Aswan Dam, Egypt

The new dam wall of the Aswan Dam has been regulating the floods of the Nile since 1971 and dams it up to one of the largest reservoirs on earth. In order not to sink in the floods, 100,000 people and about 30 cultural monuments had to be moved.

The Aswan Dam, also known as Sadd el Ali High Dam, is one of our top 10 sights of Egypt. The gigantic dam impounds the Nile River to the gigantic Lake Nasser, the fourth largest reservoir in the world in full area with 6,000 square kilometers.


Construction of the Aswan Dam

The problem with the Nile is well known. Drought and flood alternated with the whims of the huge river, biblical plagues came over Egypt. The first attempt to tame the Nile was made with the old dam about 2km long. This was built just 10km south of Aswan by a British company from granite and was completed in 1902. Over 180 sluices the Nile water could break through the dam wall regulated and brought so the fertile Nile mud necessary for the agriculture.

Over the next 30 years, it was raised to 54 meters. However, this was still not enough to keep the mighty waters of the Nile in check. And so in January 1960, about 7km south of the old dam, the now well-known Aswan High Dam was built.

The construction was financed by the revenues from the Suez Canal, which the then President Gamal Abd el Nasser unceremoniously nationalized (thus contributing to the Suez Crisis), as well as with support funds from the then Soviet Union.

Eleven years after construction began, the almost 4km long Aswan Dam was officially opened - even Russian head of government Nikita Khrushchev traveled to the occasion. The Russian-Egyptian cooperation is commemorated by an impressive monument on the dam in the form of a lotus flower enclosing a gear wheel. From an observation platform at a height of 74 meters, one can overlook the impressive panorama of dam, lake and desert.

The Aswan Dam in numbers

Costs 2.2 billion euros
Construction time 11 years
Length 3.8 kilometer
Width from bottom to top 980 to 40 meters
Height 111 meters
Workers involved About 30,000
Deaths during construction 451


The negative sides of the Aswan Dam

Like every major project in history, the construction was not without controversy. First, about 100,000 people, mostly Nubians, had to be resettled. And secondly, some monuments of Egyptian culture were also threatened by the floods of the emerging reservoir.

A total of 29 temples had to be saved from destruction in elaborate projects with the cooperation of the UN, UNESCO and the Egyptian government - the most spectacular relocation was certainly that of the massive temple complex of Abu Simbel. In gratitude for international aid, the Temple of Debod now stands in the Spanish capital of Madrid and the Temple of Dendur in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nevertheless, some of the threatened cultural assets of both Egyptian and Nubian culture were not moved and are now lost forever.

Another disadvantage of the dam construction is the now absent Nile mud. Although the water supply is now regulated and no longer seasonal, farmers are now forced to cultivate their fields with the help of artificial fertilizers, which always has a negative effect on the acidity of the soil.


The lack of nutrients reduced the fish population, which was even felt by the fishing industry in the Mediterranean. In the meantime, fishing is strictly regulated and the stocks are slowly recovering. Due to the accumulated Nile mud, Lake Nasser is silting up more and more. In an estimated 500 years, it will no longer be able to hold any water.