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Aswan High Dam

Aswan High Dam Aswan High Dam Aswan High Dam

The Aswan High Dam was completed in 1970 and inaugurated, by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, in January 1971. It stands 364 feet (111 metres) high, has a crest length of 12,562 feet (3,830 metres) with a volume of 57,940,000 cubic yards (44,300,000 cubic metres). On its southern side is Lake Nasser, formed by the creation of the dam, which has a gross capacity of 5.97 trillion cubic feet (169 billion cubic metres), is approximately 200 miles (320 kilometres) long within Egypt and about 100 miles (160 kilometres) long within Sudan.

Though the Aswan High Dam has brought many benefits to Egypt, with electricity being produced from its twelve hydro-powered generators (each one is rated at 175 megawatts/235,000 horsepower, with a total of 2.1 gigawatts/2,800,000 horsepower) and, for the first ever time, total control of the River Nile’s annual inundation, the downsides include the repatriation of somewhere between one hundred and one hundred and twenty thousand residents (to Egypt and Sudan) as well as the expensive relocation of many archaeological sites, including Abu Simbel, and the immeasurable value of the losses of sites such as the Middle Kingdom fortresses at Buhen and Semna, which were made of mudbrick and so, therefore, have returned to their constituent components (i.e. earth and sand or straw).

It took eleven years to build and was funded by the USSR, after the US and UK had pulled out of their original funding arrangement due to them hearing of a secret arms agreement that President Nasser had made with the Soviets. The Suez crisis/war, in 1956, broke out because President Nasser had decided to nationalise the Suez Canal, planning on using the revenues to help fund the building of the dam, but the UK, France and Israel opposed the idea and so seized the canal. It was only by mediation by the USA, USSR, and UN that the situation was resolved: two years later, the USSR funded the dam’s construction.

Archaeological Impact:
After the dam was completed the water levels on the southern side started to increase and the warnings that were originally raised by archaeologists in the early 1950’s started to take effect. They had realised that with the creation of the new lake, many archaeological sites would be severely threatened. Once this was realised UNESCO started a rescue project, in 1960, to safeguard as many sites as possible, which was also part-funded individual countries.

There were 22 archaeological sites that were threatened to be engulfed by the rising waters of Lake Nasser, including the Temples of Philae (which were moved to the nearby Agilkia Island) and the two rock-cut temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel (which were moved about 200 feet (60 metres) higher up the hillside).  However, many sites could not be saved, such as the aforementioned Middle Kingdom fortresses at Buhen and Semna, and now they are lost forever, though some temples from these sites were rescued.

To help demonstrate the task that UNESCO and the individual contributing counties faced, below (in alphabetical order) is a list of sites and monuments that were under threat (besides the aforementioned temples of Philae and Abu Simbel):

 the Chapel of Abu Oda
 the Chapel of Ellesyia
 the Temple of Amada
 the Temple of Beit El Wali
 the Temple of Dakka
 the Temple of Debod
 the Temple of Dendur
 the Temple of Derr
 the Temple of Gerf Hussein
 the Temple of Kalabsha
 the Temple of Maharraqa
 the Temple of Kertassi
 the Temple of Taffa
 the Temple of Wadi Es Sebua

In Sudanese part of Nubia, these sites and monuments were also under threat:

 the Temple of Aksha,
 the fortress at Buhen (with two 18th Dynasty temples)
 the fortress of Semna East (with an 18th Dynasty temple)
 the fortress of Semna West (with an 18th Dynasty temple)

With the lake slowly forming and heading towards its proposed depth of about 160 feet (50 metres) the need to save all of the above mentioned sites became more and more urgent, as well as more and more challenging; especially from the technical viewpoint. It was finally decided that all of the sites, except for three exceptions (the Chapels of Qasr Ibrim; the Temple of Gerf Hussein; and the Chapel of Abu Oda), would be carefully and tirelessly dismantled or carved up and then moved to a safer location. Six locations were finally agreed on and these were as follows:

1/ the Temples of Philae were moved to Agilkia Island
2/ the Temples of Abu Simbel were moved about 200 feet (60 metres) higher up the hillside
3/ the Temples of Beit El Wali, the Temple of Kalabsha and the Kiosk of Kertassii were located close to the Aswan High Dam
4/ the temples of Dakka, Maharraqa and Wadi Es Sebua were moved 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) from the former site of Wadi Es Sebua
5/ the temples of Amada and Derr and Pennut's Tomb at Aniba were moved 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometres) away from the original site of Amada
6/ the temples of Aksha, Buhen, Semna East and Semna West were moved to Khartoum Museum

Egypt also gifted four temples as tokens of its gratitude to countries that had especially contributed to the success of the campaign: the Temple of Debod to Spain, the Temple of Dendur to the USA, the Temple of Ellesyia to Italy and the Temple of Taffa to the Netherlands.

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