Aswan Dam, Egypt review: is it worth your time?

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When you travel to Egypt, you'll inevitably go follow the Nile south through Luxor and on to Aswan. Aswan is an interesting city, and it's definitely worth a stop on your Egypt tour.

One of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Aswan Dam, a recent addition to this amazing city. Is it worth a visit?

This article looks at the history and current state of the dam, and whether it is a worthwhile way of spending time while you are in Aswan.

The beautiful city of Aswan

The city of Aswan is the capital of the Aswan Governorate and has a population of a couple hundred thousand people. Aswan is built on a bed of history, being the former site of the ancient city of Swenett.

Swenett dates back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, during which it was considered the southernmost tip of Egypt. The area was an important religious and military center, and thus it was visited by pilgrims from all over the Egypt.

The city was also important because it was a supplier of granite used for obelisks and sculptures.

Swenett was eventually abandoned due to the rising waters of the Nile, and left until the mid-19th century, when the government decided to build a new city there.

The new city was named Aswan, meaning "the souk" (or market), and it quickly grew into a center of commerce.

Today, Aswan is under constant excavation, and archaeologists have found new temples there as recently as last year.

This means that it's a great place to see ancient structures that are a bit less crowded and touristed than those of Cairo.

The Aswan Dam: what is it?

The Aswan Dam is a 350 foot high dam near the city of Aswan. Built between 1960 and 1970, it is one of the largest dams in the world, and its construction was a key step in the development of the Nile Basin.

The dam provides water to use for irrigation in Egypt's desert areas, allowing those areas to be inhabited and support farming.

Before the dam was built, the Nile flooded periodically, supplying water and nutrients to the soil. Since ancient times, this flood was considered life-giving because it made farming the area possible.

When the Nile did not flood, crops would not grow, and the people would go hungry. During the worst droughts, there was mass famine and entire populations disappeared.

In order to control the irrigation of the area, the government decided to build the Aswan Dam.  In addition to providing water to irrigate the nearby areas, the dam generates hydroelectricity, reducing power costs.

Unfortunately, the Aswan dam also had its drawbacks.  The dam flooded huge areas of land, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.   Additionally, it submerged countless historical artifacts, some of which may now never be discovered.

Luckily, before the dam was built, the most impressive historical artifacts that had been discovered in the area were moved.

These include the famous Abu Simbel temples, which were disassembled and moved to another location to be spared from the flooding, as well as Philae Temple.

Is the Aswan Dam worth seeing?

While there are nice views of Lake Nasser from the dam, it's otherwise unremarkable.

You will get better views of the water while riding the boat to Philae temple. In fact, much of what you see from the Aswan Dam (besides water) is urban blight -- the electric power plant connected to the dam.

A view of the power plant from Aswan dam
This is the extent of the view from Aswan dam.  Although you see some of the lake, the only other view is that of the power plant.

What should you do instead?

The city of Aswan is not to be missed -- we just recommend skipping the dam.  There are other excellent historical and cultural attractions in Aswan.  

Our favorite is the Philae Temple. The temple, located on the island of Agilkia, was built over several centuries. The oldest building is an Isis temple.

It was built between 400 and 300 BC, and is arguably one of the most beautiful. Over time, the temple became a place of pilgrimage.

During the construction of the first dam at Aswan, the temple was moved to where it currently stands, in order to preserve it from being submerged.

To get to the temple complex, you will take a small boat with several other tourists.

The boat ride takes only a few minutes, and you're soon at the island where all of the temples stand. The complex is beautifully preserved and has a panoramic view over the water.

A view of the boats to Philae
A view of the boats to Philae Temple.  To get to the temple you take a short ride on a small, open boat.

Another attraction worthy of your time in Aswan is the unfinished obelisk.

The obelisk, which cracked before it could be put up, is an interesting historical relic that shows the extent of the ancient Egyptians' engineering expertise.

It's also a fun place for kids, since there are a lot of rocks to walk on and explore.

What to do in Aswan

What should you do in Aswan instead?

  • Philae Temple - quite possible one of the most beautifully preserved ancient temples in Egypt 
  • Unfinished Obelisk - an interesting look into the engineering abilities of ancient Egyptians
  • Stroll the riverbanks - walk the city and see daily life along the Nile 
  • Sunset felucca ride - ride a traditional felucca along the Nile at sunset and enjoy the view

For more information on Aswan travel

If you're looking to travel to Aswan, or Egypt in general, check out our what to wear/what to pack series for Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan.

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