Egypt Tours, Red Sea & Travel

   

History of Egypt

 

A visit to Egypt today is a visit to the world's largest living museum on this planet. The abundance of distinctive temples and massive monuments gives living proof of the previous sophisticated cultures celebrated over thousands of years; leaving a wealth of mystical history, that captivates the minds of visitors from all over the world. Nature blessed Egypt with miles of unimaginable desert beauty, beautiful deep indigo blue water with hundreds of species of marine life; paralleled by miles of beautiful beaches and relics of history that dates back thousands of years.

 

Egypt continues to thrive as it has since the beginning of the 21st century. The people of Egypt remain committed to world peace and welcome visitors from all countries. Their hospitality remains warm and timeless as it has for thousands of years. If you're considering a holiday to this magnificent country be sure the warm hearted Egyptians welcome you!

 

Egypt: The Largest Living Museum

Egyptian history began some 5000 years ago with the development of a written alphabet (it's hard to have history without some sort of written records). Most of the monuments we will visit are over 4000 years old! We're talking about numbers that are hard to comprehend; the sort of numbers that are used to describe geological changes rather than human activity. To put it in some perspective, we're closer to the events that occurred during the lifetime of Christ than the people living at that time were to the period of Egyptian pyramid building.

 

Around the Third Millennium (3000) BC, a ruler named Menes unified the two existing parts of Egypt, Upper Egypt (which, just to confuse us, refers to the southern part of the Nile River Valley), and Lower Egypt (which of course refers to the northern part of the Nile). With Menes as their Pharaoh, or king, the Egyptians enjoyed their first period of stable and orderly government. The civilization was already quite advanced, as demonstrated by the complex irrigation projects along the Nile as well as the elaborate burial chambers called mastabas. However, the Egyptian civilization reached the height of its wealth, creativity and power during the five hundred year period commonly called the Old Kingdom, which lasted from roughly 2700 to 2200 BC. Characterized by peace, prosperity and the splendor of the Pharaoh's court, this period also saw the building of most of the 70 or so pyramids, the biggest of which, the great pyramids at Giza, were constructed during 27th and 26th centuries BC.

 

The Delta of the Nile River was just as important in the development of Ancient Egyptian civilization as the ruins in the south are its modern claim to fame. However, the wet and coveted fertility of the Delta did not allow for the preservation that the marginal sands of the desert did. As ancient cities in the Delta bloomed and then faded, all the materials used to build them were recycled, and all the foundations (buildings, and other structures) were destroyed when the land was returned to the farmers.

 

Ancient Egypt has captivated many minds. A question many ask is how did such a highly civilized society flourish so early, and why did it come to an end. All too often the endurance of the Egyptian civilization is overlooked and many are shocked when they discover that the pharaohs ruled Egypt for nearly three millennia. To truly understand the dynamics of the Egyptian civilization one needs to fully appreciate the geography of Egypt. Another unique part of Egypt is the Nile River which is the longest river in the world; commencing in the East African highlands and flows into the Mediterranean sea 6,500 kilometers north.

 

'Egypt' wrote the Greek historian Herodotus in 500 BC, 'is so to speak the gift of the Nile'. This makes sense in that the Egyptian economy was based on its agriculture - and this depended on the rich silt that was deposited on the fields during the flooding season, which lasted from mid-June to mid-October. Moreover, the Nile river had a rich supply of fish; it attracted several migratory birds, which were caught in nets and traps. Thus the Nile river valley was truly central to Egyptian civilization.

 

In modern day, it still plays a very central role in the life of most Egyptians. The majority of larger towns are built along the river's edge, which tends to be a lot greener than the rest of Egypt, is mainly desert. The river is still a lifeline for many people; though maybe for different reasons than 3000 years ago. Now the commercial aspect is exploited, with thousands of tourists coming each year for river cruises and to stay in one of the many renowned "Floating Hotels".

 

Two main tributaries feed the Nile: the Blue Nile, which rises in Lake Tana, Ethiopia and central Africa, and the White Nile which rises in Southern Sudan and central Africa. Both flow separate courses until they merge at Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, Egypt's southern neighbor. It was the extremities of Egypt's location that fuelled such a great and remarkable civilization. Surrounded by deserts and seas Egypt had a natural buffer perimeter that could allow cultural contacts and even absorption but more importantly keep enemies at bay.

 

At the beginning of the Holocene (over 10000 years ago) the Nile valley became a more desirable place to live. Before this time the Eastern Sahara was of a Savannah environment with plentiful flora and fauna, with a far higher taxonomic variety than today. Wild herds of grazing antelope, gazelle and cattle made easy game for hunting. However, since the end of the last ice age North Africa has been undergoing environmental changes, with climatic fluctuations. Increasing desiccation at the end of the Pleistocene (start of the Holocene) most likely induced human groups to merge towards the Nile river. Indeed from as early as 1500 BC we have various examples of Paleolithic sites with stone tool assemblages, distributed along the desert limits.

 

The Nile river valley largely determined the settlement patterns of ancient Egypt; it was the focal point of everyday life and was pivotal to Egypt's existence. The Nile river was a water source for drinking and domestic use. The waters are home to a great variety of fish and fowl, which are all easily netted. The Nile is also the main artery of the Egyptian transport infrastructure.

 

To travel north one could rely on the currents to aid passage. With an open sail one could be propelled south by the northerly winds. The ease of travel within the Nile valley allowed communities to be closely linked and facilitated far-reaching trade. Though the key boon of the Nile is its regular inundation.

 

The constant aggradation of the valley has produced a strip of fertility that is in stark contrast to the governing magnitude of desert. The Nile mud isn't just agriculturally prosperous but also a source of building material and clay for pottery. The high waters of the Nile inundation allowed easier carriage of heavier goods by river. Royal building projects used the finest stone available that often involved using quarries far away from the intended site. Expeditions would be sent to quarries to retrieve materials such as pink granite from Aswan, and then transported large masses of stone along the Nile (and often across desert terrain) on a convoy of ships.

 

Low-lying land was not the most suitable venue for permanent human occupation. For a settlement to have an all year round existence it had to be above the high levels of the 'Akhet' season. Most favorable land was found near the river edge, on the levees. Levees are formed from the dual process of riverbed erosion and sediment load deposition, and are usually half up to 4 times the channel width in diameter. These higher lying pieces of land provide protection from the inundation and are also readily found across the flood plain as a result of the former courses of the Nile. Also found on the flood plain are higher parts of lands called Gezira's (Arabic name for island). These eroded gravel islands are remnants of the Pliocene and vary enormously in height and sizes from 4 up to 15 meters high.

 

The Nile river has carved its way quite easily through the Eocene (second epoch of the Tertiary period) limestone bed of the desert Plateau. The rivers vast sediment load has deposited extensive alluvium deposits across the valley floor. Maximum deposition occurs towards the end of the rivers course, with Cairo having alluvium deposits in excess of 9.6 meters deep compared to Aswan with 4 meters. Indeed estimates suggest that over half of all suspended matter has been shed by time the river reaches Cairo. The greatest sedimentation rates exist within the slower moving waters of the delta. At present the Nile splits into two main Branches: Damietta and the Rosetta. Recent estimates done by Coutellier and Stanley in 1993 suggest that high Holocene sedimentation rates have extended the delta coastline by as much as 50 kilometers over the past 5000 years. Sea level was around 4 meters higher during the Archaic period and has gradually regressed to present level which was first reached during the Greco-Roman period. Hence, the delta of ancient Egypt was slightly different to what it appears today. Since ancient times the area has been of enormous agricultural value, and now represents over 58% of total agricultural land.

 

The fertile land of the Nile valley and delta was called 'Kemet' (Arabic name for black) by the ancient Egyptians and indeed this is the name that they gave to their beloved country. The arid lands of the desert were called 'Deshret' (Arabic name for red). The annual storms and snow melt of the Ethiopian highlands delivered the necessary high waters of the Nile inundation that started between June and August. The turbulent waters would flow throughout Egypt accompanied by a super-abundance of silt.

 

River levees would recede at the end of September and reach a lowest level in May. The time of inundation was termed 'Akhet'' and this was proceeded by the season of planting called 'Peret'. The past flood would have left a rich top-dressing of fertilizer; and this was prime time to sow seeds. Growth rates were quick because of the favorable conditions, and harvest would take place during the season called 'Shemu' which fell between the months of March and May. There was little need for farmers to physically aerate the soil themselves as the hot dry summer would dry and break up the soil that would also reduce excessive accumulations of top-lying natural salts. Unlike other areas of the ancient near the Levantine Valley, farming required little toil. Large rewards could be reaped from a disproportionate expenditure of labor.

 

Not all examples of settlement are confined within the Nile valley or the delta. Occasionally the need to be close to the Nile would not be an overriding factor regarding a settlement location. During the 19th dynasty Ramsis II sought to protect his country from the threat of foreign groups that were merging to the west of the Nile delta. Starting within the delta he erected a string of fortresses along the Mediterranean coastline that reached as far as the modern day village of Zawiyet Umm el-Rackham (about 150 kilometers west of Alexandria). These fortresses were most likely built as a response to threatening Libyan groups migrating eastwards towards the Nile. Any advancing parties of foreigners would have been deprived of taking rest at wells and springs and would have to contend with the Egyptian military. A similar New Kingdom defensive arrangement is found along the north coast of the Sinai heading towards the lands of ancient Canaan. The decision for these interesting constructions away from the Nile valley stems from military objectives. It makes interesting archaeology away from the usual confines.

 

The settlement pattern of ancient Egypt was largely determined by access to resources, with the distribution of the settlements closely reflecting the shape of the favorable land. The combination of the desert periphery and the Nile allowed a highly civilized culture to flourish successfully for thousands of years.