Aswan is situated about 130 miles south of Luxor on what was once the
southern border of Ancient Egypt. It lies on the east bank of the Nile at a
point where the river cuts its way through the granite rock of the first of
At Aswan the green, fertile belt of the Nile Valley is interrupted and
replaced in mid-desert.
Sandstone is replaced by granite in the form of two rocky barriers
which hold back the Nile and also harbor the quarries exploited early on in
history by the great builder-pharaohs. Khnum is the lord of the cataract
and master of a gulf which was believed to be the source of the Nile
floods. From ancient times Aswan was a huge market situated at the
crossroads of the routes from Africa, the western deserts of Egypt and
India. This frontier trading-post, visited by people from a number of
different countries, was also an important strategic point. It has served
as a base for Roman garrisons, for the Turkish troops of the Ottoman sultan
Selim in 1517, for the army of General Kitchener during the conquest of the
Sudan (1896-8) and is now a major garrison for the modern Egyptian army.
According to tradition it is from Philae ("Pilak" in Egyptian), the
smallest of the islands, that the goddess Isis watches over the tomb of
Osiris on the neighboring island of Biga, declared sacrosanct because its
earth was considered part of the god's mummified body. Only priests and
temple servants were permitted to live on the island to perform the sacred
rites of Isis and Osiers. The Temple of Isis and Horus the Child
(Harpocrates) dominates the group of monuments erected on the island
between the 26th Dynasty and the Roman period.