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The River Nile by Eritrea RPCV Robertino Solàrion
The River Nile by Eritrea RPCV Robertino Solàrion
The River Nile
By Robertino Solàrion
Copyright 2001, All Rights Reserved
During the years 1964-1966, I had the privilege and adventure of serving in the United States Peace Corps. I was assigned to the exotic and historic seaport city of Massaua, Eritrea (known as "the Venice of Africa"), then a part of the Empire of Ethiopia ruled by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Lion of Judah, King of Kings, who maintained a 500-year-old Turkish-built "Winter Palace" in Massaua. I taught science and mathematics at the Massaua Middle School. In connection with this tour of duty, I travelled extensively throughout Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In August 1965, at the age of 23, two other Peace Corps Volunteers and I made an overland trip from Khartoum, Sudan, to Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; then by ship to Greece and by train from Athens to Istanbul to Cappadocia to Syria and Beirut. From Beirut we travelled by car to East Jerusalem, which was then under the rule of the Kingdom of Jordan. This trip was one of the highlights of my life.
Although I did not know at the time that eventually I would undertake to research the life of Apollonius of Tyana, during that journey my companions and I retraced much of the same geography that Apollonius himself had travelled. In July of the year 69 CE, just after Vespasian met with Apollonius in Alexandria and was proclaimed as the new Roman Emperor, Apollonius and Damis embarked upon their journey down the River Nile to Ethiopia. They stopped for a while in Upper Egypt to visit with the so-called "naked sages" before travelling on to Ethiopia. Although these distances seem quite long, travelling by boat along the Nile would certainly have been quite efficient; Apollonius and Damis could surely have travelled from Alexandria to Axum and back in several months, definitely in a year's time. There is an unverifiable historical report that they had returned to Alexandria by October when Apollonius again met with his friend Vespasian.
In my case, we departed from Khartoum on Sunday, August 15, my birthday. We celebrated on the train with a group of Swedes whom we met on board. These Swedes travelled to Athens with us and then departed by train to Stockholm when we left for Istanbul. We pulled out of the Khartoum Train Station Sunday morning and travelled across the desert to the Sudanese-Egyptian riverport city of Wadi Halfa, which we reached on Monday afternoon. We boarded the renowned Nile Steamer that evening and departed at sunset for Shellal, Egypt. The trip up the Nile from Wadi Halfa to Shellal lasted until early Wednesday afternoon; and from Shellal we took a taxi to nearby Aswan and a train to Luxor, where we spent Wednesday night and Thursday. We were in Cairo by the weekend, again by train.
The Aswan High Dam was nearing completion in that summer of 1965, and archaeologists and engineers were busy moving the landmark Temple of Ramses the Great at Abu Simbel to higher ground to preserve it from the anticipated flooding that would inevitably follow the completion of the dam. In fact, as we travelled up the Nile that August, we passed the site of this temple reconstruction, and it was truly something to see, a magnificent international cooperative endeavor to save this ancient treasure. Unfortunately, at the moment I have misplaced my photograph of this archaeological reconstruction; if I locate it, I'll include it here later. The following year, after the Temple of Ramses had been successfully relocated, the Aswan Dam was finished. Thus, all of the area that you will see in my Egyptian Nile photos is now buried under Lake Nasser, which extended southwards from Aswan and Shellal even beyond Wadi Halfa, which itself was evacuated prior to its being buried underneath the new lake. As far as I am concerned, this Aswan Dam project is an abomination for many reasons. This dam should be blown up by a terrorist group somewhere. But, that is beside the point at present.
Here, in this photographic reconstruction of my travels, I am going to reverse the order of the graphics, and present them in the way that Apollonius and Damis would have seen these very same places in their travel from Alexandria to Ethiopia. The first picture is one of myself at a cafe in Aswan on Wednesday afternoon, 18 August 1965. I had not bathed or changed clothes since early Sunday morning.
Each of the following photographs (actually slide transparencies), which show their age a bit by now, will be described below the graphic itself.
This is a photo of the right bank, or east bank, of the River Nile just south of Shellal. All of this is now completely underwater, as are the areas in the next two photos. Since our trip was in August, during the height of the Ethiopian rainy season, which rains drain into and "flood" the Nile, the river was at one of its highest annual levels, which perhaps explains why this vegetation is underwater.
These river boats, called "feluccas", looked the same in 1965 as they did in the time of Apollonius. He and Damis would surely have seen, or even travelled in, some of these river boats. This was a typical scene between Shellal and Wadi Halfa. The dark rectangles on the riverbank indicate various houses in a small Upper Egypt riverside village, perhaps in the very same area near that where the "naked sages" had their headquarters. This is a view of the left bank, or west bank, of the Nile; and yes, it is/was a very broad river at "flood stage".
This is a view of the old Nile at the very southern end of Egypt, just north of the border city of Wadi Halfa, where we boarded the Steamer. This view is looking southwards from the boat. Note again the flooded riverside vegetation, this time on the left, or west, bank.
This picture was taken from the window of the train at a desert station village about halfway between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum. Keep in mind that villages like this, in 1965, did not have electricity or running water. There were certainly no television sets in this village and probably only a couple of telephones at the local post office. The regular train service transferred supplies back and forth between Khartoum in central Sudan and the Nile Steamers that docked at Wadi Halfa. Certainly this "basic" sort of architecture was in the ancient style seen also by Apollonius and Damis.
Here is another picture of me, standing at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, in southern Khartoum, Sudan. Directly above my head, you will notice a slender finger-like land projection. On the left of that landform is the Blue Nile which has its source in the mountains of Ethiopia. On the right is the larger White Nile which flows up from central African lakes. Certainly, even today, this scene would look much the same as in 1965. This picture was taken on Saturday, 14 August 1965.
The Blue Nile goes southwardly from Khartoum and then makes a northeastward curve into northern Ethiopia, up to its point of origin in the Ethiopian Highlands at Lake Tana near Bahar Dar and Gondar. I took this photo from an airplane during a trip from Addis Ababa to Bahar Dar. Certainly it would have been quite easy for an overland traveller like Apollonius to have followed the length of the Blue Nile from modern Khartoum into ancient Abyssinia. Note: In this photograph, taken during the Ethiopian dry season, the Blue Nile was at a low point in its flow towards Sudan. You can see small sandbar-like islands in the riverbed.
The Blue Nile Falls, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. Small streams feed into Lake Tana at nearby Gondar, ancient capital city of Abyssinia. Then the massive runoff from Lake Tana, especially during the summer rainy season, spills into the Blue Nile at these falls, to make its way to Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea.
Lake Tana near Gondar, Ethiopia, is about the size of the American Great Salt Lake in Utah. There are small islands in this freshwater lake, homes to monasteries and churches.
From Gondar, one can easily travel along an ancient route through the Simien Mountains to the original capital of Ethiopia at Axum, where the remaining photographs were taken. In 1965, people in this region of Ethiopia basically lived the same way that they had lived in ancient times. I am certain that the people whom Apollonius and Damis encountered in Ethiopia looked much the same way that they do in this photo, which was taken in the marketplace of Axum, Ethiopia.
King Menelik I, the founder of the Ethiopian Dynasty which lasted until the reign of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I in the Twentieth Century, was the son of the legendary Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel. Menelik travelled to Jerusalem and brought back the Ark of the Covenant from Israel to Ethiopia, or so we are told from the local Ethiopian legends. According to Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky in Ages In Chaos, the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba was identical with Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, who built the famous monument at Deir El-Bahari near Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Thus, her son Menelik I would also be equivalent to the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II, also known as Osorkon I and Zerah. In about the year 935 BCE, Menelik/Amenhotep built these obelisks, particularly the tallest one on the right, in Axum to honor his mother and father. Originally there were twin identical obelisks like the one on the right. During the Twentieth Century, the Italian colonialists removed and shipped to Rome the larger of the two and placed it in a public piazza near the Arch of Constantine. Recently, more or less, I read that the Italians had returned this plundered obelisk to Axum, Ethiopia, to stand once again alongside its ancient companion.
Here is another 1965 view of these Axum obelisks. The one that I saw in Rome in 1966 was a bit taller but otherwise identical to the large one shown here.
My apologies for the quality of this photograph, as I regret it myself. When I took it, it was almost nightfall; and it is the only one that I have. It shows the excavated ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba at Axum.
This is the entrance to an ancient underground tomb near the palace of the Queen of Sheba and the obelisks in Axum.
Here is a group of Coptic Christian Churches in a religious compound at Axum, near the obelisks and palace ruins. The large round church was built by the government of Haile Selassie in the Twentieth Century, along with the modern obelisk on the right. The smaller churches are more ancient. The brown-rock church is the Mariam Church where the Ark of the Covenant is supposedly housed, even until the present day.
10 March 2001
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