A Journey into Ancient Nubia

Cruising from Abu Simbel to Aswan on Lake Nasser

If you are contemplating visiting Egypt, don’t limit yourself to Lower Egypt and the Nile Delta. Your itinerary should include a cruise on Lake Nasser, the massive lake created following construction of the Aswan High Dam between 1958 and 1970. It is the only way to see many of the ancient Nubian temples and monuments salvaged during and after construction of the dam. My recent Road Scholar tour included a three-night cruise aboard the Steigenberger Omar El Khayam, part of the Steigenberger Hotels Group. Only three passenger ships were on the lake at the time because of decreased tourism in the past several years. Lake Nasser is huge and empty of traffic. The shore line is barren. Below the water lies the ancient land of Nubia.

We flew from Aswan to Abu Simbel where we boarded the Omar El Khayam, which has 80 cabins. It was my first ever cruise, and I have to give it an A+. The room was clean and well decorated, the bed comfortable, and the food delicious. High marks to management and staff (except for one handsy room steward) for their service and hospitality. I appreciated their patience and humor with my attempts at some Egyptian words and phrases. My only complaint, related to nature not the ship, were the swarms of small flying insects that made the balcony unusable.

When Egypt dammed the Nile at Aswan, many ancient Nubian temples and monuments would have been lost without the cooperation of UNESCO and the international archaeological community. UNESCO and the Egyptian government launched a massive salvage operation. Using a variety of techniques, temples were disassembled, moved above the new water line and/or relocated to new sites between 1960 and 1980. Smaller structures were reassembled at new sites into groups of three, for ease of visiting. Cruising on Lake Nasser provides the only access to some of these ancient treasures. In addition, the Egyptian government gave four small temples to countries that assisted in the project. One, Dendru, is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Rock-Cut Temple of Derr

Now relocated to New Amada on the western shore of Lake Nasser, the Temple of Derr originally was the only temple on the east bank of the Nile in Nubia. In 1964, the temple was dismantled and relocated to its current site. Dedicated to the sun god, Re, it was built by Ramesses II. Some of the wall paintings retain incredible color and detail.


South of Aswan, a site called Kalabasha includes several monuments and temples, including protohistoric period pictographs, a rock-cut temple from the period of Ramses II, a Ptolemaic kiosk, and a Roman era temple.

Temple of Philae

Originally submerged after the construction of the first Aswan dam in 1902, the Temple of Philae was salvaged in the 1970s, after completion of the Aswan High Dam. The temple was drained, dismantled and reconstructed on a new island in a reservoir of the Aswan low dam. While not on Lake Nasser, Philae is considered a major success as part of the rescue of Nubian monuments and sites. Philae was said to have been one of Egypt’s most beautiful temples. It drew visitors well into the 20th century, even after parts were flooded. Unfortunately, submersion in water and river silt has removed the painted surfaces.

The High Dam at Aswan

I will admit I was expecting something on the order of Hoover Dam. The High Dam at Aswan, for all the water it holds back, is nondescript and unimpressive to look at. Much of the dam’s massive earthen structure is under water.


ancient, architecture, Egypt


Yes. We took tenders ashore at three locations of temples, as well as the time at Abu Simbel. There aren’t many other places to go ashore that we could see. It does appear there is some minor agricultural development taking place along the shore.


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