Aswan is situated on the River Nile, a significant archaeological site housing like the Philae Temple complex on Agilkia Island near the landmark Aswan Dam. Spread out along the banks of the Nile, Aswan is a relaxed and friendly town that provides a tranquil break. The river is dotted with islands holding picturesque mud brick Nubian villages and colossal sand dunes. Aswan is the closest town to Ramses II's colossal Temples of Abu Simbel, the island Temple of Philae and the Nile side Temple of Kom Ombo. Aswan is an incredibly photogenic city especially at sunset when hundreds of feluccas take to the water.
The sacred Temple of Isis commonly known as Philae Temple is one of Upper Egypt's most beguiling monuments both for the exquisite artistry of its reliefs and for the gorgeous symmetry of its architecture. The complex is also home to the Temple of Hathor, the Kiosk of Trajan and various other buildings from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The best way to reach the island is by boat giving you some amazing Nile views along the way.
Elephantine Island is dotted with palm tree plantations and colourful mud brick villages. At the southern end of the island is the Aswan Museum and the Ruins of Abu, the most ancient settlement, containing the Old Kingdom Temple of Khnum and the Temple of Satet. The 19th Century Museum villa, houses a collection of artefacts that span Elephantine Island's history up to the Roman era. On the eastern embankment near the ruins and down a flight of steps is Aswan's Nilometer, where the Ancient Egyptians measured the Nile's rise and fall with these stone hewn wells. In the north of the island are the villages of Koti and Siou, where the houses are painted with vibrantly coloured designs and from Siou you can catch a rowboat to Kitchener's Island now officially known as the Aswan Botanical Gardens.
The quintessential way to see Aswan is by taking a Felucca a traditional lateen sail boat on the river. Short trips sail in a loop around the islands with stunning views of the desert dunes of the west bank and lush palm tree islands of the east bank. Half and full day itineraries include swimming stops at the archaeological site on Elephantine Island, Kitchener's Island and the west bank sites of the Monastery of St. Simeon and Tombs of the Nobles where the rulers and Kings of Nubia resided and are buried.
The Monastery of St. Simeon sits between the sand dunes on the West Bank. Founded in the 7th Century and abandoned in the 13th Century due to water shortages, it's one of the largest and best preserved Coptic Monasteries in Egypt. Inside the Monastery courtyard, an aisled Basilica takes up the southern side of the monastery. Camel trekking is a scenic way to travel between the Tombs of the Nobles and the Monastery of St. Simeon. The trek, across the desert plain and backed by golden sand dunes, reveals the harsh desert environment that edges the Nile's narrow strip of lush farmland.
Right in the middle of Aswan's downtown district, the Sharia el-Souk is a souvenir hunter's paradise. The numerous stalls are full of spices, perfumes, Nubian jewellery, traditional galebeyas (long robes) and scarves in rainbow hues, basketry and silverware.
Aswan's Nubian Museum is a must for anyone interested in the history and culture of both the ancient and modern Nubia. It documents the riches of a culture that was eroded away with the building of the Aswan Dam and creation of Lake Nasser. There is an excellent collection of artefacts from the Kingdom of Kush, ancient Nubia and plenty of wonderful black and white photography of UNESCO's incredible project to save Philae Temple and Abu Simbel from the rising waters of the dam.
If time prevails a one day trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel is a must. This city was built by Ramses II and saved from destruction by a remarkable UNESCO rescue project in the 1970’s. Abu Simbel is not only a triumph of ancient architecture but also of modern engineering. The mammoth scale of the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor sitting on the banks of Lake Nasser outdoes everything else in Egypt and has to be seen to be believed.
The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double Temple constructed during the Ptolemaic Dynasty with some additions later made during the Roman period. The building is unique because its “double” design meant that there were courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of Gods. The southern half of the Temple was dedicated to the Crocodile God Sobek, God of Fertility and creator of the world with Hathor and Khonsu. Meanwhile, the northern part of the Temple was dedicated to the Falcon God Haroeris along with Goddess Tasenetnofret (the good sister), consort of Haroeris and mother of Panebtawy the Child God.