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After 11 years of construction, the Aswan High Dam across the Nile River in Egypt is completed on July 21, 1970. More than two miles long at its crest, the massive $1 billion dam ended the cycle of flood and drought in the Nile River region, and exploited a tremendous source of renewable energy, but had a controversial environmental impact.
A dam was completed at Aswan, 500 miles south of Cairo, in 1902. The first Aswan dam provided valuable irrigation during droughts but could not hold back the annual flood of the mighty Nile River. In the 1950s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser envisioned building a new dam across the Nile, one large enough to end flooding and bring electric power to every corner of Egypt. He won United States and British financial backing, but in July 1956 both nations canceled the offer after learning of a secret Egyptian arms agreement with the USSR. In response, Nasser nationalized the British and French-owned Suez Canal, intending to use tolls to pay for his High Dam project. This act precipitated the Suez Canal Crisis, in which Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt in a joint military operation. The Suez Canal was occupied, but Soviet, U.S., and U.N. forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw, and the Suez Canal was left in Egyptian hands in 1957.
Soviet loans and proceeds from Suez Canal tolls allowed Nasser to begin work on the Aswan High Dam in 1960. Some 57 million cubic yards of earth and rock were used to build the dam, which has a mass 16 times that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. On July 21, 1970, the ambitious project was completed. President Nasser died of a heart attack in September 1970, before the dam was formally dedicated in 1971.
The giant reservoir created by the dam–300 miles long and 10 miles wide–was named Lake Nasser in his honor. The formation of Lake Nasser required the resettlement of 90,000 Egyptian peasants and Sudanese Nubian nomads, as well as the costly relocation of the ancient Egyptian temple complex of Abu Simbel, built in the 13th century B.C.
The Aswan High Dam brought the Nile’s devastating floods to an end, reclaimed more than 100,000 acres of desert land for cultivation, and made additional crops possible on some 800,000 other acres. The dam’s 12 giant Soviet-built turbines produce as much as 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually, providing a tremendous boost to the Egyptian economy and introducing 20th-century life into many villages. The water stored in Lake Nasser, several trillion cubic feet, is shared by Egypt and the Sudan and was crucial during the African drought years of 1984 to 1988.
Despite its successes, the Aswan High Dam has produced several negative side effects. Most costly is the gradual decrease in the fertility of agricultural lands in the Nile delta, which used to benefit from the millions of tons of silt deposited annually by the Nile floods. Another detriment to humans has been the spread of the disease schistosomiasis by snails that live in the irrigation system created by the dam. The reduction of waterborne nutrients flowing into the Mediterranean is suspected to be the cause of a decline in anchovy populations in the eastern Mediterranean. The end of flooding has sharply reduced the number of fish in the Nile, many of which were migratory. Lake Nasser, however, has been stocked with fish, and many species, including perch, thrive there.
17 Pros and Cons of Aswan High Dam
Built across the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt between 1960 and 1970, the construction was based on the successes of a lower dam built in the region. The goal was to maximize the utilization of the river while controlling flooding, improving water storage, and encouraging hydroelectricity development.
Before the dam was built, even with the old embankment dam in place, flooding of the Nile occurred in the late summer months. In past generations, this process brought needed nutrients to the soil, which made the region ideal for farming. Since the flooding was variable, low-water years could produce devastating famine and drought.
With Egypt’s population growing and technology access improving, the need to support farmlands, stabilize food cycles, and offer cash crops to the global export market facilitated the need for this dam.
Designed by the Hydroproject Institute based in Moscow, these are the pros and cons of the Aswan High Dam to consider.
List of the Pros of the Aswan High Dam
1. It provides a majority of the energy needs of Egypt.
During a typical operational year for the Aswan High Dam, about 15% of the total electrical supply available to the country comes through this project. When it first came online, almost half of the available electric power came through the dam. The electricity generated by the dam is environmentally friendly, offers predictable cost structures, and is cost-effective to maintain. At total capacity, the 12 generators with the dam are each rated for 175 MW, which means the facility can produce 2.1 GW of electrical energy.
2. The Nile River is now much easier to navigate.
With the waters of the river controlled, navigating along the Nile is easier than arguably ever before in history. Major shipping lanes throughout the Nile Valley are now possible because of water control. That makes Egypt an important shipping nation now that more ports are available to access. New business opportunities for imports and exports are now possible, creating a better economic climate for the local population.
3. It improves the safety of water-based professions.
The Nile River has long been a source of fishing and early aquaculture for the Egyptian civilization. Before the Aswan High Dam was built, people working in marine professions around the world were faced with daunting wildlife problems. Nile crocodiles who eat fish could deviate from the menu to eat humans. Even today, about 200 deaths each year are attributed to these animals.
The hippopotamus is native to the area and may have been worshipped by the ancient Egyptian cultures. They’re also ferocious, with early populations believing the animal held special spiritual powers. King Tut may have even been killed by one.
Then there is the threat of mosquitoes. With more standing water available because of Lake Nasser, the threat of malaria is quite high.
4. The dam improved water access for all Egyptians.
Despite the displacement issues involved with the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the effort did improve annual water access to the country. Before the formation of Lake Nasser, annual water quotas for the region were 48 cubic kilometers. In the 40+ years after the dam was brought online, the annual water quota improved to 55.5 cubic kilometers. With better water availability, the impact of drought years on the Nile valley is reduced, which means there are fewer risks of food insecurity, health issues, and dehydration.
5. It allowed Egypt to reclaim lands for use.
Although the formation of Lake Nasser did cause land loss which required resettlement, there were over 2 million acres of land reclaimed by Egypt with the additional water availability. Despite river degradation downstream with changes to sediment flows, there are more acres being successfully farmed after the dam’s construction compared to the agricultural activities happening before it.
6. There are reduced issues of schistosomiasis because of the dam.
This disease, caused by parasitic flatworms, infect the intestines or the urinary tract. Symptoms include blood in the urine, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and abdominal fluid collection. Long-term infections may cause bladder cancer, liver damage, and kidney failure. After 15 years of dam closure with the Nile, some issues of this disease have disappeared from upper Egypt altogether. Improved irrigation practices to reduce snail influences have promoted reductions of this disease too.
7. Downstream levels of the Nile have been relatively unaffected.
When the Aswan High Dam was first constructed, the general consensus was that the river would lose up to 10 meters in river-bed levels downstream. The actual drop was just 0.7 meters, with some areas seeing a drop of just 0.3 meters. Although the red-brick construction industry that used sediments has been negatively affected, the actual river process has remained relatively unchanged except for the sediment issue.
8. New industries came to take the place of affected industries.
Instead of the traditional red bricks formed in the region for construction, manufacturers and producers are now creating a sand-clay mixture using mud-based technologies for bricks. With the new techniques, the sediment build-ups offer the possibility of new industries to supply jobs that disappeared with the construction of the Aswan High Dam. New fishing industries, agricultural jobs, and service industry positions became available because of this project as well. It has forced some households to change what they do, but it has kept economic opportunities around.
List of the Cons of the Aswan High Dam
1. The project forced over 1 million people to be relocated.
When Lake Nasser flooded lower Nubia because of the Aswan High Dam, up to 120,000 people had to be resettled in Egypt and Sudan. Another 70,000 Nubians in Sudan were resettled from Wadi Halfa, where their new home had such a different climate that they struggled to adapt. They were eventually settled into 25 planned villages. Another 50,000 Nubians were moved up to 10 kilometers from the Nile into new village units as well.
2. Access to critical archaeological sites was limited by the project.
After the completion of the Aswan High Dam, over 20 different architectural complexes and monuments were threatened by the spillages from Lake Nassar. Several of the sites had to be moved through UNESCO efforts to preserve them, including the Abu Simbel temples and the statue of Ramses the Great that was at the Great Temple. Not only did the dam project cost over $1 billion to complete, millions more were spent to save the “major” artifacts. Many of the Nubian civilization archaeological sites were lost to the reservoir which would eventually become a new lake.
3. It changed how sediments flow to the sea.
The Nile River famously flooded its surrounding valley each year to provide cropland assistance to local farmers. Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, farming practices are discussed in Egypt in some of the early stories. This ancient river provided a sediment filter that allowed life to take advantage of its nutrients. Over 124 million tons would be brought to the Mediterranean Sea each year to promote marine life. Now 98% of that movement is trapped behind the Aswan High Dam.
4. Fertilization issues are now present in Egypt.
Now that the silt sits behind the dam, there are concerns about being able to farm in the Nile Valley. Nitrogen fertilizers are required to help the crops grow now, with lime-nitrate the most common method used to provide nutrients to the soil. Although the two-mile dam’s design was to improve farming consistency, the agriculture changes have left potential hazards that were unexpected to the original designers.
5. It encourages coastline erosion around the delta.
Because there is more water pressure around the Aswan High Dam at the delta than before when the waters flowed freely, the shoreline in the region experiences higher levels of erosion. At the current rate, the coast erodes by up to 575 feet per year. Even on a year of minimal erosion, over 400 feet is lost. That shift requires Egypt to spend more on reinforcing the lakeshore and the high-value properties around the region.
6. Local groundwater tables are influenced by salinity.
Water salinity has become an issue as well, making it difficult to use the waters around the dam to irrigate the fields because the nature of the liquid has changed. Before the dam was built, the groundwater levels fluctuated in the Nile valley by up to 9 meters per year. When the summer evaporation began, the water was too deep to allow dissolved salts to be pulled to the surface. Without the same flooding fluctuations, soil salinity increases created negative impacts on local crop yields.
To correct this problem, subsurface drainage systems were installed over the course of 30 years at the cost of more than $3 billion.
7. Sediment collections are lowering the reservoir’s water storage capacity.
The expected water storage capacity of Lake Nasser is 162 cubic kilometers, with 31 cubic kilometers of dead storage at the bottom of the lake. In less than three centuries, if nothing is done about the sediment issue, the annual load will fill up the entire dead storage volume currently available.
8. Mediterranean sardine captures are down by 50%.
In 1962, the sardine catch off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean was 18,000 tons. By 1968, the total catch was just 460 tons. By 1992, the biomass recovered enough to produce a catch of nearly 8,600 tons in 1992. The reason why the sardines moved away from their usual grounds is unknown, but the changes happened at the same time the effects of the Aswan High Dam were being studied. Nature does have the ability to adapt, especially when given enough time, but in this circumstance, a full recovery has still not occurred.
9. It turned the water supply into a political tool.
With access to water improved for all of Egypt at the expense of a few, the Nile river was turned into a political tool more than ever before in history. Changes to how the water flows forced local farmers to begin depending on product access and irrigation rights to grow crops instead of relying on the natural cycles of the river. That increases the cost of crops, limits viable farmlands, and gives the local government more pressure to exert on people because they control access to their livelihood.
The pros and cons of the Aswan High Dam are often up for debate because the cause-and-effect of its presence is not entirely known. Sardine catches in the Mediterranean are down after the installation of the dam, but it also supports more water availability and electricity for the country. More algae now grows on the Nile, which increases the cost of drinking water treatments, but irrigation costs are down. More time is needed to determine how effective or ineffective this project will be.
Before the building of a dam at Aswan, Egypt experienced annual floods from the Nile River that deposited four million tons of nutrient-rich sediment which enabled agricultural production. This process began millions of years before Egyptian civilization began in the Nile River valley and continued until the first dam at Aswan was built in 1889. This dam was insufficient to hold back the water of the Nile and was subsequently raised in 1912 and 1933. In 1946, the true danger was revealed when the water in the reservoir peaked near the top of the dam.
In 1952, the interim Revolutionary Council government of Egypt decided to build a High Dam at Aswan, about four miles upstream of the old dam. In 1954, Egypt requested loans from the World Bank to help pay for the cost of the dam (which eventually added up to one billion dollars). Initially, the United States agreed to loan Egypt money but then withdrew their offer for unknown reasons. Some speculate that it may have been due to Egyptian and Israeli conflict. The United Kingdom, France, and Israel had invaded Egypt in 1956, soon after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal to help pay for the dam.
The Soviet Union offered to help and Egypt accepted. The Soviet Union's support was not unconditional, however. Along with the money, they also sent military advisers and other workers to help enhance Egyptian-Soviet ties and relations.
Aswan High Dam
One of the beauties of the Nile is the Aswan High Dam and the artificial lake that it generates: Lake Nasser. Although the dam has caused a not inconsiderable environmental impact, the view, especially from above, is breathtaking. Strongly desired by Nasser to solve the problem of drought, Egypt at the time was one of the driest countries in the world, it made it possible to cultivate miles and miles of desert.
After work began on 9 January 1960, it was completed on 21 July 1970 and officially opened on 15 January 1971. In addition, the water flowing through the dam produces hydroelectric power thanks to the construction of a power station next to the gigantic engineering work. In addition to using clean and therefore non-polluting energy, it has allowed Egypt to cover more than half of its electricity needs.
The Great Aswan Dam is one of the most famous buildings in Egypt, after the much older pyramids of Giza. Its construction has made it possible to regulate the floods of the Nile River, strengthening the barriers built previously.
The geographical location of the great Aswan Dam
The great Aswan Dam is located near the second Nile cataract near the city of Aswan and is the largest and most modern of the two dams on the Nile.
The history of the construction.
The construction of the great dam began in 1952, exactly after the Nasser revolution. It was built due to a flood that, in 1946, had increased the water level compared to the height of the original dam. As the problem was recurring and occurred periodically, it was decided to build a more impressive dam instead of increasing the height of the existing dam for the third time.
The Aswan Dam has 45 years of history and the construction of the dam
The first dam to control the floods of the Nile was built south of Aswan, a city on the east bank of the river: completed in 1902, the dam was raised twice – between 1907 and 1912 and then between 1929 and 1933 – but it was not sufficient.
The new dam is an immense work, 3600 meters long and 980 meters wide at the base and 40 meters at the top, for a height of 111 meters, with a capacity of 43 million cubic meters. The locks, if opened to the maximum, can release up to 11000 cubic meters of water per second.
The reservoir formed by the dam created Lake Nasser, which has an area of about 6000 square kilometers, is 480 km long and up to 16 km wide and contains between 150 and 165 cubic kilometers of water.
When the dam was created, more than 90000 people had to leave their homes in order not to be submerged by the resulting lake. Although it was a traumatic and sad episode in the history of Nubia, the territory around the present dam contributed to mitigate the effects of the dangerous floods of 1964 and 1973 and the famines of 1972-1973 and 1983-1984.
The importance of the Great Dam
The dam has 12 power generators each of 175 megawatts and produces energy for more than 2 gigawatts. It also generates more than half of the electricity needed by Egypt and in the 1970s it allowed almost all Egyptians to have an electrical connection for the first time.
Not only did they have to abandon the houses, mainly of the Nubian community, but they also had to think about the monuments. The monuments that would be flooded by the artificial lake (later called Lake Nasser) were moved to safer places thanks to an impressive international operation. Some of them were given to the countries that contributed to the rescue work: the temple of Ellesija, now kept in the Egyptian Museum of Turin, was donated to Italy, for example. Famous in this regard, the case of Abu Simbel, the international community mobilized to find a solution and ensure that this marvel of universal cultural heritage would not be submerged forever. It was therefore decided to move the complex to a hill near the original site to prevent the water level from covering it.
A similar intervention was carried out to preserve the very fine ancient temple of Philae built on an island in the Nile near Aswan.
Aswan High Dam In Egypt Completed On This Day In 1970
D.L. Chandler is a veteran of the Washington D.C. Metro writing scene, working as a journalist, reporter and culture critic. Getting his start in the late 1990s in print, D.L. joined the growing field of online reporting in 1998. His first big break came with the now-defunct Politically Black in 1999, the nation's first Black political news portal. D.L. has worked in the past for OkayPlayer, MTV News, Metro Connection and several other publications and magazines. D.L., a native Washingtonian, resides in the Greater Washington area.
Nikita Khrushchev, standing with Gamal Abdal Nasser, cuts the ribbon to open the first stage of the Russian-financed Aswan High Dam, May 14, 1964.
The Aswan High Dam (pictured below) was completed on this day in 1970 in Egypt, which was then known as the United Arab Republic. The dam took a decade to construct and formed the gigantic Lake Nasser reservoir that flooded two ancient Egyptian temples (pictured below). With the help of Soviet funding, the dam was completed.
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Costing $1 billion, the dam was constructed to end the floods and droughts in the Nile River region and also create a hydroelectricity generation site. For all of its benefits, however, the Aswan High Dam was replete with controversy.
Back in 1902, a dam was created in Aswan, which is 500 miles south of Cairo. The lower Aswan dam helped irrigate lands in the region but was not equipped to hold back an annual flood of the Nile River. In the 1950s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to bring the dam into creation. The goal was to end the flooding and to create a new energy source. After initially getting support from the West, the United States and the United Kingdom declined to fund the project.
The nations pulled out of the deal after learning of a secret arms deal between the Soviets and Egypt. Nasser then placed the British and French-owned Suez Canal under his rule and made it a tollway for ships. The money earned there would pay for the High Dam. The Suez Canal Crisis came later, with a multi-national effort to secure the area for Egypt proving to be successful.
Along with loans from the Soviets and the Suez Canal tolls, work began on the High Dam in 1960. The enormous dam was constructed by the Soviet’s Hyrdoproject Institute along with Egyptian engineers. The Soviets also provided much of the machinery used to create the dam. A reported 25,000 Egyptian engineers and workers helped to complete the dam.
President Nasser died of a heart attack in September of that year, and the dam was formally dedicated in 1971. The 340-mile long, 22-mile wide reservoir was named after Nasser in his honor. The lake displaced 90,000 Egyptian peasants and Sudanese Nubian nomads. The lake also flooded the two Abu Simbel temples, with the temples being relocated in 1968 to avoid complete submersion.
The dam made it possible that 10 billion kilowatt hours per year were being generated by the turbines pumping water through the structure however, the dam has had a severe effect on the environment in the region. Farmlands have been depleted, fish populations have been drying up, and the spread of disease in the land have all been attributed to the dam obstructing the natural flow of the Nile River.
Fueled by the Nile
In the 1950s, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser set out to alleviate the cyclic flooding and drought periods in the Nile River region, build the agricultural economy and food supplies, and provide hydroelectric power to towns. Nasser&rsquos government then designed a large dam to tame the mighty Nile River. The Aswan High Dam took a decade to build. The rockfill dam used around 44 million cubic meters (57 million cubic yards) of Earth and rock for its construction&mdasha mass sixteen times greater than Great Pyramid of Giza. It offered better control of the flood cycles and more water storage than its predecessor, the Aswan Low Dam, to the north.
The new 111-meter (360-foot) tall dam created one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Named for the Egyptian President, Lake Nasser stretches 480 kilometers (300 miles) long and 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide. Storing more than 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of water, the lake took approximately six years to fill.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired the data for this natural-color image of Lake Nasser (the Sudanese call their portion Lake Nubia). This composite scene was compiled from cloud-free images from 2013 to 2020. Located in a hot, dry climate with sporadic rain events, the lake loses a lot of water through evaporation and consequently shrinks seasonally in surface area. Water levels are typically highest in November during the flood season and lowest in July during the dry season.
Lake Nasser plays an important role in Egypt&rsquos economy. Approximately one quarter of the nation&rsquos population works in agriculture, which depends heavily on irrigation. With a reliable source of water from Lake Nasser, farmers have been able to plant more crops and to do so multiple times per year with the aid of fertilizers. After the reservoir was filled, the country was able to increase its arable land by 30 percent in the first few years, particularly to the west of the lake. Lake Nasser has also created a fishing industry and is a popular tourist attraction due to its crocodiles.
Researchers, however, are worried about the lake&rsquos future. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa&rsquos largest dam for hydroelectric power, is expected to greatly reduce water levels in Lake Nasser and the amount of power generated at Aswan High Dam. Research shows the project, which was 70 percent complete in October 2019, could lead to an irrigation deficit for Egypt in dry years and a decline in fisheries. One study found the lake shrunk 14 percent in surface area from 2015 to 2016, which may have been due to the new dam and the partial filling of its reservoir.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Kasha Patel.
Irrigation from Lake Nasser, one of the world&rsquos largest man-made lakes, has increased the amount of arable land and crop production in Egypt.
The Relocation of Abu Simbel Temples
Hundreds of towns and villages have perished due to massive earth-moving projects such as the construction of dams. But the temples at Abu Simbel, in Egypt, were historically and culturally far too important to let that happen. So when the newly built Aswan High Dam and reservoir threatened to swallow the 3,300-year-old temples, the international community banded together for an extraordinary salvage operation.
The Abu Simbel temples were originally located along the Nile river, carved out of the solid mountain rock. They were commissioned by Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, who is often regarded as the greatest and the most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. During his reign, Ramesses II built many temples throughout Egypt and Nubia, particularly Nubia, in order to impress upon the Nubian people the might of the Egyptians. The most famous of these are the rock-cut temples near the modern village of Abu Simbel.
Ramesses II built two colossal temples here—the bigger one, called the Great Temple, is incredible to behold. Four epic statues depicting the pharaoh himself seated on a throne face the entrance. Each statue is twenty meters tall. The façade behind the seated statues is largely blank, but on the upper edge is a frieze depicting an army of baboons worshipping the rising sun. Between the statues lie the entrance surmounted by a bas-relief of the king worshipping the falcon-headed god Ra Horakhty. Inside the great hall of the temple are eight columns, each carved in the resemblance of Ramesses. The spacious interior is decorated from floor to the ceiling with heliographic glorifying Ramesses’s military campaigns. In the middle of the complex is the sacred inner sanctuary, where Ramesses is shown sharing the throne with the three gods—Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah.
Ramesses built another temple, the so-called “Small Temple”, dedicated to his wife Nefertari and goddess Hathor. This was only the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen, the first being Nefertiti. Like the Great Temple, the entrance to the Small Temple is flanked by statues of the pharaoh and his queen, most remarkably, built in equal size. Usually, queens are depicted no taller than the knee of the pharaoh. The interior of the Small Temple is decorated with scenes showing the queen playing the sistrum and making offerings to the goddesses Hathor and Mut.
Over the millennia the temples became buried in sand and was forgotten. When they were rediscovered in the early 19th century, only the top frieze of the main temple was visible above the sand. The temple was dug out and for a while it appeared that Ramesses’s immortality was assured, but in the late 1950s, another disaster loomed.
The government was planning a new dam across the Nile, about 230 km upstream from where Ramesses’s colossal statues stood. At 4 km long and 110 meters tall, the new Aswan High Dam was to be the largest embankment dam in the world. Egypt needed it because the earlier dam was proving to be incapable of controlling the annual flooding of the Nile. The new dam would not only allow Egypt to tame the river, but the reservoir created would help sustain the farmlands and the people of the region during periods of drought.
There was, however, one major drawback. The 5,250-square-km reservoir named Lake Nasser would require the resettlement of some 90,000 people, and if possible, the magnificent temples of Abu Simbel.
The temples during excavation, circa 1853 – 1854. Photo: John Beasly Greene
In 1959, the Egyptian government approached UNESCO for help. Thankfully, the international community was familiar with the region of ancient Nubia and the countless archeological sites it contained. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, UNESCO embarked on its first-ever collaborative international rescue effort. An international fund-raising project was launched in 1960. To drum up support for the campaign, Egypt organized a travelling exhibition of several objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The “Tutankhamun Treasures” exhibition was featured across North America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. The money generated helped finance not only the Abu Simbel project but many future UNESCO campaigns.
Numerous ideas on how to save the temples were proposed. One involved creating a gigantic aquarium around the temples with elevator-accessible underwater viewing chambers for visitors. This idea was rejected. Another proposed raising the temples on hydraulic jacks, but the cost would have been immense. Eventually, it was decided to cut up the rocks into manageable chunks, transport them to higher ground and reassemble them like Lego blocks.
Work began in November 1963. First, a cofferdam was erected around Abu Simbel in order to gain additional time in which to work on the temples while water was collecting in the Aswan dam’s reservoir. The greatest care was needed while cutting up the stones. Power saws could not be used because they made the cuts too wide—anything wider than 8 millimeters would have been visible when the blocks were put back together. Instead, hand saws and steel wires were used to slice up the rocks into blocks each 20 to 30 tons in weight. In the end, the larger temple yielded 807 blocks and the smaller one 235. Once cut, each block was coated to protect it against splitting and fracturing during transport.
The new site was located about 200 meters further inland and 65 meters higher up. Before reassembly could begin, an artificial hill was created using some 330,000 cubic meters of rock to resemble the natural stony hill against which the temples stood at the original site. Then the blocks were put back together with extreme precision, secured to one another with reinforcement bars and the joints filled with an artificial material. Care was taken to maintain the temple’s original alignment to the cardinal directions, so that the rays of the sun would continue to penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall during certain hours of the spring and autumn.
The successful relocation of the Abu Simbel temples set the momentum for further rescue efforts. Within the Nubian valley itself, UNESCO rescued as many as 22 different monuments from inundation, including Ramesses’s temples. One monument, the Temple of Amada, had to be moved whole because it couldn’t be cut up as it would have damaged the structure. Other sites that were successfully transferred include Wadi es-Sebua, another temple built by Ramesses II, the Roman-era Temple of Kalabsha, and the Temple of Philae. Buoyed by these successes, UNESCO moved to Venice to protect its lagoons, then to Mohenjodaro in Pakistan to help excavate the ruins and then to Indonesia to preserve the Borobodur Temple.
“The completion of such an enormous and complex project helped UNESCO realise that we were capable of three main things,” explained Dr. Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the Heritage Division. “First, bringing together the best expertise the world has to offer. Second, securing the international cooperation of its members. And third: assuring the responsibility of the international community to bring together funding and support that would help the world's heritage as a whole. We recognized that one country alone is just not capable.”
The success of the Nubian campaign was directly responsible for the creation of the “World Heritage Trust” in 1965, and subsequently, the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites List. The Galápagos Islands became the first World Heritage Site in 1978. The Nubian Monuments were added to the list in 1979.
A scale model at the Nubian Museum, Aswan, showing the original location of the Abu Simbel temples (under the glass, depicting the surface of the reservoir) and the rescued and relocated temples' new higher sites. Photo: Zureks/Wikimedia Commons
The Aswan High Dam – the Eighth Wonder of the World
On July 21, 1970, the construction of the Egyptian Aswan High Dam was completed. A key objective of the Egyptian Government following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the dam has the ability to control floods, provide water for irrigation, and generate hydroelectricity were seen as pivotal to Egypt’s industrialization. The High Dam was constructed between 1960 and 1970, and has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev referred to it as “the eighth wonder of the world”. 22 ancient Egyptian monuments and architectural complexes, including the Abu Simbel temples , that were threatened by flooding were preserved by moving them under an UNESCO Campaign.
The Floods of the Nile
Before the dams were built, the Nile flooded every year during late summer, when water flowed down the valley from its East African drainage basin. These floods brought high water and natural nutrients and minerals that annually enriched the fertile soil along the floodplain and delta this had made the Nile valley ideal for farming since ancient times. Because floods vary, in high-water years the whole crop might be wiped out, while in low-water years widespread drought and famine occasionally occurred. As Egypt’s population grew and conditions changed, both a desire and ability developed to control the floods, and thus both protect and support farmland and the economically important cotton crop. With the reservoir storage provided by the Aswan dams, the floods could be lessened and the water stored for later release.
The British and the First Dam
The British began construction of the first dam across the Nile, the so-called Aswan Low Dam in 1898, which was opened on 10 December 1902. When initially constructed between 1899 and 1902, nothing of its scale had ever been attempted on completion, it was the largest masonry dam in the world. The dam, originally limited in height by conservation concerns, worked as designed, but provided inadequate storage capacity for planned development and was raised twice, between 1907–1912 and again 1929–1933. These heightenings still did not meet irrigation demands and in 1946 it was nearly over-topped in an effort to maximize pool elevation. This led to the investigation and construction of the Aswan High Dam 6 kilometres upstream.
Imperialism, Capitalism, and Communism
The Egyptian government of King Farouk showed no interest in the first plans, but the Egyptian position changed completely with the overthrow of the monarchy, led by the Free Officers Movement including Gamal Abdel Nasser . While opposed both to communism, capitalism, and imperialism, Nasser presented himself as a tactical neutralist, and sought to work with both the United States and the Soviet Union for Egyptian and Arab benefit. Nasser negotiated as well with the United States as with the Soviet Union, since he also intended to achieve a weapons deal to support Egypt in the war against Israel. In June 1956, the Soviets offered Nasser $1.12 billion at 2% interest for the construction of the dam. On 19 July the US State Department announced that American financial assistance for the High Dam was “not feasible in present circumstances.”
The Temple of Abu Simbel
Archaeologists began raising concerns that several major historical sites, including the famous temple of Abu Simbel were about to be under water. A rescue operation began in 1960 under UNESCO. The construction of the high dam lasted from 1960 to 1970. The Aswan High Dam is 3,830 metres long, 980 m wide at the base, 40 m wide at the crest and 111 m tall. It contains 43,000,000 cubic metres of material. At maximum, 11,000 cubic metres per second of water can pass through the dam. The High Dam has resulted in protection from floods and droughts, an increase in agricultural production and employment, electricity production and improved navigation that benefits tourism. Conversely, the dam flooded a large area, causing the relocation of over 100,000 people. Many archaeological sites were submerged while others were relocated. The dam is blamed for coastline erosion, soil salinity and health problems.
The statue of Ramses the Great at the Great Temple of Abu Simbel is reassembled after having been moved in 1967 to save it from flooding.
Moving the Monuments
22 monuments and architectural complexes, including the Abu Simbel temples, that were threatened by flooding from Lake Nasser were preserved by moving them to the shores of Lake Nasser under the UNESCO Nubia Campaign. Also moved were Philae , Kalabsha and Amada. Other monuments were granted to countries that helped with the works (such as the Debod temple in Madrid, the Temple of Taffeh in Leiden and the Temple of Dendur in New York). The remaining archaeological sites, including the Buhen fort have been flooded by Lake Nasser. Most famous was the relocation the the Abu Simbel temples, two massive rock temples at Abu Simbel, a village in Nubia, southern Egypt, near the border with Sudan. They are situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about 230 km southwest of Aswan. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari , to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh . The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river.
The Aswan High Dam
The Aswan High Dam has produced several negative side effects, however, chief of which is a gradual decrease in the fertility and hence the productivity of Egypt’s riverside agricultural lands. This is because of the dam’s complete control of the Nile’s annual flooding. Much of the flood and its load of rich fertilizing silt is now impounded in reservoirs and canals the silt is thus no longer deposited by the Nile’s rising waters on farmlands. The reduction of waterborne nutrients flowing into the Mediterranean is suspected to be the cause of a decline in anchovy populations in the eastern Mediterranean. The end of flooding has sharply reduced the number of fish in the Nile, many of which were migratory. Lake Nasser, however, has been stocked with fish, and many species, including perch, thrive there.
At yovisto academic video search, you may learn more about ‘The Origins of Egyptian Civilization‘ in a videolecture by Dr. Emily Teeter at the University of Chicago.
Aswan High Dam
Aswan Dam located near Aswan, the world famous High Dam was an engineering miracle when it was built in the 1960. It contains 18 times the material used in the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The Dam is 11,811 feet long, 3215 feet thick at the base and 364 feet tall, Today it provides irrigation and electricity for the whole of Egypt and together with the old Aswan Dam built by the British between 1898 and 1902, 6km down river, gorgeous views for visitors, From the top of the two Mile long High Dam you can look across Lake Nassar, the huge reservoir created when it was built to Kalabsha temple in the south and the huge power station to the north.
The Aswan High Dam was wonderful project, In fact it was one of the most important achievements of the last century in Egypt, for many years symbolizing the New Era after 1952.
The Aswan High Dam yields enormous benefits to the economy of Egypt, The first time in history, the annual Nile flood can be controlled by man, The dam detain the floodwaters, releasing them when needed to maximize their utility on irrigated land, to water hundreds of thousands of new acres, to develop navigation in Aswan, and to generate enormous amounts of electric power, The dam powers twelve generators each rated at 175 megawatts, producing a hydroelectric output of 2.1 gigawatts. Power generation began in 1967.
When the dam first reached peak output it produced around half of Egypt&rsquos entire electricity production (about 15% by 1998) and allowed for the connection of most Egyptian villages to electricity for the first time.
The dam has also provided much needed water for irrigation, as well as producing electricity from the hydroelectric output of the river, The dam helped Egypt to reach its highest ever level of electric production, granting many small villages the luxury of using electricity for the first time. Prepare yourself for a particularly sightseeing experience in Aswan with Luxor and Aswan Travel.
Today Lake Nasser is a major tourist attraction, not only among foreign tourists, but also among Egyptians from other parts of the country. Fishing for example has become incredibly popular, both from the shores and from the many boats that offer fishing trips on the lake. It’s likewise become very popular as a destination for laid back Lake Nasser cruises, particularly with those tourists who have already booked a Nile cruise.
If you’ve booked or intend booking one of our world class Nile cruises from Aswan to Luxor or one of our Nile cruises from Luxor to Aswan, a Lake Nasser cruise is the perfect addition to what will already be one of the most memorable times of your life. As with our river cruises, our Lake Nasser cruises also include a lot of sightseeing opportunities, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Aswan High Dam has brought with it, some great benefits both to foreigners and locals alike.