Nile Cruise: Philae Temple, High Dam and Unfinished Obelisk

On our last day of the cruise, we docked in Aswan and had a morning tour of the Temple of Philae, the unfinished obelisk, and the High Dam.

We started at the unfinished obelisk, which is in an ancient granite quarry. You can see where the ancients were carving out the obelisk, but you can also see the giant crack that started and is the reason it was left unfinished. It was also cool to see the smaller crack where you could see they tried to repair it (so the assumption is the smaller crack predated the large one). Ultimately, they didn’t pull the obelisk out of the quarry.

This is how we know how the ancients even made obelisks to begin with! If it wasn’t for the unfinished one, we wouldn’t know. It was interesting to me that rather than try to cut out a giant block of granite and then shape the granite, they actually cut the form in the quarry. Once it was complete, they would have put it on a raft during the Nile flood to send it upriver.

Then we went on to the High Dam. The High Dam at Aswan is what created Lake Nasser, and what actually caused many of the temples to be moved to higher ground. It’s a giant dam, and our guide went to great lengths to tell me specifically all about how the Russians helped the Egyptians with it because the Americans weren’t interested in developing Egypt.

Sigh. I never figured out the undertone there or why he thought it was necessary to say, but it was interesting nonetheless. The dam today provides something like 20% of the electricity for all of Egypt, and it really is an incredible engineering marvel.

There’s lots of security there by Egyptian standards – there are checkpoints with armed guards (and sometimes tanks) checking the cars and visitors. But it’s still interesting from the American perspective – the checkpoints are right at the dam and not removed. If it was in the US, the checkpoints and car park would be quite a distance from the dam itself.

But because it’s Egypt we just parked on the road right on top of the dam itself.

It’s got a beautiful view of Lake Nasser to the south and Aswan to the north!

We continued on to Philae temple, which is on an island in the lake. I loved that we had to take a boat to get there! Philae is one of the remarkable temples that UNESCO helped the Egyptians move when the dam was being built. Block by block, they numbered each piece of the temple, moved it to higher ground, and then put it back together. Just incredible.

Architecturally, I found Philae to be very similar to Edfu temple. In fact, it’s hard to tell some of my photos apart for which is at which temple!

But I loved Philae. Unlike Edfu, there was a Roman temple off to the side that had an incredible view of the lake.

And did you know? Philae is unfinished. They left it unfinished because an unfinished temple meant more offerings and more taxes!

After that, we had the afternoon to hang out in Aswan before spending our last night on the boat. Overall, it was a really fun cruise and I’m glad I did it. I think it’s the best way to see the sites between Luxor and Aswan – certainly the easiest!


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