ASSOUAN, General View
Pubished: Lichtenstern & Harari, Cairo (1902-1912)
Elephantine is an island on the Nile, forming part of the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt. . . . Known to the ancient Egyptians as ꜣbw (Elephant), the island of Elephantine stood at the border between Egypt and Nubia. It was an excellent defensive site for a city and its location made it a natural cargo transfer point for river trade. This border is near the Tropic of Cancer, the most northerly latitude at which the sun can appear directly overhead at noon and from which it appears to reverse direction or “turn back” at the solstices. . . . According to ancient Egyptian religion, Elephantine was the dwelling place of Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, who guarded and controlled the waters of the Nile from caves beneath the island. He was worshipped here as part of a late triad of Egyptian deities. . . . Most of the present day southern tip of the island is taken up by the ruins of the Temple of Khnum. These, the oldest ruins still standing on the island, are composed of a granite step pyramid from the Third Dynasty and a small temple built for the local Sixth Dynasty nomarch, Heqaib. In the Middle Kingdom, many officials, such as the local governors Sarenput I or Heqaib III, dedicated statues and shrines into the temple.
The island of Elephantine rises out of the waters in the middle of the river. It has always been an object of wonder for travelers, and a certain Henry Light, sailing up the Nile from Cairo in 1814, described it as ”a scene composed of water, rocks, and buildings, which latter had the additional effect of being formed of cupolas, minarets, mosques, and ruins, interspersed amongst plantations of lofty palm-trees, and surrounded by mountains of deep red or sandy hue, on the tops and sides of which were other ruins of convents, churches and mosques.” Much of this scene remains. Elephantine still emerges from the water like a hallucination, upon it the now sparse ruins of the ancient city of Abu that once housed the frontier fortress of Egypt.
New York Time Magazine: Afloat on the Ancient Nile (2 October 1988)