One of the oldest civilizations known to man, ancient Egypt, was based around and depended on the river Nile. Here are some interesting facts about this historic river.
"O'er Egypt's land of memory floods are level, And they are thine, O Nile! and well thou knowest The soul-sustaining airs and blasts of evil, And fruits, and poisons spring where'er thou flowest." - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Egypt is known as the 'gift of the Nile'. This is due to the fact that Egypt, situated at the eastern end of the Sahara desert, would have been an utterly uninhabitable region if not for the Nile river.
The Egyptians have rightly termed it as the "river of life", since it has given life not only to the land of Egypt, but also to its glorious history of culture and civilization.
The Nile floods Egypt with fertile, black sediment, which was virtually the only source of nutrients for agriculture in ancient Egypt. Due to the color of its life-giving sediment, the Egyptians called the Nile "Ar", which means "black".
A River of Facts
- Approximately 6650 km (4130 mi) long, the Nile is one of the longest rivers in the world. It is widely considered the longest, although the exact length of the Amazon is difficult to determine and, if calculated, could upstage the Nile.
- The farthest tributary of the Nile (the standard measure of measuring a river's length is by measuring it from its mouth to the farthest tributary) originates in either Burundi or Rwanda, which is located South of the equator. It flows through eastern Africa before draining into the Mediterranean sea in Egypt.
- The name 'Nile' originated from the Greek word 'neilos', which comes from the Semitic word nahal, which means 'river'.
- The Nile is the only major river in the world originating south of the Equator and ending in the north.
Of the other two possible instances of such circumstances, the Amazon originates south of the Equator, but its mouth has been defined in various ways, some of them ending up on the south and some on the north; and the Congo originates and ends in the southern half, although it does enter the northern half during its journey.
No other major river in the world crosses the equatorial divide.
- The Nile's watershed includes 11 countries, viz. Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Sudan, and Egypt.
- Despite having the third largest discharge area in the world (after the Amazon and the Congo), it only discharges about 2830 m3s of water - on average - nearly a hundredth of the Amazon.
- Although less than 25% of the Nile passes through Egypt, it (along with Sudan) receives the maximum amount of fertile delta.
- Major cities situated on the Nile are Cairo, the capital of Egypt, Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Aswan, Luxor, and Alexandria.
- The Nile has two tributaries: viz. the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
The Blue Nile, which begins in the Lake Tana in Ethiopia, brings the majority of water and delta into the Nile. The White Nile, the longer of the two, originates at Lake Victoria (excluding the longest tributaries of the White Nile itself) and joins the Blue Nile near Khartoum.
- Major tributaries of the Nile include the Bahr al Ghazal, Sobat, Kagera, Bashilo and the Gulla rivers.
- Papyrus growing along the river was used by the Egyptians to create the first paper in the world.
- The Egyptians deified the Nile as Hapi, the Nile god.
- The Nile could also have played its part in the construction of the Pyramids, the oldest surviving man-made monuments. Of the many theories about the transport of the giant stones used to build the Pyramids, transport through the Nile seems like the most feasible option.
- Large numbers of diverse flora and fauna are found along the Nile, including turtles, grazing animals such as wildebeests, and more than 300 species of birds. Probably the most famous are the Nile crocodiles and fishing eagles, who are also common throughout Africa.
- Fishing on the Nile has always been a profitable business, and even today tons of fish are caught in the Nile.
- The ancient Egyptians depended on the Nile's annual floods to deliver the nutrient-rich soil.
In modern times, agriculture has changed due to the Aswan dam. It has prevented the annual flooding, and made the top soil infertile. This makes the farmers downstream to use fertilizers.
The dam harnesses hydro-power for irrigation and electricity. It was completed in the early 1970s, and helped in Egypt's economic growth. Some other dams on the Nile are the Sennar dam and the Owen Falls dam.
- Tourism on the Nile is a massive business, especially on luxury cruises. The famous crime writer Agatha Christie even based one 'Hercule Poirot' novel - Death on the Nile - on a cruise ship on the Nile.
This river has helped give rise to many great and prosperous civilizations, none more so than the ancient Egyptians, and continues to be a vital bloodline for eastern Africa.