Gently meandering tour of the Nile River in the company of a deeply knowledgeable guide.
To understand the cataclysmic changes gripping Egypt at the moment, eminent British Egyptologist Wilkinson (The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, 2011, etc.) urges a return to the heart of the country, the Nile, the source of the country’s economy, spiritual beliefs and political structure. He moves from Upper Egypt to Lower, starting at the First Cataract, which, until the completion of the High Dam at Aswan in 1964, would send torrents of water from the rains flooding the plains in mid-summer, inundating the fields not just with water, but fertile silt, renewing its annual fecundity and connecting all the settlements along the way. Measured by a rock-cut Nilometer, which allowed the earliest governments literally to plan the year’s budget and wealth, the floods gave rise to the agricultural richness of the region from prehistoric times. The Nubian trading centers near Aswan, the Jewish community that once thrived on Elephantine Island, the great Pharaonic civilizations, and Ptolemaic and Roman periods—all of these civilizations required the ferrying of people and transport of goods and building stones from the quarries. Thanks to later visitors like Napoleon, Scottish painter David Roberts, tour operator Thomas Cook, Victorian tourist Amelia Edwards and amateur archaeologist Lord Carnarvon and others, Egyptian treasures have been revealed and preserved, though also sadly removed from the country. Wilkinson’s erudition is marvelously nuanced—e.g., when he points out how the tomb workers in the village of Deir el-Medina near Thebes went on strike, during the reign of Ramesses III, thus holding the government accountable in what was certainly one of the first instances of civil awareness.
From Aswan to Cairo, encompassing deserts and oases, Wilkinson proves to be a pleasant, nondidactic and always-informative travel companion.