Why Elephantine Island is a must-visit for culture vultures on a Nile cruise

Elephantine Island

If you’re planning to explore Egypt, Nile cruises are the ideal way of doing so. As well as the renowned landmarks like the pyramids and the sphinx, you should make sure you take in equally-impressive but lesser known gems, like Elephantine Island.

The isle is located in the River Nile and is classed as part of Aswan, a city in southern Egypt. Elephantine Island is an important attraction for many holidaymakers as it’s home to an archaeological site.

A brief history

Elephantine Island was known as Abu or Yabu in ancient times and had a number of functions. The isle served as a defensive structure to protect nearby cities and was also used as a transfer point for cargo travelling down the Nile.

There was once a fortress here, along with a number of other buildings, the remains of which have been excavated in recent years. The name of the island is thought to refer to its shape, which is said to resemble an elephant’s tusk, or may be derived from old Greek words meaning elephant. It may also have resulted from island’s connection to the ivory trade.

The archaeological site

Excavation of the island has turned up some interesting artefacts dating back to predynastic times, in addition to the remains of buildings. If you visit as part of a cruise down the Nile, you’ll be able to see firsthand the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Khnum – the Egyptian god of creation and also the god of the River Nile.

What remains of the temple takes up a large area at the southern end of the island, but you might also spot an ancient step pyramid and a small shrine as you take a tour of the island. In addition, there are two nilometers to be seen here, which were measuring levels carved out of the cliff faces used to gauge water depth.

Other attractions

Wandering around the ancient sites makes for a memorable excursion but, if you’re keen to see more, you should head to the Museum of Aswan - officially known as the Nubia Museum.

Opened in the 1990s, the museum has won awards for its unique design, which aims to replicate the architecture of buildings found in traditional Nubian villages. Inside, there are all manner of unearthed artefacts to view, many of which were excavated at the archaeological sites on the island.

The dozens of artefacts span a long timeframe and include examples of prehistoric objects, items from the Meroitic period, and artefacts from the Roman era. Among the exhibits are frescoes from the 10th century, prehistoric tools like axes, the mummy of a priest’s wife, and 18th century amulets. Some of the objects on display were locally sourced, while others have been given to the collection by other museums from throughout Egypt.

Externally, the museum is set in thousands of acres of grounds, which are worth exploring. The gardens comprise a series of waterfalls, flowering plants, palm trees and natural rocks, while there is also an amphitheatre and open air stage, where both Egyptian and foreign groups perform.

Further down is an outdoor exhibition of religious Islamic buildings, a replica Nubian house complete with traditional furnishings, and an artificial cave, in which you can admire prehistoric carvings and paintings.

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