Aswan High Dam on the Nile River

Aswan High Dam on the Nile River

Aswan-- On 15 January 1971, Egypt celebrated the completion of the High Dam, whose funding was the center of a Cold War dispute that led to the 1956 Suez War. Located on the Upper Nile, around 1000km downstream from Cairo, the gigantic mountain of concrete and steel is among the 20th century's most elaborate engineering work. Aswan High Dam on the Nile River is located at the north end of Lake Nasser.

The construction of the High Dam began in 1960, and it was officially inaugurated ten years later, at a cost of US$1 billion, much of which was provided by the former Soviet Union. The dam stores 160 billion cubic meters of water, and the reservoir behind it, named Lake Nasser, stretches some 350km into Egypt and 150km into Sudan. It is a symbol for Egyptians patience and challenge.

The Suez Crisis began on 26 July 1956 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. The move was in response to a decision by the United States and Britain to withdraw finance for the Aswan High Dam - a massive project to bring water to the Nile valley and electricity to develop Egypt's industry - because of Egypt's political and military ties to the Soviet Union.

The world-famous High Dam was an engineering miracle when it was built in the 1960s. Today it provides irrigation and electricity for the whole of Egypt and, together with the old Aswan Dam, 6km downriver, wonderful views for visitors. From the top of the two mile-long High Dam you can gaze across Lake Nasser, the huge reservoir created when it was built to Kalabsha temple in the south and the huge power station to the north.

The story of the High Dam was a tale of a nation, hikayit sha‘b, as Abdel Halim Hafiz chanted in an iconic song from the Nasserist period.

This nation lived under the yoke of British colonialism for over 70 years. After gaining independence, Egypt's revolutionary president, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, approached the World Bank to finance the construction of a dam on the Nile, a vital step towards economic development. The World Bank refused. In an audacious challenge to old and new imperialism, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 to acquire funding for the project. The struggling nation heroically endured subsequent military assaults and a trade embargo. The dam was eventually built.

The story of the High Dam at Aswan is indeed the tale of this nation. The stages of its history chronicle critical transformations in Egyptian history at large. During the last half century, the dam moved from being a celebrated monument to Egyptian independence to a forgotten barrage deep in the country's south. It was a state-engineered tool of anti-imperialist propaganda, whose splendor faded away with the downfall and fundamental reversion of the anti-imperial project.
Aswan High Dam on the Nile River is located at the north end of Lake Nasser
In other words Egypt had monopoly of the waters. On behalf of its colonial possessions - Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - Britain, which was primarily concerned with the Suez Canal and the passage to India, signed away their most precious resource.

Egypt had the right to veto any project along the Nile and full rights of inspection.

In 1959, this deal was overtaken by a new agreement between Egypt and Sudan splitting the waters 75 per cent to 25 per cent and guaranteeing Cairo "full control of the river".

The results of this control are nowhere more clearly seen than at Lake Nasser, a man-made reservoir 550km-long, created when Egypt completed the Aswan high dam. The country's largest engineering project took six years to build and another five years to fill.

Some 55.5 billion cu m of water gush from the Aswan dam into Egypt annually. It has enabled Cairo to regulate the life-giving annual flood, to irrigate its otherwise parched landscape, and at the point it was finished supplied half the country's electricity needs.

Nasser was in need of a success, a success to rival that of the Suez Canal, which is a 190 km-long man-made waterway linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. The French dug the Suez Canal 97 years before Nasser took the decision to nationalize it. Nasser took the decision to nationalize the Suez Canal just two years before it was supposed to revert back to Egyptian control. This was used as justification by three countries [Britain, France and Israel] to launch a tripartite strike against Egypt. The President's decision to cancel the contract just two years before its expiry date made it seem like Nasser was seeking a popular confrontation.

The difference is that the Aswan High Dam is a success story, whereas the Suez Canal was a story of conflict. The High Dam is a witness of the history of Egypt's relationship with the Soviet Union, which continued throughout Nasser's rule. The Aswan High Dam is considered to be the most important construction of the Nasser regime.

Abu Simbel, Egypt — In the 1960s, rising waters from a new dam threatened to submerge the temples and monuments of Nubia, the ancient home of black pharaohs in Egypt's far south. To preserve them, the antiquities were dismantled, moved and reconstructed. Today, most of the surviving monuments can be seen only from the lake created by the waters that nearly destroyed them.

A short flight from Aswan is Abu Simbel and the Great Temple of Ramses II, and the gods of creation and light, Ptah, Amen and Heru-khuti is the most iconic Ancient Egyptian sight after the Pyramids. The temple has four massive statues of Ramses II and the gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun and Ptah at its entrance. Beyond lie two pillared halls and the sacred sanctuary. Every wall and ceiling is a storybook art gallery of this extraordinary pharaoh's life. (He lived to 90 and is said to have fathered more than 200 children).

Know more details about Visiting Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Aswan

Construction of the high dam was an enormous national project that every Egyptian contributed to. Nubians in particular sacrificed their possessions, including 45 Nubian villages lying on 300 square kilometers of land and one million palm trees. They were moved from a paradise on the banks of the Nile. These treasures are all submerged under water now. Along with the loss of the land, there was also the loss of heritage, values, memories and lifestyle, and, above all proximity to the water, the primary source of life.

For More Information Visit: Aswan Tourism and Tourist Information

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Cruise ships on Egypt's Lake Nasser visit the ancient temples of Nubia's black pharaohs:
The Aswan High Dam: A Political Witness:
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Suez Crisis: Key players:
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Last Updated on Sunday 5th December 2010