. The cause was a failure of the huge granite block from cleaving properly when the bottom face was being prepared.
The Unfinished Obelisk was cut into blocks for statues but as you see they never removed these blocks.
All of the granite monuments carved at this quarry were done on a slant so that they had an easier slide down to the Nile during the seasonal floods when transportation of heavy loads was easiest.
To lift these several ton obelisks the original builders erected giant ramps with a rounded drop-off. The ‘bottom’ end of the obelisk would be pulled up to the end of the ramp and balanced on the top edge of the ramp. For larger, heavier stones there would often be a temporary sand pit off the end of the ramp which would receive the ‘bottom’ of the obelisk and take some of the stress off the balance point. The pit would be drained of sand and the obelisk would gently land mostly upright. A few ropes would be pulled on the top of the stone to achieve final positioning.
We are hoping to see a few of these in place in Luxor when we get there at the end of this week. We plan to get there by boat (in part) just as these obelisks did during flood season.
The summer rains used to create a tremendous flood which benefited agriculture and transportation. The variability of these floods and the potential for destruction of property convinced the ruling British to build a dam which was completed in 1902. This dam was mostly effective and today all Aswan power is generated from this ‘lower’ dam.
Egypt achieved independence in 1952 and determined that an additional, larger dam would need to be built to prevent flooding which sometimes topped the so-called British Dam.
Eqypt built the dam with funding and engineering expertise provided by the Soviet Union starting in 1960. It was completed and Lake Nasser filled by 1976.
Our second Adventure was to visit the great Aswan Dam. This is the 5th largest dam in the world and provides the majority of power to Egypt.
There really isn’t much of a story in pictures for the dam so let’s move on to our 3rd and final Adventure of the day. We visited one of the temples that were submerged by Lake Nasser.
In order to get to Philae we needed to catch a five minute boat ride to the temple island. This entire temple complex was dismantled and reconstructed in 40,000+ pieces in an effort to save it from Lake Nasser which filled six years after the completion of the Aswan Dam in 1970. Being Lego fans, the kids though that sounded like a fun project.
This is often called the Temple of Isis as many of the carvings and hieroglyphs tell stories of Isis as a demi-god.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about hieroglyphs and spent time teaching us about the ancient Egyptian gods and the stories told on these walls.
As an example, we learned that this following set of symbols represented Isis. The chair on the right is a throne and indicates royalty. The loaf of bread above the egg indicates female. This would be the queen’s symbol.
The symbol for her brother (and husband) Osiris is here in the center. The throne is capped by an eye which indicates his omniscience and role as half human and half deity.
We describe Philae as a temple complex because there were temples dedicated to music and to other gods on this island. The main temple was used by Christians for several hundred years after the Ancient Egyptians and before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century. Both Christian and Muslim followers defaced some of the stone icons in pursuit of their no-false-idols policies but these hieroglyphs remain mostly intact and awe-inspiring.
Our day ended well as our sick Adventurer seems ready for tomorrow. Plus, we got in a grandparent video call which delighted everyone.