Navigating the Nile
These ancient cities that either were incorporated into modern ones or continued to exist on their own to the present day
Cairo is located at the beginning of the Nile Delta, and the river flows through the city. It began as a Roman fortress settlement called Babylon in the first century AD. Later it became a Byzantine city and an important Coptic Christian community. The area was conquered by the Arabs in 640 AD, but the city of Cairo was not actually founded until the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in the late 900s. Originally called Al-Mansuriyya, it became a center of learning with the 3rd oldest university in the world and established as the capital in 972 AD.
The area around Alexandria, on the western edge of the Nile Delta, was an important trading post for the ancient Egyptians going all the way back to the time of the old kingdom. It was founded by Alexander around 331 BC and he wanted to build a city based on the Greek design as there were two great harbors in that area. It became an important city, serving as the capital of the Ptolemy Dynasty, Roman & Byzantine Empires. It was the largest city in the ancient world and well known for its Great Library and the Lighthouse. After the conquest by Arabs in 641 AD, the city became less important until the late 1700s, when it again emerged as an important trading center.
Memphis was the first capital of ancient, unified Egypt and was at the entryway to the Nile River Valley. Pharaoh Narmer made it as his capital because it was at this spot where Upper and Lower Egypt met. It was an important hub for trade and manufacturing, but as other great cities grew more powerful, Memphis declined in importance and by 641 AD, it was mostly inhabited and used as a stone quarry for buildings nearby. Today it is located near Mit Rahina in Greater Cairo, and the site is an open-air museum.
Giza, a large plateau located south of Cairo on the Nile’s West Bank, was used as Necropolis- an extensive & elaborate burial place in 2000 BC. Three massive Pyramids were built by the Pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty: Cheops, Khafre and Menkaure-Father, Son and Grandson. Modern archaeologists have found remains of the village for the workers of several cemeteries there. Arabs founded the city in 642 AD and named it after the plateau.
Edfu, known in ancient times as Behdet, the city is located on the west bank of Nile. The Temple of Edfu, a shrine to honor the God Horus, is a magnificent temple. It was no longer in use after the Roman Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and amazingly kept its basic structure after an attempt at some point to burn it down.
Elephantine Island today, is part of the city of Aswan and is located downstream from the first cataract in the Nile, which is an area of the river that is blocked by rapids and stones. It was a fort settlement then, and archaeologists have found two Nilometers- structures that measured the clarity and water levels of the river in antiquity.
Aswan, southern-most city of ancient Egypt and located north of Aswan Dam. The Egyptian’s name for the city was Swenett. It was very important because there were stone quarries on both banks of the Nile that produced building materials used throughout the ancient land. It was also an important army post, as it guarded the border, tolls and customs were collected on boats going up or down the Nile. The city was north of first cataract, the Egyptians could sail about 750 miles north without hitting an obstacle.
Khartoum is located where the Blue & While Niles form the great river. The ancient Egyptians were very interested in finding the source of the Nile but there were too many obstacles- cataracts & desert in their path. After the first cataract, which was just south of Aswan, there were five more before reaching Khartoum. The modern city, founded by Ottomans in 1821 is an important trading center today.
Heliopolis was an important city as it was the religious center for the worship of Atum who became associated with Amum-Re, the state god of the Sun in ancient Egypt. During the middle-ages the city was dismantled by Arabs, who used building materials for the construction of the buildings in Cairo. The Obelisk from the temple of Ra-Atum is one of the masterpieces still intact today.
While the ancient Egyptians called the city Waset, the Greeks called it Thebes, and it was renamed as Luxor by the Arabs. The Karnak temple complex was constructed on the East Bank, while Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens were built on the West Bank. At one point this ancient city was estimated to contain two-third of the world’s monuments
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