Aswan is an Egyptian market town located in Upper (southern) Egypt; its historic name was Swenet, meaning “trade.” It is well located on the east bank of the Nile at the “first cataract.” More like rapids than waterfalls, the cataracts formed natural barriers to navigation, so for trade purposes Aswan was the first Egyptian town at the country’s southern end. Aswan is one of the driest places on earth; it is not unusual for several years to go by without any rainfall. Aswan includes Elephantine Island.
Egypt’s ancient stone quarries were located here, where copious quantities of granite were mined and used to make large statues, shrines, obelisks, stelae and the pyramids.
The Aswan Dam was built here in the 1960s, causing the formation of Lake Nasser. Some temples were submerged, but the colossal twin temples bearing the likenesses of Rameses I and Nefertari were relocated to Abu Simbel. The structure was originally built in the 13th century BC; eventually it fell into disuse and was covered by desert sands. It was rediscovered in 1813 by a Swiss orientalist and excavated. Moving the structure was an absolutely monumental project involving cutting it into 20-ton blocks, moving the pieces and reassembling them in their new position up and away from the river.
There are many other Nubian monuments in the area, and the Nubia Museum has on display many priceless artifacts salvaged from temples before they were submerged. On display are items from Geological, Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras; royal mummies; a model of a Nubian-style home and terraced gardens with cascading waterfalls.