Temple of Philae

A view of the first pylons of Philae

We arrived in Aswan and headed straight for the Temple at Philae one of the premier UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The temple was built during the Ptolemaic period (690BC) to honor the god Isis.  Although Philae was the main temple at the site, it had eleven others in and near it, including several built to honor Roman emperors.  The temple complex was used until at least 550AD.  When Aswan dam was built, Egypt moved the entire temple to preserve it.  They cut and reassembled 300,000 cubic meters of stone, used 4000 cubic meters of plane concrete and 3500 cubic meters of reinforcing concrete.  It was no small task.

A view of the Kiosk of Trajan from our ferry.

As the temple was on an island in the middle of the reservoir, we had to purchase our ticket and then hire a boat.  Even though the posted prices stated a boat costs 175EGP, many of the ferry captains wanted 200 or 250 EGP.  Essentially, their logic was as follows: 175EGP for the boat and then 25-75EGP for the person to operate the boat.  It wasn’t busy when we were there so we were unable to find another small group to share the cost.  (Well, we did find one family, but the “helpful” people talked them out of going with us possibly due to the confusion it would have caused for Egyptian versus tourist prices).

Early Civilization Timeline

Unfinished Obelisk

We had seen it before, but it was still amazing to see.  These massive pieces of stone were carved from rose granite in Aswan.  This particular obelisk was 42 meters long, weighing nearly 1090 metric tones (more than 200 African elephants).

Sharleen inspects the unfinished obelisk

The process of getting a quarried obelisk to its location was an amazing feat.  After chiseling the stone from rock, it was moved to the edge of the Nile during the flood season and a large boat built around it.  Then during the flood season, the Nile would lift the boat so it could be ferried down river to the desired location.  Using people power, the obelisk was then moved and hoisted to its desired location.

This obelisk, ordered by Hatshepsut near 1508BC, never made it.  A giant crack went down the middle and it was left in place – unused.  Nevertheless, thinking about the amount of human effort, engineering skill, and maritime wherewithal it took to pull these feats off was awe inspiring.


While walking back to our home-stay a group of young girls stopped us and wanted pictures with us.  This has happened quite a bit on our trip.  Sometimes it was awkward, but this time it was just fun.  They all took turns taking selfies and group shots with our family, Alyssa, Kylie, Sharleen, and myself.  It was fun to be a celebrity for a few minutes.

Alyssa: Ambassador of good will, shares the love.

Our homestay

We stayed in the Nubian village of Gabl Tagog with a wonderful family.  Our hosts were generous and helpful.  We talked with Maher about Aswan, Egypt’s changes, and everything else under the the sun.  I was interested in the culture of bargaining to the point of dishonesty or cheating.

“Yes it happens to me too.  I just don’t go back to that person.  People are hungry and tourism has been so bad since the revolution that people want to get whatever they can from people.  But I wouldn’t say this has anything to do with their faith.  Many people say they are Muslim, but only a small percentage of them actually follow the path.”

“What has changed since the revolution?”

“People are more willing to stand up and be heard.  Also there is more military.  They are investing in more things like gas stations and in the the private sector.  They are more prominent now.”

“Do you find that you are treated differently because you are outspoken or because you are a Nubian?”

“I am a loud Nubian!  So I’m not sure which one, if any, causes different treatment.”

He laughed when he said this.  As the conversation turned to education he talked about books in his library.  “Diversity in education is so important.  I listen to music and read horizontally as well as vertically.  How can we expect to convince other people of our position if we don’t understand them?”  He continued on with commentary on education.  “Homeschooling is important.  It is silly to send a child to school for 7 hours to only pay a tutor later for all the things they are missing.  Here it is often the same teacher we pay  to teach them the things the teacher doesn’t teach in the classroom.  It is all wasted time.”

“Has the climate changed in your lifetime?”

“Oh yes, there is much more humidity!  Sweat is normal in the desert, but since the building of the dam, we walk around with our galabeya sticking to our body.  We need to shower more frequently.  The winters are also colder.  This one in particular is much colder than last year.

Before leaving he took me to the roof of his place to look over the village and the landscape.

“Across the water there is all archaeological sites.  The law says we are forbidden to build there.  And there on the island, the environment law says no building.  But there are many new hotels there, there, and there.  There is no fist and people are empowered to challenge rules.  They are bringing in more money.  Money has the power to do good, but many times here greed rules.  This area very nice real estate between the Basam hotel and the old Cataract Hotel.”

“Do you think the people here will sell their homes for more money and the area will be developed.”

“No, I think the government will kick people out and sell the land to rich people.  I don’t know if the village will be here in the future.”

The view from Maher’s roof.  What would this skyline be like in another 17 years?

The Nubians have had a rich history.  At times they were subjugated under various dynasties, but in the 25th dynasty, they ruled all of the Egyptian Empire.  They exist now primarily in southern Egypt and Sudan.  “When Britain colonized Egypt, they drew artificial lines in the sand.  They did so diving the Nubian people one-third in Egypt and two-thirds in Sudan.”

Maher means clever in Nubian.  I certainly found him clever, witty, and enjoyable!  He published a book of Nubian proverbs.  When it is released in English, I hope to purchase a copy.  Sometimes the people we meet along the way make our journeys more enriching.

Sharing time with Maher and his family



  1. Thank you for sharing your conversations with Maher – so much wisdom!

    I love hearing from the people of countries or locations we visit, the locals – from their lives, perspectives – not just what we “hear” on news, other people (who most of the time have never visited these areas).

    Once again, awesome post!


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