Elephantine Island, Egypt

The Nile island of Elephantine is considered an archaeological jewel due to the exceptionally well-preserved buildings from the time of the pharaohs. The development history of the settlements can be traced back over 4,000 years.

The Nile island Elephantine is part of the city of Aswan and belongs to our top 10 sights of Egypt. Nowhere else can the history of the origin and development of an ancient Egyptian settlement from the Pharaonic period be more fully understood than in this archaeological treasure trove.


Unlike many other structures on the riverbank, the island was situated much higher and was thus immune from the natural flooding of the Nile as well as from the floods that were dammed by the Aswan Dam. The foundations of the layered structures are up to 12 meters high, which corresponds to a period of more than 4,000 years.

Originally, the 1,200 meter long and 400 meter wide island was regularly flooded by the Nile and thus divided into two parts for a few weeks. However, since the beginning of the third millennium BC, climatic changes caused the Nile water level to drop and the islands were able to "grow together".

To this day, the Arabic, Roman and hieroglyphic markings of a Nilometer, which measured the level of the Nile water, can be seen on the island along a monumental staircase with 90 steps. At that time, this was vital for crossing this part of the river. The water level of the Nile was also used to estimate the harvest and the associated tax payments.

In ancient Egypt, the island of Elephantine was frequented mainly because of its deposits of rose granite, which was used for many construction projects of the pharaohs. The island also got its name from Ancient Egypt. Located on the border between Egypt and Nubia, it was an "Abu" - an elephant campsite.

Elephantine - Archaeological Jewel of Egypt

In the first dynasty, around 3,000 B.C., mud-brick fortifications were built on Elephantine, including dwellings for the soldiers and their families. As a demonstration of power, a granite step pyramid was built, as well as a temple for the "Lady of Elephantine", the goddess Satis. Over time, the mud-brick buildings were replaced by wood and stone. Egypt's only female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, had the temple of Satis enlarged around 1,500 BC.

In addition to the excavations of the fortress and temple sites, the papyri of Elephantine Island represented an archaeological highlight. The collection of papyrus scrolls in Aramaic contains private and economic texts, such as tax lists, sales contracts or marriage certificates, letters and legal documents.

These documents provide information about some events of that time, such as the destruction and reconstruction of the Chnum temple or the preparation for festivities. They thus testify to the existence of an Aramaic-speaking Jewish population on the island of Elephantine. In part, it was even possible to draw a few parallels to the Old Testament.


Highlights on Elephantine

A visit to Elephntine Island is worthwhile in any case, especially because the idyll of the island is slowly being lost due to the ever-increasing stream of visitors. Besides the millennia-old excavations and the Aswan Museum, the natural environment of the island is also worth a visit.

A walk through the two Nubian villages, some of which still consist of the original mud-brick houses, gives an idea of what life was like at the time of the pharaohs.