Published on Egyptological, In Brief, 27th February 2012
By Andrea Byrnes.
Guide to the Nubian Monuments on Lake Nasser
The American University in Cairo Press
This travel guide covers the monuments salvaged during the building of the Aswan High Dam, which were relocated to new higher land to escape the rising waters of Lake Nasser. The most substantial and impressive of these is Abu Simbel, but other sites, like Wadi al-Sebua, the sites at New Kalabsha and the tomb of Pennut are also important and very beautiful.
A number of cruise boats now operate out of Aswan on Lake Nasser and are becoming a very popular alternative to Nile cruises.
Jocelyn Gohary’s book covers all the Pharaonic sites flanking the lake and those now located overseas, plus the Nubia Museum in Aswan.
The book is divided into a number of chapters followed by site plans, a chronology, a list of gods and goddesses on the Nubian monuments, a glossary, bibliography and an index.
Gohary begins with a very useful introduction to Nubia both in history and today in the first chapter “Nubia Past and Present,” which includes two maps marked with the sites mentioned throughout the text. The chapter starts with a background to the relationship between Egypt and Nubia, and goes on to look at Nubia’s history from prehistoric times, taking in the A-Group, C-Group, the Kerma Culture, the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Napatan and Meroitic periods, the Ballana culture, the spread of Christian and Islamic peoples into the area, and Nubia in modern times. If you are unfamiliar with Nubia’s past, this provides an invaluable short introduction.
The sites covered in the rest of the book, each with a chapter of their own, are:
- New Kalabsha (the Temple of Kalabsha, the Kiosk of Qertassi and the Temple of Beit al-Wali),
- New Sebua (the Temple of Wadi al-Sebua, the Temple of Dakka, and the Temple of Maharraqa),
- New Amada (the Temple of Amada, the Temple of Derr, and the Tomb of Pennut),
- Qasr Ibrim,
- Abu Simbel (the Great Temple, the Small Temple and the Stelae)
- Nubian Temples Abroad (Dabod, Taffa, Dendur, Al-Lesiya and the Ptolemaic gateway from Kalabsha)
Gohary provides excellent descriptions of each of these sites, looking at their known history (putting this into the context of both Nubia’s and Egypt’s wider history when necessary), how they are laid out, the deities celebrated at them (where relevant), the quality and type of decoration and the main themes of the scenes. She also describes, briefly, the work involved in the movement of the sites to their new locations. The description is written so that the reader can take the book and follow a tour of the site.
The final chapter is a two-side description of the Nubia Museum in Aswan.
For me, the site plans are the real treasure of this book. All of the site plans (nine of them in total and located towards the end of the book), are marked up with letters and numbers, which refer to notes on the adjacent pages. Letters mark key architectural features, explained in the key at the top of the page, and the numbers related to descriptions of the scenes, most usefully identifying the various deities in each part of the walls. As some of the deities are uncommon elsewhere in Egypt, this is particularly helpful.
There are 15 coloured photographs in the middle of the book, and these cover the exteriors of most of the sites and two of the interiors. The quality of the photographs is sufficiently good for a guide book. There are no other photos.
This is a really excellent book. It is very well written in an attractive and digestible style which makes it very easy to read and absorb. It is also invaluable to have at the sites for use as a field guide. It contains an ideal amount of information, meaning that the book has everything that you will need in a guide book but doesn’t weigh an absolute ton (in fact, 246g with dimensions of 215 x 140 x 10mm).
My only critical comment is that the plans and accompanying descriptions are at the end of the book, isolated from the descriptions of that site within the chapters book. That made it a bit of a pain when at the site, flicking between the descriptive text in the main part of the book and the references to the plans at the end.
The description of the Nubia Museum is very brief and only serves to give a very top-level idea of what type of content the Museum has on display.
I went on a Lake Nasser cruise in early 2007, and had this book glued to me for the entire trip. If you go on a similar tour of the sites, I would recommend that you order this book in advance and don’t let it out of your sight when you get there.