Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nile Geography

Egypt is basically the Sahara and the Nile River. Since little rain falls in Egypt, the Nile River remains virtually the sole source of the region’s fresh water.

Almost all of that fresh water comes from the Blue Nile. Its headwaters lie in the highlands of Ethiopia. There the rain of summer monsoons wash silt off volcanic mountains. Then rain and silt head for the Mediterranean.

Until 1971, when construction of the Aswan High Dam was finished, the annual flooding of the Nile started around the summer solstice. It peaked at the autumnal equinox. The floodwaters would leave silt and take salts that had accumulated in the soil.

Farmers planted crops in autumn after the water had receded. These grew during the winter. Then farmers harvested them in the spring just weeks before the Nile flooded again. So three seasons punctuated the Egyptian year: flooding, planting, and harvesting.

The two major regions of the Nile River are a broad delta and a long but narrow valley.

The Nile Delta lies in northern Egypt and is roughly triangular in shape. Measuring about 9,400 square miles (24,000 sq km) in area, it is by far the largest fertile area in Egyptia. Almost all Egyptian agriculture has always taken place here. At the same time, almost 40% of the people of today's Egypt now live here.

The Mediterranean Sea forms the northern side of this triangle. At roughly the northwest corner of the Delta, we find the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. Construction of Alexandria began in 331 BC. The western branch of the Nile empties into the Mediterranean Sea 33 miles (52 km) east of Alexandria near the city of Rosetta.

Port Said lies 141 miles (227 km) east of Alexandria at the northeast corner of both the Nile Delta and the continent of Africa. Construction of it began only in 1859 as the place where the digging of the Suez Canal would start. The eastern branch of the Nile River flows into the Mediterranean Sea 31 miles (49 km) west of Port Said near the city of Damietta.

The land at the southern corner of the Nile Delta has been the cultural center of Egypt for thousands of years. In the very small area at this corner, we have ruins of ancient Memphis, pyramids of Saqqara and Giza, a Roman tower, Coptic churches, Sunni Fustat, Fatimid Al-Azhar Mosque, the citadel of Salah ad-Din, Suleiman’s mosque, and buildings in Cairo inspired by the Belle Époque of Paris, Victorian England, and twentieth-century technology. Cairo, vital center of Egypt since the 1100s, lies 112 miles (180 km) southeast of Alexandria and 104 miles (168 km) southwest of Port Said.

South of Cairo, we leave the Delta and have only the extremely narrow but fertile band of the Nile River Valley to sustain any life whatsoever. The first rapids in the Nile occur near Aswan. These rapids have marked the cultural boundary between Egypt and Nubia for thousands of years. From these first rapids near Aswan to Cairo, the Nile River flows south over 424 miles (683 km).

Between Aswan and Cairo, along the Nile, lies the extremely important city of Thebes (now Luxor) and the ancient monuments in and near what is now called the Valley of the Kings. Luxor is 314 miles (505 km) south of Cairo and 111 miles (180 km) north of Aswan.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.