With the mighty Pyramids, ancient Luxor and the white sands of the Red Sea coast, it is sometimes easy to forget the ancient southern city of Aswan when travelling to Egypt. Yet for many travellers to the country, this unassuming city turns out to be one of the highlights of their trip. When Jess, one of On The Go Tours’ Reservations Consultants, travelled to Egypt, she found that Aswan left a lasting impression. Here are the three things she loved most about the city.
After a couple of days exploring bustling Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza, on day 3 of our King Ramses tour, we arrived by overnight train in the southern city of Aswan. The city is famous because the Nubian culture, one of Africa’s oldest civilisations, is still strongly present.
Aswan is a warm and welcoming city, which came as a bit of a surprise since I had never really heard of it before. I travelled to Egypt in November, and it was still warm and sunny during the day, with a gentle breeze coming from the Nile in the evening.
Arriving at the train station, we were taken to the Tolip Hotel, which overlooks the banks of the Nile. Here I could relax and watch the feluccas cruising gently along the river.
1. Philae Temple
The first activity of the day was a visit to Philae Temple, located on Agilkia Island – this was the first temple on the tour and, as at the Pyramids, I felt like I had been transported into an enchanted world, or a live documentary!
From the hotel, we were transferred to a small pier, where some vendors were selling Nubian artefacts – our guide Dino told us we could wait until the evening to get our souvenirs from the old market, and to enjoy the boat ride to the island.
During the 15 minute ride on the Nile, Dino told the story of the temple and how it was flooded during the construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. A massive UNESCO project then endeavoured to dismantle and move the temple from Philae to nearby Agilkia Island.
Philae Temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis, the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. It is one of the prettiest temples in the whole of Egypt. Once we arrived, Dino took us through the temple, explaining the origins of the Ancient Egyptian gods, pointing out the surviving hieroglyphics and explaining some of their meanings. We also had some free time to take in the magnificence of the temple and the landscape, as well as snapping lots of photos – which I proudly showed off to my family and friends when I got home.
2. Perfume Emporium
Leaving the temple in style on board the motorboat that was waiting for us, we then visited a perfume oil emporium – a million and one colourful glass perfume bottles decorate the shelves along the walls, making the place look cosy and beautiful. We enjoyed sitting down, sipping our hibiscus drinks while the staff told us about the use of essential and perfumed oils in Ancient Egypt. Perfumed oils were used by women, pharaohs and by temple priests. These days, when we are all using oils and perfumes, there is no better place than this perfumery to smell exquisite fragrances and find a truly authentic Egyptian gift.
After this exclusive experience, we returned to the hotel, where I enjoyed some time by the pool, watching the feluccas pass by on the Nile and the sun setting over the river.
3. Aswan Old Market
After sunset, it was time to visit Sharia as-Souq, Aswan Old Market. I find markets so fascinating; they tell so much about people and their cultures, and I just couldn’t wait to mingle among the locals and practice my haggling skills. So colourful and vibrant, Aswan Old Market is one of the most charming markets I’ve ever visited, and for sure is one of my favourites.
Whatever you are looking for, you can find it here – spices (of course!), perfumes, dried hibiscus flowers (still thinking about the tea from the afternoon), henna powder, Nubian artefacts such as skullcaps, talismans and baskets, Sudanese swords and carpets, and stuffed animals such as crocodiles.
I mean, what else would you be looking for in an Egyptian Market? The sellers know this pretty well and I heard the sentence “I have what you are looking for” many times! This is how all the haggling starts, and then suddenly you find yourself buying a charming trinket that you definitely didn’t need, but most certainly wanted. After many cheerful, sometimes cheeky, negotiations, I left the market still not sure whether I had paid the right prices, but happy with the souvenirs I had bought for all of my friends and family.
If only we could capture smells with a picture, I would definitely take one of Aswan Old Souks – Sharia as-Souq.
You can explore Aswan and many other of Egypt’s numerous highlights – from the Pyramids of Giza to Hurghada, on our 13-day King Ramses group tour.