Every river has its own story to tell, but few are as enthralling as that of the Nile. For thousands of years one of the world’s earliest, wealthiest and most scientifically advanced civilisations created a series of colossal temples and other landmarks along the Nile, that even today continue to reveal new secrets about the culture of Ancient Egypt. Anthony and Cleopatra sailed down it; myth, legend and religion grew around it, trade and agriculture flourished because of it, to create a powerful economy. The Nile doesn’t just flow through Egypt, you could argue that it defines the country – it is its lifeblood.
Thomas Cook might be credited with the invention of mass tourism, but if we want to look at the roots of travel for cultural interest, we need to look a little further back. Well, many centuries back to be honest. Along with the Ancient Greeks, the Romans were some of the first cultural tourists, and one of their favourite destinations was Egypt and the Nile. In fact, some of the graffiti in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor has been identified as comments left by Roman travelers
dating back some 2,000 years. They might not have had social media but they were still determined to have their say, and let everyone know that ‘Marcellus woz ‘ere’.
Tourism along the Nile has got a lot more sophisticated since the Romans, but in some ways it has stayed just the same. The rural scenes you’ll see on the riverbanks, of fishing communities and farmers tending their fields are probably much the same as the Romans would have witnessed. The key landmarks: the Valley of the Kings, Luxor and Karnak Temples, Kom Ombo – would all have featured on a Roman itinerary. And the best way to visit these sites is, of course, still by cruising along the river, perhaps using the traditional feluccas that would have been the main transportation for the Romans.
Egypt has always been a classic ‘Grand Tour’ destination. But the enduring popularity of its temples, monuments and other landmarks has taken a heavy environmental toll on the river. Combine that with a precarious economy that’s heavily dependent on tourism, and traveling responsibly on the Nile is vital if we want future generations to one day approve of our own jaunts along the river.