The Nubians are an ancient ethnic civilization dating back as early as 7000 BC. They settled along the Nile, generally between Aswan, Egypt and Khartoum, Sudan. Today there are Nubian villages along the Nile in southern Egypt and northern Sudan.
Throughout history, Nubia was known for its rich and plentiful deposits of gold and was an important trading route for incense, ebony and ivory as it made its way from sub-Saharan Africa north through Egypt.
We only spent only two nights in Aswan, so soon after we arrived, Katie and I didn't waste any time meeting our guide as Paul spent a quiet afternoon back at our hotel. Our guide took us on a leisurely 45-minute boat ride south on the Nile through the first cataract to visit Gharb Soheil, one of the Nubian villages on the western edge of the river. The Nile flows from south to north, so traveling south, we were going upstream.
A cataract is a shallow portion of the Nile characterized by outcroppings of rocks. There are six of them on the Nile; the First Cataract is in Egypt just south of Aswan as shown below, but most of them are in Sudan. You can also see the old dam in the photo below.
You've probably heard of the Old Cataract Hotel made famous by Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. The hotel stands proudly on a cliff overlooking the Nile.
Reminders of Ancient Egypt are everywhere, including on this rock with hieroglyphics that we passed in the river.
Just about everywhere we went in Egypt it was obvious that we were in a desert, but no more so than in the southern part of the country. The Sahara desert which extends for 3.5 million square miles, is the largest in the world, blanketing 10 countries in the northern third of the continent. It was striking and beautiful to see as we floated upstream on the Nile.
The Nile is very busy near Aswan.
Below is the mausoleum of the Aga Khan who died in 1957. He lived part of the year in a nearby villa.
An estimated 50,000 Nubians were displaced in the mid-20th century just prior to the completion of the construction of the High Aswan dam which flooded their land.
Our first views of the village with its distinctive architecture.
The Nubians are very welcoming to tourists. We were able to visit one of their homes which offered an interesting glimpse into their daily life. The home was arranged around a large courtyard with high, decorated walls and partially covered by a straw roof. For all intents and purposes, it doesn't rain in this part of the country so being only partially covered isn't a problem.
Smaller rooms for the family's use were off the courtyard. The curved ceilings help moderate the intense summer heat.
Our guide told us that the colors most often used by the Nubians are yellow, green (usually for doors and shutters), blue and red. The wall paintings often represent scenes that are meaningful to the family.
Notice the triangular-shaped elements in the wall below. There's a significance to them; they represent the earth (green), the sky and Nile (blue) and the sun (yellow). We saw them a few times as we traveled through the southern part of Egypt.
One thing we were totally unprepared for are the pets that the Nubians keep. We were told this guy is about 17 years old.
Evidently when the crocs outgrow their pens, they're often released back into the water. Until the High Aswan Dam was built, they lived in the Nile, however since the construction of the dam, they now live in Lake Nasser.
The family we visited had a couple of babies.
If they're not released back into Lake Nasser, it's a tradition to mummify them after they die and place them above a door. This is done to ward off evil and to demonstrate the strength and courage of the homeowner.
For a small village, there was a large, colorful and very active market.
It was so interesting to watch this gentleman make a scarf - and we bought a couple!
On our travels through the countryside, we noticed big clay pots along the road such as the one below. They're filled with water for anyone passing by, and knowing how high the temperatures get during the summer, I'm sure they're a welcome desert oasis.
There were a lot of women such as the one below walking through the village selling trinkets.
For those who don't arrive by boat such as we did, this good looking guy will be happy to provide transportation!
Our boat was trapped by others that arrived after we did. It was fun to watch them untangle them so we could leave.
It was a brief but interesting glimpse into the culture of the Nubians.
The Movenpick is a large chain of hotels and resorts with Swiss origins. The one in Aswan is a large, modern hotel located on Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile. The hotel owns boats that transport guests at no charge to the mainland. It's a pleasant ride across the Nile of just a few minutes.
The view from our room; a constant reminder that we were surrounded by the Nile.
➜ Top Tips
Before we left home I read conflicting reviews of the Nubian village; while many were positive, there were almost as many that said it was too touristy and not worth the time. Nevertheless, we were glad we visited it. Yes, it was touristy, but it was also eye-opening and interesting to see these people who have lived this way for so many generations and to learn a little about their culture. And since we didn't take a Nile cruise during our stay in Egypt, it was good to take the short boat ride.
We weren't able to visit the Old Cataract Hotel, but if you have time, try to get there.
The Movenpick was a very nice hotel and we recommend it.