Elephantine Island has, and never has had anything to do with elephants, but instead, it was essentially an historical military stronghold.
A Brief History Of Elephantine Island
In order to fully understand the history of Elephantine Island in Aswan, you first have to brush aside any thoughts you might have about the island ever being home to herds of elephant. In truth, it’s far better to consider the meaning of the word “Cataract”; a word which is well and truly relevant to the island.
Quite understandably, many people believe that cataracts are a medical problem that affects the eyes. Nonetheless, it is also a term used to describe a unique condition in the Nile in which there are shallow areas of water dotted with stones, which in turn were often the cause of rapids.
According to records, there were six known Cataracts on the stretch of the Nile River that runs through Egypt, and Elephantine Island is located just a short way downstream from the First Cataract. Today, this is the only remaining Cataract in the Nile River.
A Military Stronghold
Because of the island’s position, it was relatively easy to defend against intruders, and as such, it became much sought after by the early Egyptians as well as their Nubian foes. At one point in history, it even marked the southern border of Egypt, and later went on to become a major trading point. Additionally, it was also seen as being a very religiously significant place.
An Island Of Spiritual Significance
In the days of ancient Egypt, locals believed that the island was inhabited by Khnum, the god that controlled the water of the Nile. In fact, this is why it’s possible for tourists to visit the ancient Temple of Khnum still remaining on Elephantine Island to this day.
Many of the different pharaohs who once ruled also built a number of temples on the island, and while some can still be seen, many were destroyed by the Ottomans during the 1820s.
Home To Two Of Egypt’s Last Remaining Nilometers
The island is also home to two “Nilometers”. These were ancient devices which made it possible to measure the water level of the Nile River, and despite their relative simplicity, they were remarkably accurate.
These days there are only three of them left throughout all of Egypt, two which are located on the island. One of the Nilometers can be seen in the Temple of Satis, and the other is at the southern end of the island, nearest to the Temple of Khnum.
Visiting The Aswan Museum
The island is also home to the relatively new and modern Aswan Museum which is part of ongoing excavations which is being undertaken with the cooperation and assistance of the German Archeological Institute. Most of what has been discovered on the island is either on display at the Museum, or available for viewing by touring the various sites. In the center of the island one can also visit and explore the Nubian villages of Siou and Koti as well.
Visitors are also able to stay on the island thanks to the presence of hotels and other rental accommodation. To reach the island is easy and requires the use of the regular boat taxi services that are run by the local residents. Visitors are however cautioned to refuse any offers of tours of the island by any of the locals or the cab services. Quite often these are not legal tours and may lead to fines if the authorities discover a guide giving an unlicensed tour.
If you would like to visit places like Elephantine Island during you stay in Egypt, then you can either make use of locally offered services, or alternatively, look for an Egypt tour package that includes a visit to the island. We offer a wide range of packages to suit all tastes and budget, including Egypt guided tours which can be tailored to include Elephantine Island.