The Nile River is one of the oldest, longest, and most famous rivers in the world today. It’s over 4000 miles in length. Most people actually associate the Nile River with Egypt, but only one fifth of the actual course of the river runs through that country. The green valleys that are associated with the Nile River gave birth to one of the oldest civilizations that humanity has had the privilege to discover. It’s also associated with one of the most famous biblical stories of all time, the great exodus of the Israelite people.
1. Which Way Did He Go?
One of the unique features about the Nile River is the fact that it flows north, which is opposite the direction most rivers go. This means the Nile River originates in South Africa and then flows towards the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the Nile River forms from two primary rivers, called the Blue Nile and the White Nile. It is the waters of the Blue Nile which pass through Egypt and into the Mediterranean as it contributes 85% of the river’s water at that point. In total, it passes through 10 countries as it makes its way through Africa.
2. We Want It To Flood
We often think of a river flooding as a terrible event. Floods will destroy homes, cost communities to lose services, and even threaten the lives of the people we love. The ancient Egyptians, however, wanted the Nile River to flood. This was the only way that the soil around the river would become fertile enough to support the growth of crops. If the river did not flood then the farmers where not able to grow. Often they would resort to attempting to grow crops in the mud from the river.
3. The Hub of a Civilization
The black lands of the Nile River was the place to be if you are an Egyptian back in the day, and that’s still a bit true today. Without the Nile River, humanity may not have developed in the way that it did in this region. The reeds which grew along the sides of the Nile River were used to make boats for the Egyptians. This helped him to be able to facilitate trade in different areas of the world. Water is associated with life, even today, so any area near water was highly populated and desirable.
4. The Forgotten River
There’s a third river that flows into the Nile River and it’s name is Atbarra. Because this river only contributes 1% of the total water volume that flows through the Nile, it is sometimes referred to as the Forgotten River. It hits the Nile as a tributary just before it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. For much of the year, this river could hardly be classified as a raging body of water. It has a trickle that is not much more than a stream. Between the months of June to October, however, the river can rise as much as 18 feet.
5. Six Degrees of Separation
The Nile River might not flood anymore thanks to the dams that have been placed on it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are six dangerous areas located on the river. It’s not just white water rapids that can be found in the dangerous areas that are called cataracts. The Nile River also has whirlpools, rocky areas, and dangerous currents that make navigating the waterways virtually impossible. The only cataract that is located within the borders of Egypt is located at the location of Aswan Dam.
6. A Massive Project to Save the Lands
Thanks to modern technology, the annual floods from the Nile River were no longer needed for crop production. That meant the floods were doing more damage than good. Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam to help control the annual flooding and have a source of power that could be used for the nation. It is estimated that the Aswan Dam produces 50% of Egypt’s total electrical output, which tells you how big it really is.
More than 90,000 people had to be relocated during the construction of the dam and some of them were placed as far as 45 kilometers away from their homes. That’s because the area of the lake that would form behind the dam, called Lake Nasser, would be huge during the flooding season. Now the waters of the Nile are used for drinking water and irrigation as well. An interesting note about the dam: it was designed by the British, but built by the Soviet Union.
7. Snapping Jaws and Dancing Hippos
One of the most dangerous sports that the Pharaohs like to participate in was the hunting of the hippopotamus along the shores of the Nile. There’s a good chance that the hippos didn’t take kindly to the idea of kings trying to slay them. They weren’t the only animal threat that was faced along the shores of the river either. Snakes, lizards, baboons, and wildebeests all have called the shores of the Nile River home over the years.
The most feared animal today isn’t a hippo or a lizard. It’s the Nile Crocodile. The name might rhyme and make the animal seem cute, but the critter can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh over 1,500 pounds. Even the newborn Nile crocs are big, measuring over a foot long when they’re born. They were so fierce that it is believed the Ancient Egyptians would fortify their moats by digging a ditch, filling it with water, and then inviting the crocodiles over for a housewarming party.
8. Cross the Bridge
One of the more interesting beliefs that exist about the Nile River was that it was the bridge to the afterlife. Part of this was because of the physical characteristics of the land around the river. To the east of the river was the fertile civilization that was thriving. To the west lay a vast terrain that was filled with virtually nothing. This is why the tombs of the Egyptians are actually placed on the west banks of the river. The goal was to make sure that everyone would be able to enter the afterlife at an appropriate time.
9. Show Me Your Basin
Every body of water has a certain drainage basin that is associated with it. The basin is where the waters will flow when there is an excess amount of it available. For the Nile River Basin, nearly 10% of Africa falls into the drainage areas. Considering its size and the climate that the northern section endures to get to the Mediterranean Sea, it’s pretty spectacular that the waters are as large as they are. The northern part of the river flows almost exclusively through the desert.
10. It’s a Long Journey
Believe it or not, the first known expedition to chart the entire course of the Nile River didn’t happen until 2004. The group that took on this endeavor started in Uganda and it took them over 4 months to complete the journey. Considering over 40 million people live along the delta region of the river and there’s over 4,000 miles to explore, that’s actually pretty quick. The location is popular though. There is evidence that people have been living along the Nile River for at least 7,000 years.
11. The Church of the Nile
How impressive was the Nile River to the Ancient Egyptians? It was so impressive that they included it on their list of gods that needed to be worshiped. It is represented by their god Hapi and they routinely made sacrifices to it so that they would get the annual floods every year. It is still a vitally important means of transportation today as Egypt imports almost half of its grain by using the power of the Nile River.
Just like any great religion, the source of the Nile River isn’t completely known. Some believe that it has origins in Lake Victoria. Others will point to a few other lakes in the region. The Kagera and Ruvubu Rivers area also considered by some to be the headwaters of the Nile. Take your pick, join your preferred denomination, and then pray away.
The Nile River only competes with the Amazon River for scope and size. It’s one of the mightiest works of Mother Nature and has provided a cradle for many civilizations over the centuries. These interesting facts are just the start of what there is to learn about this great river. The Nile River has flowed into an important place in history. It’s just our job to learn about it.