The River Nile is the longest river in the world. It runs for 6632 km from Lake Victoria in Central Africa to the Mediterranean. While the Nile runs in Egypt for about 1500 Km from the Sudanese border to the Mediterranean. The Nile is always the source of life and civilization in Egypt since ancient times. The Egyptians are now stuck around the Nile and its delta. Herodotus, the Greek historian said, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”.
Searching for the source of the Nile:
The ancient Egyptians, then Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Europeans, all tried to discover the source of the Nile. Herodotus, the Greek historian, the Father of History, said the Nile entered Egypt from part beyond.
Other Greeks tried to investigate the source of the Nile. The Roman Emperor Nero sent an expedition upriver, but the hardest information was in a map produced by the geographer and astronomer Ptolemy in AD 150. Based on the work of the Syrian geographer Marinus of Tyre, the map showed the Nile rising from two great lakes in Central Africa which were fed by what he called the Mountains of the Moon.
Europeans searching for the source of the Nile:
James Bruce, a Scottish explorer, thought discovered the source of the Nile in Ethiopia in 1770, but he was in the wrong river. The Nile divides near Khartoum in Sudan into the White and Blue Nile, and Bruce’s fundamental mistake was in thinking that the latter was the main river, the former merely a tributary.
The Blue Nile, it transpired, springs from the snow and monsoon rains that feed Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands. The river leaves the lake calmly, gliding towards the Tisisat Falls 32 km away. There it explodes. Bucking and rearing at the narrow confines of the gorge below, the river begins a furious descent which over a million years has carved a gorge in places 1.5 km deep and 3 km wide.
Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798. He brought some scientists with him. These scientists in 1798 managed to get as far as cataracts in Aswan.
In 1812, Thomas Leigh, a British Member of Parliament, explored the sites 160 km south of Philae. He met with “Sheikh Ibrahim” or “John Lewis Burckhardt” Swiss by birth but a product of Cambridge University. Burckhardt managed to attach himself to an organization calling itself the “Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa”. He spent eight years on the Nile as a solitary nomad, observing tribes. Then he entered parts of Sudan which few if any, Europeans had seen. One of these was Shendy, known as “The Gates”. Burckhardt kept a record of Shendy’s thriving slave market.
Discovery of Lake Victoria:
Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke, started their journey to discover the source of the Nile from Zanzibar and cut across Africa. After 8 months, they arrived at the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Speke wrote, “I no longer felt any doubt, that the lake at my feet gave birth to that interesting river, the source of which has been the subject of so much speculation, and the object of so many explorers.” Which agreed to call “Lake Victoria”. Speke later told the RGS “Royal Geographical Society” that he believed he had found the source.
Then Speke began another expedition to confirm his findings with another Army officer, Captain James Grant. On 29 July 1862, Speke discovered a river from Lake Victoria. To make sure this river flows from the lake, he marched upstream for a week. The river made a spectacular exit, rushing out of the lake over what Speke named the Ripon Falls, after an earlier president of the Royal Geographical Society.
Discovery of Lake Albert:
In March 1862, Samuel Baker discovered a lake, named it Lake Albert after Queen Victoria’s consort. Before even reaching England, he was awarded the Geographical Society’s gold star and a knighthood soon followed. Officially he became Sir Samuel Bake; to the public “Baker of the Nile”.
To make sure, were the lakes Victoria and Albert connected? The society sent Dr. David Livingstone on a trip to investigate.
Like other explorers, Livingstone began his trip from Zanzibar. A river he reached after incredible hardships was not the Nile but the Congo.
He met with the journalist “Henry Morton Stanley”, the English-born “New York Herald’s man” in Paris. Together, they walked 960 km, and they arrived at Lake Bangweolo, hoping to establish that the source of the Nile was a stream that runs into the lake. Stanley went back to England, promising to send aids to Livingstone. Eight months into his investigations, Livingstone began to fear that the river concerned was again Congo, not the Nile.
Livingstone had died on 1 March 1873. After hearing the death of Livingstone, Stanley decided to complete the mission. After a voyage of 1600 km lasting 57 days, Stanley had proof that Lake Victoria had only one outlet, Ripon Falls.
The argument was over and it remained only to award the garland to the solver of the great geographical secret “Speke”.
Egypt is the Nile and the Nile is Egypt, so if you want to see more of the country than Cairo and the Pyramids, it had best be from a boat.
The history of sailing the Nile dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used to transport stones from quarries to their pyramids and temples on barges, very similar to our felucca boats.
Ancient Egyptians made their first boats from Papyrus. These rafts were used in fishing. Then boats were made from the cedar. A great example of these boats is what is so-called the “Solar Boat” of Khufu, in the Solar Boat Museum beside Khufu’s Pyramid on Giza Plateau.
Then the ancient Egyptians invented what we call now “Dahabiya” boats. Dahabiya boat is a yacht-like boat, made from cedarwood. The popular voyages of Cleopatra and Caser and Cleopatra and Mark Anthony upriver were on Dahabiya boats.
In modern times, the Dahabiya boats were used by early tourists in Egypt. Amelia Edward traveled to Abu Simbel on one of these Dahabiya boats, and wrote her famous novel “A Thousand Miles Up The Nile”.
The Dahabiya was replaced by the paddle-steamer. Thanks to Thomas Cook and Agatha Christi and her novel “Death on the Nile”. The paddle-steamer in turn was replaced by the modern diesel-powered cruise ship. Steel is more practical than wood, and wood was more practical than papyrus.
The present type of cruise ship was introduced in 1959. In 1975, there were only a couple of dozen boats on the river. By 1991 the number had increased to over 200. Today there are over 350 boats, most of them traveling between Luxor and Aswan.